Baseball BeatAugust 31, 2009
Greinke Brings Back Memories of Blyleven's Forgotten Season in 1973
By Rich Lederer

In his Monday Mendozas, Rob Neyer weighs in on Zack Greinke and the American League Cy Young Award on the heels of the 25-year-old righthander's back-to-back 15-strikeout and one-hit games last week.

• After yet another gem from Zack Greinke, Joe Posnanski tweeted thusly:

"Greinke now leads the AL in ERA, ERA+, shutouts, complete games, WHIP, HRs/9 and second in strikeouts and Ks/BB. This isn't that hard."

I'm guessing that Joe is referring to the Cy Young Award, as in, "It isn't that hard to give the award for the best pitcher in the league to the best pitcher in the league." Except we've seen them give it to lots of guys who weren't the best pitcher in the league. Joe shouldn't tweet to us; he should e-mail all his fellow BBWAA voters.


What I really want to know is this: Take those eight metrics that Joe mentioned: ERA, ERA+, shutouts, complete games, WHIP, home runs per nine innings, strikeouts, and strikeout-to-walk ratio. Actually, let's strip ERA+ and WHIP from the discussion because nobody was paying attention a few years ago ... Take the other six. How many pitchers have finished first or second in all six of them but failed to win a Cy Young Award? (I don't have any idea, but hope somebody can tell me.)

Well, Rob, while perhaps not quite Greinkesque, Bert Blyleven finished first in K/BB and SHO, second in ERA and SO, third in CG, and fourth in HR/9 in 1973, yet finished SEVENTH in the CYA voting. Blyleven was also first in ERA+ and second in WHIP. Despite a body of work that was similar to Greinke's this year, only one writer placed Blyleven on his ballot that season. Yes, you read that right. Only one writer voted for the guy who may have been "the best pitcher in the league." And that writer listed him third.

You see, on the same stats that are now being discussed to highlight Greinke's pitching prowess this season, Blyleven should have finished first in the CYA balloting in 1973.

Here is how Blyleven compared to the five starting pitchers who placed higher than him in the voting that season (John Hiller, a reliever, finished fourth):

Palmer Ryan Hunter Wood Coburn Blyleven
ERA 1st 4th >10th >10th 8th 2nd
ERA+ 2nd 6th >10th >10th 10th 1st
SHO 3rd 4th >10th 4th 4th 1st
CG 7th 2nd >10th 6th 5th 3rd
WHIP 4th 8th 3rd >10th 7th 2nd
HR/9 5th 6th >10th 10th 9th 4th
SO 10th 1st >10th 8th >10th 2nd
K/BB >10th 6th >10th 7th >10th 1st

This comparison isn't meant to take anything away from Greinke, who has had a fantastic season. Instead, it just goes to show what a great year Blyleven had in 1973. But he never got his due back then (nor in several other campaigns), and the failure on the part of the writers to properly acknowledge Bert's accomplishments during his playing days has continued to haunt him a dozen years into his Hall of Fame candidacy.

The writers only have three years to go to finally get it right.


One item I found interesting from those 1973 results, 4 of the 10 had more than 15 losses. I doubt we'll ever see that again.

Not to mention the dozen 20 game winners, just a hard year to only vote for 5 pitchers. The missing "winners" by category:

WHIP-fellow 20-game winner Luis Tiant got 0 votes
CG-Gaylord Perry (19 wins, 7 SHO 2nd in league), 1 3rd place vote
HR/9-Swingman Terry Forster had a big lead over Bill Singer (20 wins, 3rd in strikouts), 0 votes each

Blyleven's year may have received short shrift, but I think, just judging from the numbers, that I would have voted for Palmer. Also, Nolan's 383 ks no doubt generated a lot of buzz at the time, making it hard to ignore him. 20-17 on a .500 team, even with great peripherals, is hard to get too excited about, and yes, I recognize wins are a poor measure of how good a pitcher has been, although it clearly has more meaning when there are a lot of complete games. Greinke is 13-8 on a terrible team. Not much of a comparison here.