Bert Be Home By Eleven?
Despite ranking fifth in career strikeouts, ninth in shutouts and 27th in wins, Bert Blyleven inexplicably remains on the outside of Cooperstown looking in.
I have been knocking on the doors of the Hall of Fame since December 2003. Blyleven's voting percentage has climbed from 29% that year to 41% in 2005, 48% in 2007, and 63% in 2009. He is trending well but still needs to get to the 75% threshold to receive his just due.
According to Sky Andrecheck, "No player in the last 25 years has seen his vote totals rise so sharply and not been enshrined in the Hall. I wouldn't bet on Blyleven being the first."
Let's hope Sky is right. In the meantime, the two most widely heard arguments against Blyleven's qualifications for the Hall of Fame involve his lack of All-Star Game appearances and poor showings in the Cy Young Award balloting. While I have refuted both of these concerns many times in the past (see multiple links to the Bert Blyleven Series in the sidebar to the left), I am going to take another shot at it today, asking questions and providing answers (including an excerpt from what I wrote in December 2006).
How many times did the All-Star Game manager pick nine or ten *starting* pitchers during Blyleven's career? I might be wrong, but I would be surprised if ten starters (without double counting injured and replacements) were ever selected for a single ASG during his career. A few nines but mostly six, seven, or eight by my count.
Of those six, seven, or eight, how many pitchers did those managers select from their own teams? Do you think that is an objective measure? How many times did they pick a starting pitcher as the lone representative from that player's team? When your teammates are named Killebrew, Oliva, Carew, Stargell, and Parker, you're never going to be selected as the lone player from your club.
Was Blyleven ever passed over because he had pitched the weekend before the All-Star game? Moreover, don't you think managers were as "guilty" as the writers when making these selections by focusing on win-loss records as much or more than other stats that a pitcher has more control over? If so, can we agree that W-L records are not the best measure of a pitcher's performance?
For example, in 1972, Blyleven's ERA was 2.85 over, get this, 170.2 innings at the All-Star break. He wasn't selected because his W-L record was 9-12. He pitched like an All-Star but was penalized because his W-L record was under .500. Manager Earl Weaver went with Blyleven's teammate Jim Perry, who was 8-9 with a 3.21 ERA at the break, rather than with Bert. Think the fact that Perry was a 14-year veteran and Blyleven was in his second full season had anything to do with that injustice? How about Weaver choosing Marty Pattin (8-8, 3.75 ERA) over Blyleven?
In 1977, Blyleven had an ERA of 2.61 with outstanding peripherals at the All-Star break. Why do you suppose he wasn't named to the All-Star team? Do you think the fact that his W-L record was 8-9 had anything to do with it? Instead of selecting Blyleven as one of the seven starting pitchers, Billy Martin chose Bert Campaneris to represent the Texas Rangers. Campaneris was hitting .256/.317/.352 with 13 SB and 15 CS at the break.
In 1989, Blyleven was 8-2 with a 2.15 ERA in 125.2 IP, yet once again was passed over as one of the six pitchers Tony La Russa chose, two of whom were from his own A's team, including Dave Stewart, who "earned" the right to start the game due to his 13-4 record despite posting an ERA of 3.24 (more than a full run higher than Blyleven) while allowing more hits than innings and producing a K/BB ratio of less than 2.
Re the All-Star Game, here is what I wrote (along with breaking out his first and second half career stats) in Answering the Naysayers (Part Two) in December 2006:
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.
Importantly, the above breakdown also works just as well, if not even better, with respect to how Blyleven should have ranked in the CYA voting.
Speaking of which, I can't help but wonder if Blyleven's candidacy wouldn't be viewed more favorably today had the Baseball Writers Association of America implemented its new policy by expanding the Cy Young ballot from three to five spots 40 years ago?
Moreover, if the voters back then evaluated pitching performance more like today, perhaps Blyleven would have won the Cy Young Award in 1973? While Blyleven may not have quite put up a season equal to the likes of Zack Greinke or Tim Lincecum in 2009, it was a lot closer than what he was given credit for in the balloting that year. With more emphasis on K/BB, WHIP, FIP, and other measures besides wins and losses, Blyleven's dominance would be more notable today than how it has been perceived by many naysayers in the past.
There's plenty of room inside the Hall of Fame for Blyleven's plaque. The writers only have 2010, 2011, and 2012 to get it right as Bert drops off the ballot in three years. I anticipate further progress this year with an enshrinement date set for July 2011.