Baseball BeatDecember 18, 2006
Answering the Naysayers (Part Two)
By Rich Lederer

Two years ago, I wrote a column Answering the Naysayers that was designed to counter three general beliefs held by the dissenting crowd as to why Bert Blyleven wasn't a worthy Hall of Fame selection. The notions that Blyleven (1) didn't win a Cy Young Award or finish in the top ten often enough, (2) wasn't a "dominant" pitcher in his era, and/or (3) was no better than Tommy John or Jim Kaat were pretty much dispelled with facts rather than opinions in that particular article.

Today, I'm responding to two more arguments against Blyleven that come up from time to time when discussing his candidacy. Many naysayers contend that Blyleven made only two All-Star teams and found a way to lose too many close games. The first point is true - Blyleven was named to All-Star teams in 1973 and 1985 - but it is hardly valid. And I will show you why. The second point has been researched by a few analysts, including most recently by Bill James in The Hardball Times Annual 2006. My goal in this matter is to add a different perspective, suggesting that he was really no different than most of his peers.

Thanks to Retrosheet and Baseball-Reference, we can examine these issues more closely today than when Blyleven's name first appeared on the ballot in 1998.

As it relates to the number of All-Star Game appearances, Blyleven generally pitched better in the second half of the season than in the first half. Unfortunately, All-Star selections are based on how players perform during April, May, and June rather than July, August, and September.

             W   L   PCT    ERA    IP      H     R    ER   HR    BB    SO
1st Half   150 140  .517   3.47  2738   2620  1167  1056  258   726  2046  
2nd Half   137 110  .555   3.12  2232   2012   862   774  172   596  1655

Given that W-L records and ERAs are the stats most heavily considered by managers when it comes to picking All-Star starting pitchers, it follows that Blyleven would have been viewed more favorably had this honor taken place at the end of the season rather than in the middle.

If anything, Blyleven's splits should be viewed in a positive light. He did his best work in August and September (and in the postseason).

             W   L    ERA    IP      H     R    ER   HR    BB    SO
April/Mar.  30  36   3.61   680.2  661   301   273   69   199   487 
May         50  41   3.40   858.1  800   360   324   72   220   689 
June        49  46   3.37   803    773   337   301   78   212   596 
July        48  44   3.70   873    831   390   359   88   240   613 
August      59  36   2.89   863    770   313   277   62   222   645 
Sept./Oct.  51  47   2.99   892    797   328   296   61   229   671 
Postseason   5   1   2.47    47.1   43    15    13    5     8    36   

Blyleven performed like an All-Star in 1971, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1981, 1984, 1985, 1986, and 1989. For example, in his first full season in 1971, Bert led the league in strikeouts-to-walks (3.80), ranked third in Runs Saved Against Average (26), fourth in strikeouts (224) and adjusted ERA+ (127), fifth in ERA (2.81) and shutouts (5), eighth in complete games (17), and ninth in innings pitched (278 1/3), yet he wasn't an All-Star. Blyleven rightfully made the team in 1973 when he was arguably the best pitcher in the AL.

In 1974, Blyleven was 2nd in K (249), K/BB (3.23), and ERA+ (142); 4th in ERA (2.66), WHIP (1.14), and RSAA (32); and 10th in CG (19), yet failed to earn All-Star honors once again.

One year later, Bert ended up 2nd in K (233), 3rd in WHIP (1.10) and RSAA (34), 4th in K/BB (2.77), 5th in CG (20) and ERA+ (129), 6th in ERA (3.00), 7th in IP (275 2/3), and 9th in SHO (3) and, lo and behold, didn't make the All-Star team.

In 1976, Blyleven was 2nd in SHO (6), 3rd in K (219), 4th in IP (297 2/3), 5th in K/BB (2.70), 7th in RSAA (23), 8th in ERA+ (125), and 9th in ERA (2.87) and CG (18) but took another mini-vacation in July.

Bert may have been the best pitcher in the AL once again in 1977. He led the league in WHIP (1.07) and RSAA (39); was 2nd in ERA (2.72), ERA+ (151), and shutouts (5); 7th in K (182); 8th in K/BB (2.64); and 10th in CG (15), yet had nothing to show for it in terms of being an All-Star.

In the strike-shortened 1981 season, Blyleven ranked 3rd in K (107) and K/BB (2.67); 8th in WHIP (1.16) and ERA (2.88); 9th in ERA+ (126) and CG (9); and 10th in W (11). He watched the ASG from home.

In 1984, Bert led the league in RSAA (40); placed 2nd in W (19), WHIP (1.13), and ERA+ (142); 3rd in ERA (2.87) and SHO (4); 4th in K (170) and CG (12); and 8th in K/BB (2.30) despite playing for a team with a 75-87 record that ended up sixth in a seven-team division. He must have been an All-Star that year, right? Nope, he was left off the team again.

