The Internet Zealot Responds
One Blyleven Internet supporter is such a zealot that he has guessed as to the motives for the non-support, and even on occasion taken to outing non-supporters or ridiculing them, perhaps in an attempt at persuasion. Let me just say that I have nothing against Blyleven, and have been consistent in my non-support of him. My "no'' vote has nothing to do with the Internet campaign, which has only become apparent in Blyleven's final few years on the ballot, and appears to be effective, as Blyleven's totals have risen precipitously.
- Jon Heyman
Heyman released his Hall of Fame ballot on Twitter several days ago but devoted his entire column on Monday (sans his picks on the second page) to "Why I didn't cast a Hall of Fame vote for Bert Blyleven, again." Incredible. He mentions Blyleven specifically or refers to him in 24 of the 26 paragraphs that comprise nearly 2,000 words. By comparison, he writes one paragraph on Roberto Alomar, his top candidate; four paragraphs defending his selection of Jack Morris over Blyleven; and a few sentences on a separate page on each of his five other picks (Barry Larkin, Dave Parker, Tim Raines, Don Mattingly, and Dale Murphy).
I'd like to respond to the following excerpts from Heyman's column:
Heyman tries to use the fact that Blyleven has received "less than half the votes" against him, yet he himself is voting for Mattingly, Murphy, and Parker, none of whom has even sniffed 50 percent of the vote in a single year. In fact, the individual high among these three is 28.2% (Mattingly in his first year of eligibility in 2001). All three players were greats at their respective peaks but the truth of the matter is that the trio has been polling about 10-20 percent of the vote every year they have been on the ballot.
Here we go with "impact" and being "around as long as every player on the ballot" again. I tackled these obsessions two years ago.
"I saw him play his entire career."
"It's not about stats...it's about impact."
There you go again with impact. You see, it's difficult to argue against impact. There are no numbers. Instead, it's all about feelings and beliefs and all those other intangible goodies that only certain people possess. Just close your eyes and relive the memories, however tainted they may be, of these, ahem, human beings!
Fame. I always love that one. Another touchy-feely qualification. Alomar, Larkin, and Parker. Now those guys were famous. Even though Blyleven won two World Championships, struck out more batters than all but four pitchers and threw more shutouts than all but eight in the history of baseball, completed the third-most 1-0 shutout victories ever and the highest total in 75 years, pitched a no-hitter, and had the greatest curveball of his era and one of the best of all-time, he wasn't famous. Or at least not in Jon Heyman's world.
Sheesh. I have shown otherwise numerous times. Just because Blyleven didn't win the American League Cy Young Award in 1973 doesn't mean he wasn't the best pitcher in the league. He led the AL in WAR (9.2), ERA+ (158), K/BB (3.85), and SHO (9). He ranked second in ERA (2.52), SO (258), BB/9 (1.86), and WHIP (1.12), third in K/9 (7.15) and CG (25), and fourth in IP (325) and HR/9 (0.44). That's one heck of a résumé, no? Nonetheless, he received one point and finished seventh in the Cy Young balloting that season. As I reported six years ago, "One voter out of 24 saw fit to pencil Bert's name into the third slot on the ballot. The other 23 writers ignored him completely. Instead, they voted for Jim Palmer #1, Nolan Ryan #2, Catfish Hunter (and his 3.34 ERA in a pitcher's ballpark) #3, John Hiller #4, Wilbur Wood #5, and Jim Colborn #6. Palmer had two more wins than Blyleven and an ERA that was 0.12 lower. Otherwise, Palmer had inferior stats across the board, including WAR (6.1), ERA+ (156), K/BB (1.40), SHO (6), SO (158), BB/9 (3.4), WHIP (1.14), K/9 (4.8), CG (19), IP (296.1), and HR/9 (0.49), yet he received 88 points, including 14 first-place votes. Go figure.
