Another Addition to the Bert Blyleven Series
I received an email yesterday afternoon from my colleague Patrick Sullivan. The subject read: "Paging Mr. Lederer..." The body of the email had a link to a blog entry by T.R. Sullivan, the Texas Rangers beat writer for MLB.com. (Editor's note: the Sullivans are not related.)
After wringing my hands, I wrote back to Sully and said, "I'll tackle that one tonight for tomorrow. I can give T.R. Bert Blyleven's qualifications in one sentence."
However, before I do that for the umpteenth time, I believe it would be useful to provide excerpts from T.R.'s article. He has been covering the Rangers since 1989, first as a writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and for MLB.com since January 2006.
The Hall of Fame ballot is supposed to be in the mail. I haven't received it yet but should shortly. Not sure on who I will vote for but no doubt others have their opinion.
Sullivan discusses Rickey Henderson, Mark McGwire, Andre Dawson, Jack Morris, Jim Rice, and then . . . Bert Blyleven.
Bert Blyleven - I spend more time on him each year than any other player. Far more. Far, far, far more. I still don't see it and I really agonize over this. I see one 20-win season. I see no Cy Young Awards and just two All-Star appearances. Two? I see just four seasons where he was at least five games above .500. I don't buy the "bad teams" argument. Between 1977-80, his teams averaged 90 wins a season. Over that same period, he averaged 12 wins per season. He won 12 games for the Pirates in 1979 when they won 98 and the World Series.
Well, T.R., here is what you are missing . . . And I'll follow the rule as set forth in No. 2 above. But I'll even make it simpler. Rather than using THREE sentences, I will reduce Blyleven's credentials to ONE.
That should do it, don't ya think?
Blyleven is 5th in career strikeouts. Every pitcher in the top 17 who is eligible for the Hall of Fame has already been enshrined in Cooperstown except Blyleven. The only four pitchers who have struck out more batters than Bert are Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, and Steve Carlton. The nine pitchers immediately behind Blyleven are Tom Seaver, Don Sutton, Gaylord Perry, Walter Johnson, Greg Maddux, Phil Niekro, Fergie Jenkins, Bob Gibson, and Pedro Martinez. That's keeping pretty good company, no?
Blyleven is 9th in career shutouts overall and 8th since 1900. The only pitchers with more white washes are Walter Johnson, Pete Alexander, Christy Mathewson, Cy Young, Eddie Plank, Warren Spahn, Nolan Ryan, and Tom Seaver. Hall of Famers all. In fact, one could make the case that these eight pitchers are inner circle Hall of Famers. The 13 pitchers immediately behind Blyleven are Don Sutton, Pud Galvin, Ed Walsh, Bob Gibson, Mordecai Brown, Steve Carlton, Jim Palmer, Gaylord Perry, Juan Marichal, Rube Waddell, Vic Willis, Don Drysdale, and Fergie Jenkins. Once again, each and every one of these pitchers is a member of the Hall of Fame. In fact, every pitcher who has 50 or more shutouts is in the HOF except Blyleven. And he has SIXTY!
Blyleven is 27th in career wins and 19th since 1900. Every pitcher above Blyleven who is eligible for the Hall of Fame has been inducted into Cooperstown except Bobby Mathews, a 19th-century hurler with 297 wins, and Tommy John, who accumulated one more victory than Bert. Immediately behind Blyleven are Hall of Famers such as Robin Roberts, Fergie Jenkins, Red Ruffing, Burleigh Grimes, Jim Palmer, Bob Feller, and Eppa Rixey. There are dozens of others behind this group who are also in the HOF, including such notables as Carl Hubbell, Bob Gibson, and Sandy Koufax, as well as Catfish Hunter, a Blyleven contemporary who won 63 fewer games and trailed in shutouts by 18 and strikeouts by 1,689. Blyleven didn't just trounce Hunter in counting stats but he also trumped him in arguably the most important rate stat for pitchers. Hunter's adjusted ERA (ERA+) was 104 (or 4% better than the league average). By comparison, Blyleven's ERA+ was 118 (or 18% better than the league average).
Sullivan adds a final word . . .
My ballot is subject to change every year. I go over every player on the ballot and examine his record on www.baseball-reference.com every year. Blyleven especially. There may be a year when I vote for a player and then not vote for him the next year. There are a number of players who I go back and forth on. That's just the way it is.
You gotta give T.R. credit. He wants to be objective. I mean, if "www.baseball-reference.com is the final word," then Sullivan is a numbers guy. I like that. At least we can argue about facts rather than opinions.
I couldn't be more confident that the following screen shots taken directly from Sullivan's "final word" will do the trick when it comes to convincing him (and, hopefully, other voters) that Blyleven deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.
