Only The Lonely
The Hall of Fame Trials and Tribulations of Bert Blyleven
--Roy Orbison and Joe Melson
In my most recent article, I pointed out that catchers and third basemen are underrepresented in the Hall of Fame. I specifically mentioned Ted Simmons, Wally Schang, and Joe Torre as among a group of catchers who deserve a second look. There are a few third basemen, most notably Ron Santo, who have been ignored and warrant inclusion. However, none of the players mentioned are on this year's ballot so a discussion of their merits can be saved for a later day.
In the meantime, I would like to review the candidacy of a Hall of Fame-worthy player who is on the ballot for the seventh time. With that in mind, ladies and gentlemen of the selection jury, I hereby introduce Exhibit One in The Case For Bert Blyleven.
1 Nolan Ryan 5714 2 Steve Carlton 4136 3 Roger Clemens 4099 4 Randy Johnson 3871 5 Bert Blyleven 3701 6 Tom Seaver 3640 7 Don Sutton 3574 8 Gaylord Perry 3534 9 Walter Johnson 3509 10 Phil Niekro 3342 11 Ferguson Jenkins 3192 12 Bob Gibson 3117Every pitcher with 3,000 or more strikeouts who is eligible is in the Hall of Fame except for one pitcher. His name? Well, for those of you who may be color blind, the lone exception is none other than Rik Aalbert Blyleven. As shown, the Holland-born righthander ranks fifth all time in strikeouts. Other than Mr. Blyleven, there are only two pitchers--Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson--on the above list who are not in the Hall, and both will surely be inducted on the first ballot. Bert Blyleven, Only The Lonely.
Maybe strikeouts are not all that important as a standalone measure, you say? Well, you may be right. The object of the game is to shut down the opposing team no matter how you get them out, correct? With that understanding, ladies and gentlemen, I hereby present Exhibit Two for your consideration.
1 Walter Johnson 110 2 Grover C Alexander 90 3 Christy Mathewson 79 4 Cy Young 76 5 Eddie Plank 69 6 Warren Spahn 63 T7 Tom Seaver 61 T7 Nolan Ryan 61 9 Bert Blyleven 60 10 Don Sutton 58 11 Ed Walsh 57 T12 Three Finger Brown 56 T12 Pud Galvin 56 T12 Bob Gibson 56 15 Steve Carlton 55 T16 Jim Palmer 53 T16 Gaylord Perry 53 18 Juan Marichal 52 T19 Rube Waddell 50 T19 Vic Willis 50Bert Blyleven ranks ninth in career shutouts. Other than Mr. Blyleven, every pitcher with 50 or more shutouts has been enshrined in Cooperstown. Nineteen pitchers on the inside, one pitcher on the outside. Bert Blyleven, Only the Lonely.
Still not convinced, ehh? Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce into evidence Exhibit Three. Runs Saved Above Average (RSAA) represent the number of runs that a pitcher saved his team versus what an average pitcher would have allowed, adjusted for ballpark effects.
1 Cy Young 813 2 Kid Nichols 678 3 Lefty Grove 668 4 Walter Johnson 643 5 Roger Clemens 613 6 Greg Maddux 540 7 Grover C Alexander 524 8 John Clarkson 508 9 Randy Johnson 461 10 Pedro Martinez 453 11 Christy Mathewson 405 12 Tom Seaver 404 13 Tim Keefe 377 14 Amos Rusie 370 15 Carl Hubbell 355 16 Bob Gibson 350 17 Bert Blyleven 344 18 Phil Niekro 322 19 Whitey Ford 321 20 Warren Spahn 319Every pitcher in the top 20 who is eligible for the Hall is in with one exception. And who might that pitcher be? Once again, it's none other than the Only The Lonely man himself, Bert Blyleven.
What about ERA? Well, thank you for asking. Ladies and gentlemen, I take this opportunity to introduce Exhibit Four.
DIFF PLAYER LEAGUE 1 Roger Clemens 1.20 3.19 4.39 2 Walter Johnson 1.07 2.17 3.24 3 Kid Nichols 0.94 2.95 3.89 4 Cy Young 0.92 2.63 3.54 5 Grover C Alexander 0.83 2.56 3.39 6 Warren Spahn 0.81 3.08 3.89 7 Tom Seaver 0.79 2.86 3.66 8 Christy Mathewson 0.78 2.13 2.91 9 John Clarkson 0.73 2.81 3.54 10 Tim Keefe 0.71 2.62 3.34 11 Ted Lyons 0.68 3.67 4.34 12 Red Faber 0.64 3.15 3.79 13 Old Hoss Radbourn 0.59 2.67 3.26 14 Red Ruffing 0.56 3.80 4.36 15 Gaylord Perry 0.53 3.11 3.63 16 Eddie Plank 0.53 2.35 2.88 17 Nolan Ryan 0.53 3.19 3.72 18 Robin Roberts 0.51 3.40 3.91 19 Bert Blyleven 0.50 3.31 3.81 20 Eppa Rixey 0.50 3.15 3.64Nineteen of the top 20 pitchers have had their day in upstate New York or, in the case of Clemens, have already made reservations. The omission this time? You got it. Bert Blyleven, Only The Lonely.