Did I mention that Palmer also received much better run and defensive support than Blyleven? The Baltimore Orioles scored 4.7 runs per game for Palmer while the Minnesota Twins scored 4.2 for Blyleven. The Orioles led the AL in Defensive Efficiency (.731) while the Twins (.696) ranked eighth out of 12 teams. Looked at it another way, Baltimore (119 FRAA) was 137 fielding runs better than Minnesota (-18). These fielding differences showed up in Palmer's and Blyleven's batting average on balls in play. Palmer had a .234 BABIP and Blyleven had a .292 BABIP. With an infield that included Bobby Grich, Mark Belanger, and Brooks Robinson, the O's (184) also turned a lot more double plays than the Rod Carew-Danny Thompson-Steve Braun Twinkies (147).
Look, if you're into performance, you take Blyleven. On the other hand, if you're like Heyman and care more about impact, you take Palmer because he was selected as the Cy Young Award winner.
As for "a series of seasons," Blyleven led the major leagues in Runs Saved Against the Average (RSAA) over four-consecutive, five-year rolling periods (1971-75, 1972-76, 1973-77, and 1974-78). As I highlighted last January, "Over the past 50 years, the five-year leaders have included Don Drysdale (1x), Sandy Koufax (3x), Juan Marichal (2x), Bob Gibson (2x), Tom Seaver (2x), Bert Blyleven (4x), Jim Palmer (1x), Steve Carlton (3x), Dave Stieb (5x), Roger Clemens (7x), Greg Maddux (5x), Pedro Martinez (4x), Randy Johnson (2x), Johan Santana (3x), and Roy Halladay (1x). While it may be too early to judge Santana and Halladay, 11 of the other 12 pitchers are either enshrined or will be enshrined (including several "inner circle" Hall of Famers). The only exception is Stieb, whose HOF case was derailed by a relatively short career."
The operative word here is "considered." While Blyleven "was never considered among the two best pitchers in the his league," he was one of the two best pitchers in his league three times as measured by WAR (including twice leading the league in that all-encompassing counting stat) and four times as measured by the rate stat ERA+. He was as overlooked and underappreciated during his playing career as he has been over the first 13 years of being on the Hall of Fame ballot.
There's that word "considered" again. Heyman can side with opinions and I'll side with the facts, thank you. The facts in this case tell us that Blyleven was one of the game's best pitchers during his career. I've given multiple examples of the facts already. As for "simply outlasting almost everyone else and pitching effectively into his 40s," that's not entirely accurate. Blyleven pitched only one season in his 40s and it wasn't very effective (8-12, 4.74 ERA, 84 ERA+ in 133 IP) if the truth be told.
This is not only misleading, but it's clearly a low blow. Blyleven led the league in home runs in 1986 and 1987 when he was 35 and 36 years old. He led the league in earned runs in 1988 when he was 37. Of note, Morris, whose HOF candidacy Heyman supports, gave up the second-most number of HR in 1986 and 1987 and was sixth in earned runs allowed in 1988. For what it's worth, Morris led the league in ER and BB, as well as wild pitches six times. All I'm asking for is some consistency in judging players.
Once again, Heyman looks for a reason *not* to vote for Blyleven. Morris ranks 770th all-time in MVP shares at 0.18. No on the guy at 936th. Yes on the guy at 770th. Yup, I get it.
Morris never finished in the top ten in MVP voting. If it doesn't apply to Morris, why should it apply to Blyleven? My goodness. Besides, Blyleven dominated in several seasons and was regularly among the very best. I didn't even know who Heyman was six years ago but this article could have been written just for him.
Now that is one strange compound sentence. While I'm glad that Heyman promoted Felix for the CYA, this point proves how illogical or biased he is when it comes to evaluating Blyleven. Hernandez was 13-12 in 2010. He won one more game than he lost, yet Heyman supported him as the best pitcher in the league whereas he won't vote for Blyleven because he only won 37 more games than he lost during his career. Bert's career W-L percentage? .534. Felix's 2010 W-L percentage? .520.