+ Indicates Hall of Famer. Bold indicates active player. * Throws left-handed.
As shown, Blyleven ranks 5th in career strikeouts. Check out the pitchers directly above and below him.
As detailed, Blyleven is 9th in career shutouts overall and 8th since 1900. Once again, check out the pitchers ranked immediately above or below him. Not too shabby, huh?
If not for 19th-century pitchers Cy Young, Pud Galvin, Kid Nichols, Tim Keefe, John Clarkson, Charley Radbourn, Mickey Welch, and Bobby Mathews, Blyleven would rank 19th in career wins (rather than 27th).
Let me close by repeating the simple and straightforward case as to why Blyleven belongs in the Hall of Fame:
I always like to do something like this - http://tinyurl.com/5ow2ea - to see how the player compared to their peers in the same pitching/batting era...facing the same players, same training techniques, same etc's. The HOF should be about who the best from each era was, not so much a who-compares-to-classic-players opinion. I used to think CY's, MVP's, etc were a valuable tool in judging that, but (thanks to stats databases) in the past few years I've found there's been some bad calls on awards in the past, so I don't put as much stock in that anymore. So I totally understand your ignoring "Bly's lack of Cy's".
Too bad I don't have a vote.
Posted by: Devon Young at December 5, 2008 6:34 AM
Thank you, thank you, thank you!
Posted by: David in Toledo at December 5, 2008 6:53 AM
What about the fact that Blyleven had 429 Quality Starts? Since 1957, only bettered by Sutton, Seaver, Carlton, Ryan, Perry, Clemens, Neikro and John.
Here's another fact. Blyleven pitched in 275 games where he went at least seven innings and gave up two runs or less. Since 1957, only bettered by Sutton (331), Clemens, Perry, Ryan, Carlton, Seaver, Neikro, Maddux and John. The fact is, he is 68th in winning percentage in those games out of 156 pitchers with over 100 since '57. (Nolan Ryan is 69th by the way)
That's why you don't look at Wins.
Posted by: Christopher Gehringer at December 5, 2008 7:47 AM
I agree that Blyleven should be in, but strike-outs are just outs. Usuing strikeouts as an arugument for enshrinement is not exactly addressing the issue. I saw him pitch: he was awesome at times, but he seemed to be not as business-like as Catfish Hunter. Hunter seemingly did what he did to win. Blyleven seemingly did what he did for himself. No critcism here: it just seemed that way. Fans razzing Blyleven seemed to affect him while pitchers like Jenkins and Hunter never seemed affected at all. But I hope he gets in this year. He is a much nicer guy since he retired.
Posted by: Chris Waters at December 5, 2008 7:48 AM
Chris Waters - you're joking about strikeouts right? The strikeout is the single most important measure of dominance a pitcher can inflict on the opposing team. When the ball isn't put into play there is no chance to get on base or move runners over. Now, I understand that groundballs are good as well, however, even a great defense that is near the top of the league in converting grounders to outs isn't going to get to everything, right? Combine a high strikeout rate with a low walk rate like Blyleven did and you have the makings of success. If that isn't "business-like" then I don't what is if the business is getting outs and not putting men on base.
Posted by: Clean88GT at December 5, 2008 8:01 AM
What of the fact that Blyleven had 11 seasons with an ERA+ of 120 or better? Does that meet the "10 truly excellent years" criteria? Or at least give some food for thought on that one?
Carlton, by the way, had 6 such years. Gaylord Perry had 11 also. Ryan had 7. Jenkins had 9. Or that Blyleven had an ERA+ over 140 five times? Jenkins had 1, Ryan and Perry 3 each and Carlton also had 5 such seasons.
Some other indications of 10 excellent seasons. Blyleven was in the top 10 of all pitchers in his league in the following categories:
ERA: 10 times
WHIP: 11 times (#1 in 1977)
K/9: 14 times
Ks: 15 times (#1 in 1985)
IP: 11 times (#1 in 1985 & 1986)
CG: 12 times (#1 in 1985)
Shutouts: 10 times (#1 in 1973, 1985, 1989)
Hits allowed: 10 times
K/BB: 16 times (#1 in 1971, 1973, 1986)
Adjusted ERA+: 12 times (#1 in 1973)
Many of these stats (Ks, shutouts) indicate not just success but dominance. I suppose now we are violating the rule that if more than 3 sentences are needed the author is lost to the argument. Rich's 1 sentence should be sufficient. Consider the rest simply footnotes that can safely be ignored unless that one sentence, in its crystal clarity, is not fully understood.
