Baseball BeatJanuary 02, 2004
One Small Step For Blyleven...
By Rich Lederer giant leap for blogkind.

With the help of Seth Strohs of Seth Speaks, I sent emails with links to my article on "Only The Lonely, The Hall of Fame Trials and Tribulations of Bert Blyleven" to two voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Both writers--Bill Conlin and Jeff Peek--wrote back to me in a very timely manner. However, their responses were as different as night and day.

Bill Conlin is a longtime sports columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News. He sent me the following email:

I think (Blyleven) will get in in an off year the way Carter did last year. It's really tough when an Eck and Molitor come along because a lot of us--including me--tend to vote for fewer guys rather than clutter the ballot with names you know have no shot that particular year. That's what happens when guys stay eligible 15 years.
I couldn't resist the temptation to write back to Bill.
Thanks, Bill. Blyleven has never received even 30% of the votes so he has a lot of ground to make up. His case can be summarized as follows:

1. Blyleven ranks fifth all time in career strikeouts. All the eligible pitchers among the top dozen are in the HOF.

2. Blyleven ranks ninth in shutouts. All the eligible pitchers among the top 20 are in the HOF.

3. Blyleven ranks 24th in wins. Every eligible pitcher with more wins is in the HOF save one.

Looking at more advanced metrics:

4. Blyleven ranks 14th in Neutral Wins. Every eligible pitcher in the top 20 is in the HOF.

5. Blyleven also ranks 17th in Runs Saved Above Average. Every eligible pitcher in the top 20 is in the HOF.

6. Blyleven ranks 19th in ERA vs. the league average among pitchers with 4,000 or more innings. Every eligible pitcher in the top 20 is in the HOF.

Lastly, I performed a study of Blyleven's seven most comparable pitchers (Carlton, Jenkins, Niekro, Perry, Roberts, Seaver, and Sutton) from a statistical standpoint and determined that he was better than the group average in the three metrics in which the pitcher has control over (strikeouts, walks, and home runs allowed). All seven pitchers are in the HOF and deservingly so.

		BB/9	SO/9	HR/9
Blyleven 2.39 6.70 0.78
Group Average 2.47 6.07 0.80

Blyleven's absence from the HOF is conspicuous, and it should be rectified sooner rather than later.

Best regards,


Bill then wrote back a final time with the following beauty:

I find strikeouts to be the most overrated pitching stat. An out is an out. . .Just as 1-0 and 4-3 are both wins. I don't do cybergeek stuff, so you lost me after point 3.
I guess I could have left well enough alone at this point but his comments just begged a last-ditch effort on my part.
With all due respect, Bill, I can't imagine that you would place equal value for a pitcher on a 4-3 win as you would a 1-0 win.

I agree an out is an out, but a strikeout is the only out that a pitcher is not dependent on his fielders. As a result, I think strikeouts are an indication of power, dominance, and greatness--and the handful of great pitchers above him and below him are a testament to the importance of this stat.

Re the "cybergeek stuff", it's not that difficult to understand if you would just take the time. There is no need to feel threatened by it all. We have more information available to us today than ever before so why not take advantage of these facts rather than simply ignoring them?

You know from watching Mike Schmidt that he was a great ballplayer. You also know by measuring him with traditional stats that you grew up with using that he was a great player. But he also is equally, if not even more, outstanding if you throw in on-base percentage, slugging average, on-base plus slugging (OPS), ballpark/era-adjusted OPS (OPS+), runs created, and runs created above replacement or average.

If anything, batting average doesn't do a lot for Schmidt's case and RBI are highly team dependent. Accordingly, if one refuses to look beyond the stats on the back of a baseball card, you're left with HR as one of the only great measures of Schmidt's offensive production when, in fact, he was much, much more than just a home run hitter (as you know).

I don't mean to be argumentative. Instead, I am just trying to point out the virtues of non-traditional baseball stats. But, either way (traditional or non-traditional), Blyleven's name is surrounded with nothing but Hall of Famers.



I wasn't surprised in the least when Bill opted to end our email exchange right then and there. I mean there's no use trying to reason with a "cybergeek", right?

Bill obviously views himself as one of the gatekeepers to the Hall of Fame. That's fine and dandy. I just wish he had a more systematic way of determining when to open and close the padlock. It's much easier to debate Bill's omissions than his choices this year (Dennis Eckersley, Paul Molitor, and Ryne Sandberg), but his reasoning seems old school to me. I don't think he will ever see the light when it comes to using more advanced baseball statistics in evaluating the pros and cons of Hall of Fame candidates.

Jeff Peek is a sportswriter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle. He cast his first ballot this year and wrote an article, entitled "Hall of Fame's Voting Easier Said Than Done". Other than Jack Morris, I can't really find fault with any of his selections. Jeff listed Bert Blyleven as one of his "Near Misses".

Hi, Richard: Thanks for the e-mail. I read your piece on Blyleven with great interest. Your research is outstanding, and your column is must-reading for every voting member of the BBWAA. Let's face it, I blew it on Blyleven. He'll get my vote next year.
"Let's face it, I blew it on Blyleven. He'll get my vote next year." Did I read that right? Oh my gosh, I think my research and analysis may have had an impact on a voting member of the BBWAA. How flattering. That inspires me to keep up the fight, and it should serve as a reminder for those of us on the outside that we have an indirect say in such matters as the all-important vote for the HOF.

In a follow-up email, Jeff wrote the following:

I don't have a problem admitting I'm wrong. I'm more interested in getting it right--even if it's the second time around.
I think Jeff's candor and open-mindedness speaks volumes about him. He is the type of writer who takes his voting responsibility seriously and is willing to look at the merits of a player's case utilizing more than just the basic stats now that there is a whole lot more information at hand.

Ken Rosenthal of The Sporting News is another voter who is big enough to right the wrongs of the past based on the metrics that are now available to all of us. As Aaron Gleeman reported last Wednesday, Rosenthal now believes Blyleven should be in the HOF after previously thinking otherwise. "Upon further review, Blyleven deserves to be in the Hall" is a refreshing perspective from a younger writer/voter.

In addition to Blyleven, Rosenthal voted "for Eckersley and Molitor, plus holdover candidates Andre Dawson, Rich Gossage, Ryne Sandberg, Lee Smith, Bruce Sutter and Alan Trammell". Fine candidates all. But, in this case, it's not so much who he voted for or who he didn't vote for. Instead, it's all about how he determined his vote, which can be summarized with the following excerpts:

But after considering the work of sabermetricians who insist Blyleven is Cooperstown worthy, I'm checking the box next to his name...Advanced statistical analysis offers fresh insight into the careers of pitchers such as Blyleven, providing richer context...Put it all together, and I'm finally sold.
Believe me, I'm not optimistic about Blyleven's chances this year at all. However, my sense is that he will take another small step and garner more than 30% of the votes for the first time ever. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the support for Bert reaches the mid-30s or almost half of the percentage required to gain admission to Cooperstown.
Year	Election    Votes     Pct
1998	BBWAA	      83     17.55
1999	BBWAA	      70     14.08
2000	BBWAA	      87     17.43
2001	BBWAA	     121     23.50
2002	BBWAA	     124     26.27
2003	BBWAA	     145     29.23
It will be a tough, uphill battle for Blyleven, but I am more confident today than ever before that he will eventually make it. Why? Two sentences. Old school is on its way out. New school is on its way in.

Keep the faith.

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