Heyman admits Morris' career totals aren't as good as Blyleven's. But, you see, with Morris, you just had to be there. I don't get it. You had to be where? If you were there, I was there. Maybe not literally. But I was paying close attention all along. Unlike you, I don't think that means all that much. I mean, did you see every game he pitched? If so, what did you think about this one? Or are you just referring to that one? How much better was that Game Seven performance than Mickey Lolich's 8 2/3 scoreless innings and 4-1 complete-game victory over Bob Gibson and the St. Louis Cardinals in Game Seven of the 1968 World Series? By the way, Morris and Lolich, both of whom were World Series heroes, had career ERA+ of 105 in a comparable number of innings. Did you ever vote for Lolich for the Hall of Fame? His impact was historic. But maybe you weren't there.
Who cares if he was the ace in those particular years? Blyleven "pitched very well in the postseason" by your admission. It doesn't matter what you call him. You think it's all about impact and human beings and fame and having to be there and being called an ace. I say performance trumps them all. And, in this regard, Morris was 7-4 with a 3.80 ERA in the postseason, including 4-2, 2.96 in the World Series. Blyleven was 5-1 with a 2.47 ERA in the postseason with better peripherals and 2-1, 2.35 ERA in the World Series.
Nice try. If you exclude Morris' last two seasons, he had an ERA of 3.73 (with a ERA+ of 109). By the same token, if you exclude Blyleven's last two seasons, he had an ERA of 3.22 (with a ERA+ of 122). No matter how you cut it, so to speak, Blyleven had a much better ERA and ERA+ than Morris.
As for "pitching to the scoreboard," Jay Jaffe, who was just elected to the Baseball Writers Association of America, debunked that nonsense in his recent annual review of the Hall of Fame cases of starting pitchers, linking to research by Greg Spira and Joe Sheehan that "has long since put the lie to this claim." Sheehan's conclusion? "I can find no pattern in when Jack Morris allowed runs. If he pitched to the score—and I don't doubt that he changed his approach—the practice didn't show up in his performance record."
Gosh, shame on me. I thought being consistently good and pitching for a long time were huge positives. In fact, in Blyleven's case, he ranks 13th all-time among pitchers in Baseball-Reference WAR with 90.1 because he combined quantity and quality like so few others. By comparison, Morris ranks 140th with 39.3. This stat would suggest that Blyleven was worth 50 more wins above replacement than Morris. Not that WAR is the be all and end all to performance measurement, but that gap is so wide that it would be virtually impossible to bridge via impact alone.
By the way, the four pitchers in front of and behind Blyleven in WAR? Greg Maddux Phil Niekro, Gaylord Perry, Warren Spahn, Randy Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Bob Gibson, Nolan Ryan, and Steve Carlton. The four pitchers in front of and behind Morris in WAR? Ed Reulbach, Dizzy Dean, Noodles Hahn, Carl Mays, Ted Breitenstein, Murry Dickson, Harry Brecheen, and Al Leiter.
Wow. That's really something. Blyleven finished with 287 wins and 242 complete games while leading the league at various times in shutouts (3x), strikeouts-to-walks (3x), innings pitched (2x), games started, complete games, and strikeouts, as well as WHIP and ERA+. Seems pretty straightforward to me. If Morris is a Hall of Famer, he needs to wait until after Blyleven has been inducted to be taken seriously. As Craig Calcaterra has said repeatedly, "You can vote for Jack Morris for the Hall of Fame. You can vote for Bert Blyleven for the Hall of Fame. You can also keep both of them out if you’re a small-Hall kind of guy. You cannot, however, vote for Jack Morris and not vote for Bert Blyleven."
I agree with Craig, which is another way of saying that if Heyman were intellectually honest and consistent, I wouldn't have a problem with him voting for Morris or not voting for Blyleven. To quote Craig, "There are no right and wrong Hall of Fame votes. There are right and wrong approaches to voting however." Well said, my friend.
Blyleven fell five votes shy of the Hall of Fame last year. If everybody who voted for him does so again, this should be the year as it appears that there may be enough voters who are reconsidering his candidacy to finally make it happen.