Posted by: Bob R. at December 5, 2008 8:25 AM
Christopher, What was Bert's record in those 275 games?
Posted by: Ian at December 5, 2008 10:57 AM
Mike Flanagan and Denny McClain tie for the best winning percentage in those games at .8896. If Blyleven could have pitched at that rate, he would have been something like 240-35. Those extra 25 wins would have given him 313 for his career, and then we wouldn't even be discussing this.
Posted by: Christopher Gehringer at December 5, 2008 12:30 PM
Clean88GT- Actually, Chris has a point.
Strikeouts are a fantastic indicator of future potential results, because they're more under the pitcher's control, but are no different when evaluating past results as any other form of relatively controlled outs, like popups.
Same thing goes for hitters. I want the guy who only strikes out 60 times a year over the 160 strikeout guy, because I feel more confident in what the former will do next year. In evaluating two hitters with identical stat lines (except one has an extra 100 k's), though, it really doesn't make a difference. Beyond things like moving over runners, they had the same impact, and the only difference is in how they made their outs.
So having high K numbers as a pitcher is a plus, but that alone isn't important in evaluating past results. What matters about a pitcher is his ability to prevent runs, so that's how a pitcher should be judged. Of course, we've had things like ERA around for forever to try and accomplish this, and today we have more metrics for this than ever before, so those take primary importance. Therefore, while K's are nice, and are certainly part of the reason why B.B. was such a good pitcher, they don't add anything to his real value other than a pretty number.
Posted by: Peter at December 5, 2008 3:36 PM
If strikeouts are part of the reason Blyleven was good, saying that "they don't add anything to his real value" is contradictory. If strikeouts help pitchers prevent runs, by decreasing balls in play - and I am sure that they do - then not giving a high-strikeout pitcher credit for that is unfair. The more balls in play a pitcher allows, the less credit he deserves, and the more credit his fielders deserve, for run prevention.
Posted by: Jay at December 5, 2008 9:23 PM
Thanks Rich for your response...I have received many other highly convincing arguments about Blyleven's qualifications.
Basically they responded well to this question, Rich, so I'll let you take a crack at it.
Does this trouble you:
Only one 20-win season.
Only twice did he win more than 17 games
only four times was he 5 games or better over .500
No Cy Youngs
Two All-Star Games
He averaged 14 wins per season in 1977-80 over a four-year period when his teams were averaging 90 wins per season.
That was my problem and I got some great responses
Merry Christmas... TR
Posted by: TR Sullivan at December 6, 2008 6:35 AM
If you're looking at his BBRef page, how about the Inks and HOF standards? The only one he struggles in is Black Ink, and it's not his fault he pitched in an era with a number of dominant pitchers. His Gray Ink more than makes up for it, as do the other metrics.
Posted by: Steve Kiwi at December 6, 2008 11:26 AM
Thanks everyone for the comments, particularly T.R. Sullivan, whom I admire for responding here.
With respect to "does this trouble you," my short answer is "no, not really." I believe I addressed all of those issues in Answering the Naysayers and Answering the Naysayers (Part Two).
The URLs are below (and can also be accessed via links in the sidebar above under "Bert Blyleven Series"):
In Answering the Naysayers, I responded to those who argued that Blyleven "didn't win a Cy Young Award or finish in the top ten often enough, wasn't a "dominant" pitcher in his era, or is no better than Tommy John or Jim Kaat." Importantly, I pointed out that Jim Bunning, Juan Marichal, Phil Niekro, Nolan Ryan, and Don Sutton never won the CYA and, "as far as not placing in the top ten often enough, Blyleven had two more such rankings than Bunning and Marichal combined. He also had three more than Don Drysdale and the same number as Bob Gibson and Jim Hunter. He had one fewer than Niekro and Sutton." I proceeded to "take a look to see how many Cy Youngs and top ten finishes Blyleven should have garnered." I believe it is an instructive review for anyone who is skeptical of Blyleven's lack of support in the CYA balloting.
Quoting from Answering the Naysayers (Part Two), "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." I present details to show that Blyleven performed like an All-Star in 1971, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1981, 1984, 1985, 1986, and 1989. As such, "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."
I hope the above links and details help.
Posted by: Rich Lederer at December 7, 2008 4:23 PM
Rich, Blyleven is even more impressive in shutouts than the all-time records might indicate, since the top five are all dead ball era pitchers.
Don't forget Blyleven's 5-1 record and 2.47 ERA in the postseason. He is a Hall of Famer for sure.