For those of you who still need more information, I would like to present Exhibit Five. Neutral Wins is a statistic that projects the number of victories the pitcher would have if he was given average run support, considering his total number of decisions.
1 Cy Young 533 2 Walter Johnson 470 3 Grover C Alexander 374 4 Kid Nichols 373 5 Christy Mathewson 361 6 Pud Galvin 359 7 Warren Spahn 353 8 Tim Keefe 346 9 Phil Niekro 337 T10 Gaylord Perry 336 T10 Nolan Ryan 336 12 Steve Carlton 327 13 John Clarkson 323 14 Bert Blyleven 313 15 Tom Seaver 312 16 Eddie Plank 311 17 Don Sutton 310 18 Roger Clemens 306 19 Old Hoss Radbourn 300 20 Lefty Grove 298Please excuse Mr. Blyleven for feeling a little paranoid at this time but, as you can see, he is the only pitcher in the top 20 in Neutral Wins who is eligible for baseball's highest honor but has not yet been voted in. Only The Lonely.
Think the above stat is a little too theoretical? Well, members of the selection committee, let's take a look at Exhibit Six. Actual wins. Nice and simple, just the way you guys and gals like it.
1 Cy Young 511 2 Walter Johnson 417 T3 Christy Mathewson 373 T3 Grover C Alexander 373 5 Warren Spahn 363 6 Kid Nichols 361 7 Pud Galvin 360 8 Tim Keefe 341 9 Steve Carlton 329 10 John Clarkson 328 11 Eddie Plank 326 T12 Nolan Ryan 324 T12 Don Sutton 324 14 Phil Niekro 318 15 Gaylord Perry 314 16 Tom Seaver 311 17 Roger Clemens 310 T18 Mickey Welch 309 T18 Old Hoss Radbourn 309 T20 Early Wynn 300 T20 Lefty Grove 300 22 Greg Maddux 289 23 Tommy John 288 24 Bert Blyleven 287 25 Robin Roberts 286 T26 Ferguson Jenkins 284Although the number of wins is not the end all for evaluating pitchers, I am proud to say that our man once again finds himself in the company of nothing but Hall of Famers with just one other exception. Furthermore, there are dozens of pitchers who have won fewer games, yet you have found reason to induct each and every one of them.
Who would some of those fortunate souls be? None other than famous oldtimers such as Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown (239), Bob Feller (266), Carl Hubbell (253), and Joe McGinnity (246); greats from the '50s and '60s like Jim Bunning (224), Don Drysdale (209), Whitey Ford (236), Bob Gibson (251), Sandy Koufax (165), Juan Marichal (243), and Robin Roberts (286); and more decorated contemporaries over the first half of Mr. Blyleven's tenure such as Catfish Hunter (224), Ferguson Jenkins (284), and Jim Palmer (268).
Speaking of Mr. Blyleven's peers, I thought it might be instructive to compare how he ranks in RSAA over the course of his career. I would like to offer Exhibit Seven for your review.
1 Bert Blyleven 344 2 Roger Clemens 329 3 Tom Seaver 321 4 Jim Palmer 289 T5 Dave Stieb 241 T5 Phil Niekro 241 7 Steve Carlton 239 8 Gaylord Perry 228 9 Nolan Ryan 215 10 Dennis Eckersley 204Not only is Mr. Blyleven number one but he is the only pitcher on this list who has come before you and not been so honored. I recognize that the time period chosen favors our man because it conveniently covers his entire career. Nonetheless, if you run the same screen ten times using the various career lengths for each of the above moundsmen, the pitcher ranked first in every sort is in the HOF or will be in the HOF (in the case of Clemens, who is #1 over his playing days as well as Dave Stieb's career).
Want a "cleaner" period like the decade of the 1970s instead? Ladies and gentlemen, I provide you with Exhibit Eight.
1 Tom Seaver 281 2 Jim Palmer 280 3 Bert Blyleven 261 4 Phil Niekro 248 5 Gaylord Perry 237 6 Ferguson Jenkins 195 7 Steve Carlton 176The top seven are all in the HOF except for the fellow with the initials "BB", who ranks third. The two hurlers ahead of him--Tom Seaver and Palmer--are multiple Cy Young Award winners and first-ballot HOF inductees. Bert Blyleven. Only The Lonely (Know How I Feel).
Bert Blyleven also ranks in the top ten for the decade of the 1980s, and he is second for the ten-year period (1975-1984) overlapping these two decades--behind only Steve Carlton, who is also a multiple Cy Young Award winner and first-ballot HOF inductee.
In addition to the above qualifications, Mr. Blyleven meets or exceeds three of the four Hall of Fame measures established by Bill James, one of baseball's foremost analysts. Only 21 pitchers in the history of the game have met all four standards, including just nine who began their careers after World War II. I present Exhibit Nine for your consideration.
Black Ink: Pitching - 16 (128) (Average HOFer ~ 40)
Furthermore, as displayed in Exhibit Ten, eight of the most similar pitchers according to Baseball-Reference.com (one of the most widely used and highly respected baseball statistical sources) are in the Hall of Fame.