Blyleven made the All-Star team in 1985 for the second time in his career. However, he was ignored the following year when he led the league in IP (271 2/3) as well as in K/BB (3.71); placed 2nd in CG (16), 4th in K (215) and SHO (3), 6th in W (17), 7th in WHIP (1.18), and 10th in RSAA (19).

In 1989, the 38-year-old led the league in SHO (5); ranked 3rd in WHIP (1.12) and RSAA (28); 4th in ERA (2.73), ERA+ (140), and CG (8); 5th in K/BB (2.98); 6th in W (17); and 7th in IP (241), yet missed out on being an All-Star. Go figure.

As demonstrated, the fact that Blyleven was only named an All-Star twice is more a function of the system than a reflection on how well he pitched.


With regards to point number two ("Blyleven found a way to lose too many close games"), an examination of how he pitched when earning a "W" or "L" is instructive as well as his so-called clutch stats.

First things first. Blyleven had an ERA of 1.60 in games he won. He had an ERA of 5.40 in games he lost. Although the disparity between the two results seems wide, it is in-line with Blyleven's ten most comparable pitchers as determined by Bill James' similarity scores.

                      WERA     LERA
Bert Blyleven         1.60     5.40
Don Sutton            1.66     5.70  
Gaylord Perry         1.54     5.26     
Fergie Jenkins        1.85     5.27  
Tommy John            1.57     5.72 
Robin Roberts*        1.93     5.35  
Tom Seaver            1.61     4.92  
Jim Kaat              1.87     5.40
Early Wynn*           1.62     6.27             
Phil Niekro           1.77     5.37 
Steve Carlton         1.73     5.28  
* 1957-on

The average WERA is 1.72 and the average LERA is 5.45. The spread between the two is about the same for Blyleven and his peers. Bert actually outperformed the group in both winning and losing efforts, and there is certainly no evidence to suggest that he fared materially better or worse than the others in either case.

If Blyleven didn't pitch well when the game was on the line, wouldn't this fact show up in his situational stats?

                 AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS  
2 outs, RISP    .236  .325  .350  .675  
Late & Close    .260  .320  .368  .688  
Tie Game        .246  .304  .362  .666  
Within 1 R      .248  .304  .363  .667  
Within 2 R      .251  .306  .368  .674  
Within 3 R      .249  .304  .366  .670 
Within 4 R      .250  .304  .368  .672  
Margin > 4 R    .225  .269  .352  .621  
Career          .248  .301  .367  .668  

Sure, Blyleven was at his best when the margin was over four runs but that is basically the case with all pitchers. In fact, nine of his top ten comps also pitched better in such situations (with only Kaat doing worse). Like Blyleven, seven of them were at their best when the margin was over four runs. It is simply the norm rather than the exception.

Perhaps the most damning evidence against those who claim Blyleven didn't win the close ones is the following fact:

Over the course of his career, Bert was 15-10 (.600) in 1-0 games. His 15 1-0 victories rank third on the all-time list behind Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson.

None of these points alone should put Blyleven in the Hall of Fame. By the same token, none should keep him out. The bottom line is that his stats speak for themselves. To wit. . .

  • Since 1900, Blyleven ranks 5th in career strikeouts, 8th in shutouts, and 18th in wins.
  • Blyleven is one of only eight pitchers in the top 20 in strikeouts, shutouts, and wins. The other seven? Steve Carlton, Fergie Jenkins, Johnson, Gaylord Perry, Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, and Don Sutton. Four of these seven pitchers were first-ballot HOFers and the other three made it no later than the fifth year of eligibility.
  • Blyleven is 12th in Runs Saved Against Average.
  • Of Blyleven's top ten comps (see list above), eight are in the Hall of Fame. Here is how he stacks up with those HOFers:
                  IP     H    ER    BB    SO   HR   ERA   ERA+  BB/9    SO/9    HR/9
    Blyleven    4970  4632  1830  1322  3701  430  3.31   118   2.39    6.70    0.78  
    Group Avg   4974  4541  1800  1429  3263  434  3.26   115   2.59    5.90    0.79

    Despite having numbers equal to or better than the group average, Blyleven remains on the outside looking in while two were elected in their first try and the other six waited no more than five years.

Let's face it, Blyleven is more than qualified for the Hall of Fame. He is not a "borderline candidate" as Buster Olney called him last year. Based on career value, one could easily make the case that he is one of the top 20 most productive pitchers in the history of modern baseball, yet 2007 marks the 10th year he has been on the ballot.

Sutton (1998) and Ryan (1999) are the only starting pitchers who have received 75% of the vote since Blyleven became eligible. That's right, no starter has been inducted in Cooperstown in the last seven years - a period in which the voters have seen fit to honor ten position players and two relievers. Amazingly, only four starting pitchers - Sutton, Ryan, Phil Niekro (1997), and Carlton (1994) - have been enshrined since Blyleven retired 14 years ago.