Posted by: Al Doyle at December 8, 2008 6:38 AM
How about this pitcher:
Won 20 twice, (blyleven once)
Won 17 or more 5 times, (blyleven 7 times)
5 times was he 5 games or more over .500 (never more than 6), Blyleven (4 times) (but had seasons of 7, 8 and 12 games better than .500)
O cy youngs (blyleven 0)
Average 12.3 wins over three years (age 31-33 season) when his teams average just under 90 wins.
Career ERA plus of 111 in 5386 innings, (Blyleven was 118 in 4970 innings).
Somehow, I don't think you question Nolan Ryan's hall worthiness. It is not particularly close. The same should be the case for Ryan.
Posted by: Doug B. at December 8, 2008 9:08 AM
I assume that all of you who are huge proponents of Blyleven going into the Hall of Fame also feel that way about Mussina:
Higher career ERA+, lower career WHIP, 38th all time in winning%, 19th all time in Ks, 13th all time in K:BB. Slightly better in Gray Ink, HOF Standards and HOF Monitor.
Posted by: Conor at December 8, 2008 11:04 AM
I am not yet convinced on Mussina, but could go either way. As far as Hall-worthiness, the 1500 fewer innings he threw compared to Blyleven can't be discounted. Mussina's comps are a smattering of hall of famers and non HOFers like Marichal, David Wells, Kevin Brown, Jim Palmer, Curt Schilling and Jack Morris. He screams borderline, but likely should, and would fall inside.
Posted by: Doug B. at December 8, 2008 1:32 PM
Not convinced? Simply put Mike Mussina was a better pitcher than Bert Blyleven. The 1500 fewer innings only make Mussina look more impressive: he had only 17 fewer wins and yet nearly 100 fewer losses. I know wins are a sucky gauge, but that can be attributed to more than the randomness of win-loss records. Besides, are you telling me that if Moose made 150 more starts (the amount more Blyleven has) and went 17-97, decreased his career ERA plus from 123 to 118, and increased his WHIP that he would more more Hall worthy? I think not. The only real edge Blyleven has over Moose is strikeout accumulation. But Moose has a higher strikeout/9 innings (7.1 compared to 6.7) and a better strikeout to walk ratio (3.58 - 13th ALL TIME - compared to 2.80).
If you think Blyleven belongs, there's really nothing borderline about Mussina at all. He screams second ballot.
Posted by: Conor at December 9, 2008 11:15 AM
How about 19 wins for the 1984 Indians? You got to be some kind of pitcher to accomplish that.
I think his big problem is that he spent too many years on medicore teams in hitters parks.
Also his peak came early in his career 1971-1975, while he was pitching in a hitter's park and for some mediocre Twins teams.
Lets switch Blyleven and Palmer for the 1973 season and see who wins the Cy Young.
Posted by: John Q at December 9, 2008 7:16 PM
"I agree that Blyleven should be in, but strike-outs are just outs. Usuing strikeouts as an arugument for enshrinement is not exactly addressing the issue."
How about using outs? Innings pitched are just another way of saying how many outs a pitcher gets, and Blyleven ranks 14th in innings pitched, behind Cy Young, Pud Galvin, Walter Johnson, Phil Niekro, Nolan Ryan, Gaylord Perry, Don Sutton, Warren Spahn, Steve Carlton, Pete Alexander, Kid Nichols, Tim Keefe, and Greg Maddux. 13 of those are in the Hall, and the only one that isn't retired just yesterday.
"Two All-Star Games"
I've always thought all-star selections for pitchers can be a bit unfair. Consider this: in 1989, Bert Blyleven was 8-2 with a 2.15 ERA and 4 complete games before the All-Star Game. Was he selected? No! Four of the five starters picked had more wins (Mark Gubicza was the 5th; he was 8-6), but Blyleven's ERA beat them all. Four times that half-season, Blyleven pitched into the 7th and allowed 0 or 1 runs and ended up with no-decisions. So Blyleven's certainly had more than two All Star-worthy seasons, it's just that the managers seem to have a vendetta against him or something.
Posted by: ajnrules at December 9, 2008 11:00 PM
I believe both Blyleven and Mussina belong in the Hall. Mussina's biggest detractor is that he didn't pitch until he was 43 or 44 like most of his contemporaries that will be shoo-ins: Maddux, Glavine, Johnson, and, eventually, Clemens. Therefore his IP totals are 500 to 1,500 less, and he probably left at least 30 wins on the table. Did he have 3 more years averaging 160 IP and 10 wins left in him? I think so.
I think that if Blyleven doesn't get elected by the BBWAA, he will most likely be the first 'contemporary' player to be elected by the veterans committee, because as former players and Hall of Famers, they use a simple test: is he one of us? And I think the players Blyleven faced viewed him as a Hall of Fame caliber player.