Don Sutton (914) *
*Denotes Hall of Famer.
The two pitchers not in the HOF are most similar to Mr. Blyleven in terms of their number of wins, but neither ranks among the top 20 in any of the other Exhibits that I have presented before you. Seven of the remaining eight show up not only on the career wins table alongside my client but at least once more. As such, I would contend that the following seven pitchers (Hall of Famers all) are the most statistically comparable to Mr. Blyleven:
Herewith is Exhibit Eleven in The Case For Bert Blyleven.
IP H ER BB SO HR ERA W L PCT Blyleven 4970 4632 1830 1322 3701 430 3.31 287 250 .534 Group Average 5032 4577 1800 1379 3396 448 3.22 316 239 .569As detailed, Bert Blyleven's stats are roughly in line with the average of these seven pitchers across the board with the possible exception of wins, losses, and winning percentage. However, as shown in Exhibit Twelve below, his rate stats for the three areas controlled by the pitcher are actually better than this exclusive group.
BB/9 SO/9 HR/9 Blyleven 2.39 6.70 0.78 Group Average 2.47 6.07 0.80How was it possible that Mr. Blyleven could have better rate stats yet have 22 fewer wins and five more losses than the group average? Well, ladies and gentlemen, I submit to you that the difference in my client's won-loss record was nothing more than being a victim of poor support. For example, do you realize that his team scored just 18 runs in his 15 losses in 1971? In fact, I would argue that Mr. Blyleven is one of the "unluckiest" pitchers in the history of baseball.
To compare "apples to apples", I hereby offer Exhibit Thirteen, which reveals the won-loss records of Mr. Blyleven and the group average by equalizing the run support for my client and the same seven starters, all of whom are among the elite group of pitchers in the Hall of Fame.
NW NL PCT Blyleven 313 224 .583 Group Average 316 239 .569Neutral Wins and Losses prove my point that the only differences in Bert Blyleven's actual won-loss totals and winning percentage are a function of run support (or lack thereof). Recall that Mr. Blyleven broke in with the Minnesota Twins after the franchise's hey day in the second half of the 1960s, then played for the Texas Rangers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cleveland Indians, the Twins again, and the California Angels.
Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to summarize Bert Blyleven's qualifications for the Hall of Fame.
1. Mr. Blyleven ranks fifth all time in career strikeouts. You have seen the virtues of electing the top dozen other than the man known as Only The Lonely.
2. Mr. Blyleven ranks ninth in shutouts. You have seen the virtues of inducting the top 20 other than our subject.
3. Mr. Blyleven ranks 24th in wins. You have seen the virtues of honoring every eligible pitcher ahead of him save one.
4. Looking at more advanced metrics, Bert Blyleven ranks 14th in Neutral Wins. You have voted in every pitcher in the top 20 other than Mr. Blyleven.
5. Mr. Blyleven also ranks 17th in Runs Saved Above Average. You have enshrined every pitcher in the top 20 other than him.
6. Among pitchers with 4,000 or more innings, Bert Blyleven ranks 19th in ERA vs. the league average. Once again, you have found a spot in Cooperstown for every pitcher in the top 20 other than Mr. Blyleven.
For some icing on the cake, may I point out that Bert Blyleven was named American League Rookie Pitcher of the Year in 1970 at the age of 19, threw a no-hitter in 1977, and was voted Comeback Player of the Year in 1989? I might also add that Mr. Blyleven pitched on two World Series Championship teams, compiling a 5-1 won-loss record and a 2.47 ERA in the postseason.
By the way, I would like to bring to your attention, ladies and gentlemen, the little-known fact that you haven't honored any pitchers born since 1947 (Nolan Ryan), yet you have felt compelled to induct eight hitters (George Brett, Gary Carter, Eddie Murray, Kirby Puckett, Mike Schmidt, Ozzie Smith, Dave Winfield, and Robin Yount) born since then. Furthermore, every pitcher that has been elected since Mr. Blyleven became eligible six years ago, as well as the two immediately preceding his candidacy, has won 300 or more games. In fact, Rollie Fingers in 1992 was the last pitcher that was voted into the Hall of Fame without 300 wins and he, of course, was a reliever.
Based on the above, one can't help but think that winning 300 games has become the de facto standard for pitchers. As a point of clarification, had you held to that magical mark all along, there would only be 20 pitchers currently in the Hall of Fame with another one on his way (Clemens) and perhaps a second one on the horizon (Greg Maddux). A total of 22 starting pitchers would be comparable to only four or five position players. The fewest number of HOFers at any one position is 11 (3B). As such, holding starting pitchers to a minimum of 300 victories is overly strict and unfair. Focusing exclusively on wins is also a mistake as this stat is as much dependent on the pitcher's team as it is on the pitcher himself.
Ladies and gentlemen of the selection committee, I believe the facts in The Case For Bert Blyleven are indisputable. The evidence presented clearly indicates that Mr. Blyleven has all the qualifications necessary for you to finally reward him with his own plaque in Cooperstown.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Sources: Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia and Baseball-Reference.com
[Reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]