For whatever reason, voters seem to have a hard time pulling the trigger not just for Blyleven but starting pitchers in general. The fact that Bert won "only" 287 seems to be holding him back even though he ranks 18th in victories since 1900. EIGHTEENTH! I don't know what the equivalent stat is for hitters but Rod Carew ranks 18th in hits, Charlie Gehringer ranks 18th in runs, Cal Ripken Jr. ranks 18th in RBI, Eddie Mathews and Ernie Banks are tied for 17th in HR (Mel Ott is 19th), Reggie Jackson is 18th in extra-base hits, Wade Boggs is 18th in times on base, and Jimmie Foxx 18th in total bases since 1900.

Still not convinced? No problem. Blyleven ranks eighth in career shutouts. Hitters who also rank eighth in the categories above include Eddie Collins, Harmon Killebrew, Eddie Murray, Stan Musial, Frank Robinson, Tris Speaker, and Carl Yastrzemski.

Anyone who still needs more convincing shouldn't have a vote. But let's finish this little exercise anyway. Blyleven ranks fifth in career strikeouts. Hitters who rank fifth in the categories above include Speaker and Yaz, as well as Ty Cobb, Willie Mays, and Babe Ruth.

The hitting equivalents of Blyleven are all inner circle Hall of Famers. It follows that he is also a Hall of Famer. No more excuses. Vote for Bert Blyleven for the Hall of Fame. Now.


I'm convinced Rich. Unfortunately, like you, I don't have a vote. Things seem to be moving in Blyleven's direction. I note that Eddie Murray's name pops up toward the end of the article. I've always seen Blyleven as the pitching equivalent Murray. Same era. Nice long career. A few of big years. Never a media darling. No highlight moment that makes the ESPN all-time top ten lists.

I also see Tommy John's name in there. And I frequently see John referenced in relation to Blyleven, as obvious evidence that Blyleven should not be in the Hall. I grew up a big Tommy John fan. No Nolan Ryans or Vida Blues for me. I see Blyleven as a slam dunk candidate for the Hall, and I know that John does not quite measure up statistically. But his comps are excellent. His career number are very good. And he did most of it following an experimental arm surgery that now bears his name. And we know that if he had rolled up twelve more garbage wins along the way, he'd be in the Hall right now. He was never Nolan Ryan, Steve Carlton or Tom Seaver, but given that so few starters seem to be deemed worthy over the past decade and a half, is it time to start to think about guys like John?

Stop using facts, logic, common sense and solid research, Rich. You're just confusing HOF voters who have their heads in the sand.

Good analysis, and good arguments. And, yes, I support Blyleven's induction.

You might want to amend your closing arguments, though. Comparing Blyleven at 18th in wins to hitters who are 18th in anything is a bit off. The pool of hitters is so much larger than that of pitchers that ranking 18th in any hitting category is more impressive. Use percentile rank instead of rank; that is more appropriate.

Still, I think the argument works in your favor.

Like virtually all people who read this cite, I have long been convinced of Bert's worthiness. Having said that, when I think of Blyleven, I think of great curveballs and his longtime standing as the single season leader in giving up HRs. For some reason, that stat got a ton of publicity at the time and took a really long time to get broken, given huge increases in HRs (I think it was just broken in the last two or three years, I suspect by Eric Milton, but I am not really sure). I think it somehow creates a negative connotation with his name that has hungover for all these years.

I really think it's a shame that you have to go through all of this to make Bert's induction seem valid. Anyone who knows the game, and knows how to interept statistics should know he belongs.

Man, while I really want to see Blyleven inducted, it'd mean that I'd no longer to have these excellent articles to look anticipate.

If the numbers don't turn the tide, how about having one of the all-time greatest Chris Berman nick names. Bert "be home" Blyleven! That's gotta count for something!

I agree wholeheartedly that Blyleven should be in, and should have been in long before now.

I'd like to add that at the break in 1989 Bert was 8-2 with a 2.15 ERA....yet this wasn't good enough! He also had a 2.46 ERA in 11 no-decisions that year while going 17-5. No doubt with a little better luck that one year he'd have had that 22 or 23 win season that everyone seems to think is missing.

Bottom line, when you add the 5-1, 2.47 lifetime postseason record (in one of those games in 1987 he outpitched the man widely considered to be the best "big game" pitcher of the era, Jack Morris) to his other qualifications, he should certainly be in.

Another year and another excellent analysis by Rich on Blyleven. This is getting silly. How many more of these articles do we need? Excellent as these may be, I think it's time that Blyleven be enshrined and Rich can go on writing the crowning chapter of Bert's career.

Great points made in Blyleven's case for the HOF. Like you and many others, I was aghast that it has taken this long for voters to figure out how good he was, I would have voted him in his first year based on what I read and saw during his career - I find it amazing that professional baseball writers could not see that, but after finding out that Babe Ruth and Willie Mays were not unanimous vote-ins, I am never surprised by the baseball writers lack of common baseball sense. Now you make all these great points and hopefully the newly enlightened writers pass this article around to their brethren who still have their heads in the sand and get Bert where he belongs.