Posted by: Breaker at December 19, 2008 1:22 PM
An amazing Bert Blyleven statistic that I wouldn’t wish upon any major league pitcher:
From his 1970 rookie season through 1977 I’ve accumulated his quality starts that I’ve defined as: 6innings, 2earned runs or less; 7,8,9innings, 3earned runs or less; and 9innings+ 4 earned runs or less in which he garnered a no decision or a loss only……
The totals are:
160 earned runs
184 base on balls
His record: 0 wins and 53 LOSSES. I repeat 0 wins and 53 losses with a 2.19 ERA
1970 0-3 2.09 9 games
1971 0-6 1.90 9 games
1972 0-9 2.35 13 games
1973 0-8 2.55 9 games
1974 0-8 1.80 10 games
1975 0-6 2.00 10 games
1976 0-8 2.29 15 games
1977 0-5 2.45 7 games
I understand that pitchers put up great games and get snakebit on occasion, but this accounted for almost 1 of every 3 starts, 82 of 279 to be exact or 29%. Show me a Hall of Famer that had to go through this year by year. Fortunately once Blyleven ended up in Pittsburgh and later some good Minnesota teams, this trend eased to what I would consider normal levels (I had researched this in the past but don’t have the numbers on hand)
Imagine 1974, your 17-9 in 27 games, and in the other 10, all of which are essentially quality starts, you post a 1.80ERA and go 0-8. You end up 17-17. If you don’t know the facts, and your voting for the Cy Young award, and you see 17-17. Do you cast a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place vote? Probably not. This is what Blyleven faced in yesteryear, and the same writers, who I contend do not know the facts, are what Blyleven faces every year in the HOF vote.
Go ahead, plug in a different year, or harken back to Baseball-reference and neutralize the stats, do it for every one of Blyleven’s contemporaries. The numbers don’t change much, but for Bert Blyleven, they do. The example given above is my attempt to show why. Teams that didn’t score runs and booted the ball around like it was a soccer match.
Posted by: Bill Gros at December 22, 2008 9:03 AM
First of all, pardon me if my columns don't line up. This could be brutal! lol
Why isn't "pitching well" just as, if not more than, an important criteria than wins?
Have we forgotten Nolan Ryan's ERA title in 1987? That's right, he was 8-16 because the Astros couldn't score any runs. But does that mean that the Express didn't pitch well? Of course not.
Here's an 8 year stretch (1971-1978) of Blyleven. I'll let you decide if he was "outstanding", or had a "very low ERA".
I'll give IP, H, K, BB, ERA, LG ERA, ERA+, and WHIP.
1971 - 278.1, 267, 224, 59, 2.81, 3.54, 1.26, 1.17
1972 - 287.1, 247, 228, 69, 2.73, 3.22, 1.18, 1.10
1973 - 325.0, 296, 258, 67, 2.52, 3.98, 1.58, 1.11
1974 - 281.0, 244, 249, 77, 2.66, 3.77, 1.42, 1.14
1975 - 275.2, 219, 233, 84, 3.00, 3.86, 1.29, 1.09
1976 - 297.2, 283, 219, 81, 2.87, 3.59, 1.25, 1.22
1977 - 234.2, 181, 182, 69, 2.72, 4.11, 1.51, 1.06
1978 - 243.2, 217, 182, 66, 3.03, 3.72, 1.23, 1.16
Here's his yearly average for these 8 seasons...
AVG - 278.0, 244, 222, 72, 2.79, 3.72, 1.33, 1.14
Now I'll mention his 38 shutouts (almost 5 per year) during this time.
Low ERA? - I'd say so (33% better than the league is pretty impressive to me)
Outstanding, and a workhorse? You tell me.
What more could the guy do? He pitched great, but his record just didn't reflect it. Just one of those things, but that doesn't change the fact that the guy did have an incredible 8 year run!
Now for the disappointment. His W/L record for those 8 seasons.
Are you kidding me???
This is the terrible thing for Blyleven. He was the victim of crappy bullpens and poor run support during this time. You can look it up (I did on baseballreference.com)
With any kind of run support and bullpen help, I don't think it's a stretch to say (conservatively) that we could add 2 wins per season while subtracting 2 losses during this period. Which would make his 8 year W/L record 142-98 instead of the 126-114 that it was.
Which would then make his lifetime record 303-234. And you know that he'd be in the HOF with that record - no questions asked.
So, why should he penalized for something out of his control? The guy did pitch fantastic, but his (more than usual) subpar run support and his bullpens let him down. That's it.
And to me, the HOF is reserved for guys who pitched great - regardless of their W/L record.
Posted by: Marty at December 30, 2008 9:28 AM