It's All Dutch to Some
After four days of Bert Blyleven for Hall of Fame articles, I thought it would make sense to take inventory of where the series stands.
First of all, I would like to thank Rob Neyer, Dayn Perry, and Jeff Peek for submitting their guest columns. Neyer did a masterful job favorably comparing Bert Blyleven to Don Sutton, who was inducted into the HOF in 1998 with 81.6% of the vote. Perry showed that Blyleven's stats were closer than not to Warren Spahn, "the board-certified, inner-circle Hall of Famer." Peek, a member of the BBWAA, urged fellow voters "to put their stubborness aside and swallow their pride. If you didn't vote for Blyleven in the past, you've been making a mistake. I know. I made the same one. But only once."
I feel good about the body of work that has been put on display this week. To recap, Blyleven ranks 5th in career strikeouts, 8th in shutouts, and 17th in wins since 1900. He is also 12th in Runs Saved Above Average. Other than Blyleven, the top 15 in Ks, 16 in SHO, 19 in W (sans Tommy John), and 16 in RSAA are in the HOF or will be five years after they retire (Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, and Pedro Martinez).
Blyleven's stats are indistinguishable from the eight most similar pitchers (as determined by the highly respected Baseball-Reference.com) -- Don Sutton, Gaylord Perry, Fergie Jenkins, Robin Roberts, Tom Seaver, Early Wynn, Phil Niekro, and Steve Carlton -- who have already been inducted into Cooperstown.
IP H ER BB SO HR ERA ERA+
Blyleven 4970 4632 1830 1322 3701 430 3.31 118
Group Average 4974 4541 1800 1429 3263 434 3.26 115
If you want some sizzle to go with your steak, 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. He also pitched on two World Series Championship teams, compiling a 5-1 W-L record and a 2.47 ERA in the postseason. Bert won 15 games by a 1-0 score -- third on the all-time list behind a couple of guys named Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson. Lastly, he is one of only three pitchers in MLB history to win a game before the age of 20 and after 40.
There are 66 pitchers in the Hall of Fame, including seven who pitched in the Negro Leagues. Of the 59 who spent their career in the American and National Leagues (or their predecessors), only 20 had the good fortune of winning 300 games. That's right, nearly two-thirds of the pitchers in the HOF never won 300 games. Moreover, Blyleven's 287 victories place him above 39 pitchers currently enshrined in Cooperstown.
Nonetheless, the fact that Blyleven failed to win 300 has been used against him in arguing why he doesn't belong since his first year on the ballot in 1998. I have heard countless other claims ("never won a Cy Young," "didn't have enough 20-win seasons," "wasn't a dominant pitcher," "couldn't win close games," "rarely was the ace of his own staff," "was a malcontent," ad finitum) and have tried to address each and everyone in previous articles as well as in some of the comments attached to them on our site or at the Baseball Primer Newsblog. Nobody ever said Blyleven was perfect. He certainly wasn't the best pitcher ever or even the greatest of his generation. But that shouldn't be the point here. Among all the HOF pitchers, Bert fits right smack in the middle of the pack. Blyleven's admission wouldn't lower the standards by any means, yet his absence raises lots of questions about dozens of pitchers who have already been inducted.
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In Neyer's latest column at ESPN Insider (subscription required), he covers the five Hall of Fame candidates -- Bruce Sutter (67%), Jim Rice (60%), Goose Gossage (55%), Andre Dawson (52%) and Blyleven (41%) -- who received the most support last year without gaining the necessary 75% for election.
Every great (or near-great) player has his supporters. But Blyleven is a special case. Blyleven's qualifications are so obvious, so compelling that reasonable citizens of the reality-based community have lined up behind him everywhere. In the just-published Hardball Times Annual, Bill James addresses the question about the support (or lack thereof) Blyleven received from his teammates. And over at baseballanalysts.com, they're running a whole series of articles about Blyleven.
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If you read all these things, you might think everybody's stacking the deck in Blyleven's favor. They're not. As far as I know, none of the authors has a rooting interest in anything more than justice. And I'm still waiting for a serious analyst to make a convincing argument that Bert Blyleven does not belong in Cooperstown.
Former colleague Alex Belth, the founder and co-writer of Bronx Banter, has hooked up with SI.com for the second time in two weeks. Alex's first special was "Catfish to A-Rod: Landmark moments from baseball's free-agent era" and his second "The all-time non-Hall of Fame team" was posted today.
Since 1900, Blyleven ranks fifth in career strikeouts (3701), eighth in shutouts (60) and 17th in wins (287). Other than Tommy John (who has one more win than Blyleven), everybody who ranks ahead of Blyleven in strikeouts, shutouts or wins is either in the Hall of Fame or will be enshrined five years after they retire. According to Rich Lederer, who is hosting a "Bert Blyleven for Hall of Fame Week" at The Baseball Analysts this week, "The case against Blyleven is that he didn't win 300 games or a Cy Young Award. But there are dozens of pitchers who were elected to the HOF who didn't accomplish that either, yet there isn't one pitcher who did everything he did who is NOT in Cooperstown."
Belth's first book, Stepping Up: The Story of All-Star Curt Flood and His Fight for Baseball Players' Rights, will be published next spring. It says here that Belth will become a regular columnist for SI before Opening Day.
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Jay Jaffe has begun his annual series of Hall of Fame articles at Baseball Prospectus. Today's feature is The Class of 2006: Starting Pitchers (subscription required).
Blyleven is quite possibly the best player not in the Hall of Fame; among those eligible, no player scores higher on the JAWS scale. He's the stathead's choice among Hall-eligible starters, and his candidacy has been gaining momentum in recent years. As I write this the Baseball Analysts website is in the midst of a week devoted to Blyleven's candidacy, with guest articles from honest-to-goodness BBWAA voter Jeff Peek, ESPN's Rob Neyer, and my BP colleague Dayn Perry.
Jaffe writes several more paragraphs on Blyleven and details how he ranks among his contemporaries, as well as the all-time greats.
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We also got a link at Honkbalforum:
Ik vind persoonlijk dat Blyleven in de Hall of Fame thuishoort maar ik ga niemand proberen te overtuigen, dat laat ik doen. Deze week besteed http://www.baseballanalysts.com/ aandacht aan de Hall of Fame-case van Bert Blyleven. Lees en wees overtuigd.
My son, via an online translator, did me a favor and converted the Dutch to English: "I find personal that Blyleven in the Hall or Fame belong but I will try nobody persuade, that lets do I. These yielded spend http://www.baseballanalysts.com/ attention to the hall or Fame-case of Bert Blyleven. Read and indicated convinced."
There are a couple of follow-up comments at that forum for those who would like to bone up on their Dutch.
The series concludes this weekend with another special guest appearance by a well-known Hall of Fame voter who is now casting his ballot for Blyleven for the first time. Pretty cool, huh?
Dank u voor het bezoeken.
[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]