Baseball BeatJanuary 17, 2004
The Bert Alert
By Rich Lederer

The results of Neal Traven's 2004 Internet Hall of Fame (IHOF) vote were released about the same time as those from the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA). Traven, who is the co-chair of the Statistical Analysis Committee of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), has been conducting a HOF vote online since 1991.

As shown below, the IHOF and the BBWAA voters agree that Dennis Eckersley and Paul Molitor are worthy of enshrinement in Cooperstown. The two factions have not differed all that much over the past 12 years, seeing eye-to-eye on 14 of the 17 honorees. The Internet voters did not view Don Sutton, Tony Perez, and Kirby Puckett as deserving choices, and they saw fit to add Phil Niekro, Carlton Fisk, and Gary Carter one year before the BBWAA.

		       Internet Voting	        Actual Results	
Player		        Votes	Pct		Votes	Pct
Dennis Eckersley	1940	82.1		421	83.2
Paul Molitor		1888	79.9		431	85.2
Bert Blyleven		1717	72.7		179	35.4
Ryne Sandberg		1635	69.2		309	61.1
Rich Gossage		1236	52.3		206	40.7
Alan Trammell		968	41.0		70	13.8
Bruce Sutter		695	29.4		301	59.5
Jim Rice		553	23.4		276	54.6
Andre Dawson		510	21.6		253	50.0
Lee Smith		423	17.9		185	36.6
Tommy John		375	15.9		111	21.9
Jack Morris		368	15.6		133	26.3
Despite the unanimity with respect to Eckersley and Molitor, the Internet voters and the writers have a very different view of the other candidates. The player with the biggest disparity is none other than Bert Blyleven, who received nearly 73% of the online vote and only 35% of the actual vote. The latter, however, was a 6% improvement over the previous year. At that rate of progress, Blyleven will sneak into the HOF in his 14th year of eligibility.

If Blyleven can make it over the 50% hump, he will stand an excellent chance of eventually being inducted based on a study performed by Mike Carminati at Mike's Baseball Rants. According to Mike, Gil Hodges is the only player (other than those still on the ballot) who has received at least half of the votes and not been enshrined at a later date. Should the past be prologue, Ryne Sandberg (61%), Bruce Sutter (60%), Jim Rice (55%), and Andre Dawson (50%) appear to have an excellent shot at being enshrined.

Jay Jaffe, the proprietor of the Futility Infielder, wrote an outstanding and comprehensive two-part series for Baseball Prospectus analyzing the hitters and the pitchers from the Class of 2004. Here are a couple of excerpts from Jaffe's report on Blyleven:

Which brings us finally to Bert Blyleven, the stathead's choice among Hall-eligible starters, and quite possibly the best player not in the Hall of Fame...Hall of Fame voters perform all kinds of gymnastics in attempting to justify why Blyleven doesn't get their vote, most of them fixated on his relatively unimpressive winning percentage (.534), his 250 losses, a win total just shy of 300, and his failure to win a Cy Young award.

One of the traditional complaints against Blyleven is that he didn't win any Cy Young awards, and that he didn't win 300 games while a whole bunch of his contemporaries did. Well, here's how Bert compares to his enshrined contemporaries, ranked by weighted score:

           PRAA   PRAR   WARP3   PEAK   WPWT  PKPCT
Seaver 421 1463 142.9 50.2 96.6 35.1
Blyleven 311 1408 135.8 45.6 90.7 33.6
Perry 255 1434 133.4 47.7 90.6 35.8
Ryan 263 1488 131.1 42.2 86.7 32.2
Niekro 209 1385 130.0 42.2 86.1 32.5
Carlton 222 1357 123.8 38.0 80.9 33.6
Jenkins 236 1234 115.7 43.0 79.4 37.2
Palmer 230 1120 108.9 46.4 77.7 42.6
Sutton 170 1354 117.3 36.3 76.8 30.9
Hunter 38 836 76.0 42.0 59.0 55.3

One of these pitchers is not like the others, but it isn't Blyleven, it's Catfish Hunter, a pitcher who supposedly "pitched to the score" and thus had some high ERAs, not to mention a relatively short career. Blyleven is second among this group in WARP and PRAA, fourth in PEAK, and second in WPWT. At worst, by these measures, he's the fourth most valuable pitcher in this group. If that's not a Hall of Famer, I don't know what is. There isn't a player on the 2004 Hall of Fame ballot who deserves a vote more than Blyleven.

Jaffe is analytical, objective, and thorough. As such, his articles should be a must read by all of the Hall of Fame voters. If nothing else, these writers would at least be better informed the next time around. Quite frankly, basing decisions on memories and stats found on the back of a baseball card is simply an unacceptable method in the Information Age.

Steve Rushin of Sports Illlustrated devoted an entire column to Blyleven in the January 19, 2004 issue. Here is an excerpt from Rushin's "Hotfoot Him to the Hall":

Blyleven ranks fifth in career strikeouts. (Everyone else in the top 10 is or will be in the Hall of Fame.) He ranks ninth in shutouts. (Everyone else in the top 13 is in.) He ranks eighth all-time in games started. (Everyone else in the top 12 but sixth-ranked Tommy John is in.) And he ranks 13th all-time in innings pitched. (Everyone else in the top 16 is in.)

Hmmmm. I distinctly remember making some of those very arguments myself. Oh well, I'm glad to read that a member of the mainstream media is now jumping on the bandwagon. An article on behalf of Blyleven with the circulation of Sports Illustrated can only help his case. As I see it, the more, the merrier.

All aboard!