The Hall of Fame Case for Bert Blyleven
Beginning today, it's Bert Blyleven for Hall of Fame Week at the Baseball Analysts. We have a killer lineup, including Rob Neyer on Tuesday, Dayn Perry on Wednesday, and Jeff Peek on Thursday.
I'm going to be candid about the motive behind this special feature right from the outset. The purpose is none other than to raise the awareness of Blyleven's qualifications for the Hall of Fame prior to the time when most of the voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America cast their ballots.
There are 29 eligible players on the ballot this year and nobody is more qualified than Bert Blyleven. His case is pretty simple and straightforward.
The good news is that Bert's vote total has increased every year since 1999, and it appears to be picking up steam. The bad news is that he is still well short of the 75% needed for enshrinement.
Year Votes Pct
1998 83 17.55
1999 70 14.08
2000 87 17.43
2001 121 23.50
2002 124 26.27
2003 145 29.23
2004 179 35.38
2005 211 40.89
This year marks the ninth time that Blyleven has been on the ballot. Fifteen players have been elected since Bert's first year. Twelve position players and three pitchers. In other words, only 20% of the honorees during the past eight years have been pitchers, despite the fact that pitching is widely considered to be about 35% of the game. Moreover, no starting pitcher has gained election since 1999 when Nolan Ryan was inducted with a near-record 98.8% of the votes.
The writers are instructed that "voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played." I'm not the one to judge integrity, sportsmanship, and character, but the Hall of Fame case for Blyleven based on his playing record and the contributions to his teams is indisputable.
Now that I have made my way up to the top of the mountain and cupped my hands around my mouth, I will shout out the following:
Since 1900, Bert Blyleven ranks 5th in career strikeouts, 8th in shutouts, and 17th in wins.
There are only eight pitchers who rank in the top 20 in wins, shutouts, and strikeouts. Here is the list:
Wins SO SHO
Bert Blyleven 17th 5th 8th
Steve Carlton 6th 4th 13th
Ferguson Jenkins 19th 11th 17th
Walter Johnson 1st 9th 1st
Gaylord Perry 12th 8th 14th
Nolan Ryan 8th 1st 6th
Tom Seaver 13th 6th 6th
Don Sutton 8th 7th 9th
Ryan is the only pitcher who ranks higher than Blyleven in all three categories. That's right, there is only one pitcher in the history of baseball who has more wins, strikeouts, and shutouts than Blyleven. There are thousands of pitchers who rank below Blyleven in these three important measures, including tens of Hall of Famers and a half dozen -- Jim Bunning, Bob Gibson, Catfish Hunter, Ferguson Jenkins, Juan Marichal, and Jim Palmer -- who had overlapping careers.
Blyleven ranks in the middle of these six pitchers in ERA+ (the ratio of the league's ERA to that of the pitcher, adjusted for the effects of the home ballpark). The calculation is as follows: lgERA divided by ERA, where > 100 is above average and < 100 is below average.
Bob Gibson 127
Jim Palmer 125
Juan Marichal 122
Bert Blyleven 118
Ferguson Jenkins 115
Jim Bunning 114
Catfish Hunter 104
As detailed, Blyleven's career totals exceed all of the pitchers in the table above and his Adjusted ERA is better than Jenkins, Bunning, and Hunter. But let's not stop with this group of pitchers. Bert's stats, in fact, are indistinguishable from the eight most similar pitchers who have already been given their day in upstate New York:
Don Sutton (914) *
Gaylord Perry (909) *
Fergie Jenkins (890) *
Robin Roberts (876) *
Tom Seaver (864) *
Early Wynn (844) *
Phil Niekro (844) *
Steve Carlton (840) *
* - Signifies Hall of Famer
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
Blyleven's counting stats and ERA/ERA+ are almost identical to the average of these eight pitchers across the board. However, his rate stats for the three areas most controlled by the pitcher are slightly better than this exclusive group.
BB/9 SO/9 HR/9
Blyleven 2.39 6.70 0.78
Group Average 2.59 5.90 0.79
As we have all been taught along the way, "with privileges come responsibilities." Those writers who have been entrusted to vote for the Hall of Fame need to take the time to examine Blyleven's credentials. I have read and heard many convincing cases over the years "FOR" Blyleven and am still waiting for someone to present a strong case "AGAINST" him. Oh, sure, I know about those critics who claim that "Blyleven didn't win a Cy Young Award or finish in the top ten often enough" or "Blyleven wasn't a dominant pitcher in his era" or "Blyleven was no better than Tommy John or Jim Kaat and neither of them are in the Hall of Fame."
Well, I've got responses for all three in Bert Blyleven For Hall of Fame: Answering the Naysayers. I urge all voters who have yet to mark an "x" next to Blyleven's name and those who are sitting on the fence to read that column as well as Only the Lonely: The Hall of Fame Trials and Tribulations of Bert Blyleven. If these articles don't do the job, I can only say that I wish you success in booting out of Cooperstown every player not named Aaron, Alexander, Cobb, DiMaggio, Gehrig, Grove, Hornsby, Johnson, Mantle, Mathewson, Mays, Musial, Schmidt, Speaker, Wagner, and Williams because your Hall of Fame is a lot smaller than mine.
* * * * *
I wrote a short piece recently about Blyleven in a feature at Halo's Heaven called the The 100 Greatest Angels. Blyleven was ranked #79 by the Rev Halofan Mat.
[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]