Around and Around We Go
Dan Lewis from ArmchairGM recently invited me to participate in The 2008 Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot -- A Roundtable Discussion.
David Pinto of Baseball Musings, Dayn Perry of FOXSports, Dan McLaughlin of Baseball Crank, and Matt Sussman of Deadspin were the other guests. The five of us were asked "to pick one guy to enshrine and one guy to leave out, and write an essay for each." I chose Bert Blyleven and Jack Morris (I'll let you guess which one I elected to support). Sussman took the opposing viewpoints.
Here is what I had to say about Blyleven:
The Hall of Fame case for Bert Blyleven is not complicated at all. In fact, it is simple and straightforward. Since 1900, Bert Blyleven ranks 5th in career strikeouts (3701), 8th in shutouts (60), and 17th in wins (287).
Blyleven's qualifications are obvious and compelling. One would have to ignore the facts to come up with reasons not to vote for him. To be honest, there really isn't much to debate here unless someone wants to point to all the nonsense I have refuted time and again in the past.
Blyleven has been scrutinized more closely than perhaps any other candidate in the history of the HOF voting. In fact, I would argue that he has been held to a different set of standards than most of the rest.
If Blyleven won a baker's dozen more games, he would have been a no brainer. Yes, 13 more wins and even those who now don't support Bert would have voted him in a long, long time ago. The funny thing is, there is no shame in having won 287 games, which ranks 17th among all pitchers over the past 100-plus years. I mean, there have been 60 pitchers from the ranks of MLB who have been enshrined in Cooperstown. SIXTY! Yet there is no place in upstate New York for a guy who ranks in the top ten in strikeouts and shutouts and in the top 25 in wins (including pre-1900).
After comparing Blyleven to eight of his ten most comparable pitchers according to Bill James' Similarity Scores (hint: his stats are basically indistinguishable and, if anything, slightly better) and refuting the naysayers who point to his poor showing in Cy Young balloting, I closed with the following paragraph:
Strikeouts, shutouts, wins . . . unlike Cy Young rankings, they are not subject to opinions. The facts speak for themselves. His poor showing in Cy Young votings says more about the voters than Blyleven. And, for the most part, the writers who voted for these awards are now the ones who are once again slighting Blyleven in the voting for the Hall of Fame. It's nonsensical. There was a disconnect between Bert's achievements and the recognition he received. It's time to correct that.
There is no doubt about it. That is a Hall of Fame resume. He isn't just a Hall of Famer. As HOF voter Joe Posnanski told me, "He's an absolute, slam-dunk, first-ballot guy. It's absurd." Anyone who still needs more convincing should go see a shrink.
As for Morris, I argued that he was a "good pitcher but is not a Hall of Famer" while comparing his regular and postseason record to Blyleven's.
The fact that Jack Morris pitched for three different World Series championship teams is a big plus for him in the minds of many voters. He was instrumental in Detroit and Minnesota when these teams won it all in 1984 and 1991, respectively, but Toronto won in spite of him in 1992 when he went 0-2 with an 8.44 ERA.
Add it all up and Morris was 7-4 with a 3.80 ERA in seven postseason series, 4-2 with a 2.96 ERA in three World Series. By comparison, Blyleven pitched on two World Series Championship teams, compiling a 5-1 record and a 2.47 ERA in five postseason series and was 2-1 with a 2.35 ERA in two World Series. And yet Morris is the one people remember as the big game pitcher? I don't want to demean his Game 7 complete game shutout over the Atlanta Braves to capture the 1991 World Series. That was huge. But he comes up well short of Blyleven by almost any rational measure.
Take neutral wins. If Morris and Blyleven both had league average run support, Jack would have won 22 fewer games and Bert would have won 26 more games. Yes, Morris' overall record would have been 232-208 (.527) while Blyleven would have been 313-224 (.583).
Morris had an ERA of 3.90. If elected, his ERA would rank dead last. I might be able to overcome that if his ballpark-adjusted ERA (or ERA+) painted a different picture. But it doesn't. Morris' ERA+ was 105. That means he was 5% better than league average. Blyleven's ERA+ was 118 or 18% above league average. Morris never had a single season higher than 133. Blyleven had six seasons in which his ERA+ was better than 133.
There really is no comparison. Blyleven had a (much) better ERA and ERA+ than Morris. Blyleven had (a lot) more strikeouts, shutouts, and wins than Morris. Blyleven is a clear-cut Hall of Famer. Morris was a good pitcher but is not a Hall of Famer. If Morris is, he'll have to wait in line behind Blyleven.
For more on Blyleven, please check out the links in the sidebar on the left under Best of Baseball Beat.