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Bert Blyleven fart shirt

This is the 2nd post in a series on the 2011 Hall of Fame ballot.  My first post on Jeff Bagwell covered the criteria I am using for analyzing HOF players.

The next player on our hypothetical ballot is Bert Blyleven.

WAR Totals:  145.1 Peak-Adjusted WAR – 90.1 career WAR + 1 MVP seasons (+10) and 9 All-Star seasons (+45)

Stats:  22 seasons, 287-250 / 3.31 ERA / 1.198 WHIP / 4,970 IP / 3,701 K / 1322 BB / 242 CG / 60 Shutouts / 118 ERA+

162 Game Stats:  14-12 / 245 IP / 34 GS / 12 CG / 3 Shutouts / 183 K / 65 BB

I wrote a post on Blyleven 2 years ago that still holds up (it’s not like he’s played since then).  His total score is only bested by four post-WWII players who retired by 2005:  Tom Seaver, Gaylord Perry, Phil Niekro, Warren Spahn.  The only top 20 pitchers not to be in the Hall-of-Fame are Blyleven, the underrated Rick Reuschel (#15) and Kevin Brown (#16).  The following Hall of Fame starting pitchers are lower than Blyleven:  Bob Gibson (140.6), Steve Carlton (129.4), Fergie Jenkins (121.3), Robin Roberts (120.9), Don Drysdale (115.7), Nolan Ryan (114.8), Juan Marichal (114), Bob Feller (111), Jim Bunning (105.1), Hal Newhouser (96.3), Sandy Koufax (94.5), Jim Palmer (93.5), Don Sutton (90.8), Early Wynn (77), Whitey Ford (65.3), Bob Lemon (62.4), and Catfish Hunter (47.5).

One item that has hurt Blyleven’s HOF chances is his lack of a Cy Young or he was never an ‘ace’.  But his 1973 season of 9.2 WAR was the best in AL and he had several top 5 pitching WAR seasons.  So he pitched like a Cy Young winner and he pitched like an ace.  Isn’t reality more important than perception?

Another perceived demerit is Blyleven’s 53.4 winning percentage (287-250) and that he fell short of 300 wins.  Putting aside the fact that Wins heavily depend on factors outside of the pitcher’s control (team offense and defense), here are several Hall of Fame pitchers with comparable records:

Fergie Jenkins – 284-226 (55.7%), 115 ERA+, 1 MVP season, 6 All-Star seasons
Robin Roberts – 286-245 (53.9%), 113 ERA+, 2 MVP seasons, 4 All-Star seasons
Don Drysdale – 209-166 (55.7%), 121 ERA+, 1 MVP season, 8 All-Star seasons
Jim Bunning 224-184 (54.9%), 114 ERA+, 3 MVP seasons, 3 All-Star seasons
Red Ruffing – 273-225 (54.8%), 109 ERA+, 0 MVP seasons, 4 All-Star seasons
Catfish Hunter 224-166 (57.4%),  105 ERA+, 0 MVP seasons, 3 All-Star seasons

It is hard to see how any of these six – let alone all of them – can pass objective criteria that Blyleven could not.  None of the six had as many All-Star or better (5.0+ WAR) seasons as Blyleven and only Drysdale had a better ERA+ (which is only because Drysdale’s last season was at 31).  There really isn’t a big difference between all the winning percentages (the difference between 53.4% and 55.7% for 35 decisions is 19.5-15.5 vs. 18.7-16.3).  None of the others have better career totals than Blyleven in Wins, K’s, or any other meaningful statistic.

Another fun comparison is Nolan Ryan who went 324-292 for a 52.6% winning percentage.  Besides passing the 300 win plateau, Ryan also is the all-time leader in strikeouts (Blyleven is 5th also behind Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, and Steve Carlton).  Nolan Ryan out-K’d Blyleven per 9 innings (9.54 vs. 6.7) but he also out-BB’d him (4.7 vs. 2.4).  This is probably the main reason that Blyleven has the better ERA+ (118 vs. Ryan’s 112).

If you are interested in hearing more on both sides of the Blyleven argument, here are links to SI’s Jon Heyman and BaseballAnalysts.com’s Rich Lederer.  I like Heyman’s reporting on breaking news but I really think he’s out of his depths on these things.

Fun (and potentially fictional) facts:

Blyleven is the first and only great baseball player to be born in The Netherlands – unless you count Andruw Jones (who was born in Netherland Antilles) or Dutch Leonard (who liked his dates to pay for their share of the bill).

In 1986-1987 with the Twins, he gave up 50 and 46 Home Runs – setting a single-season record (50) and having the third highest total (Jose Lima’s 48 is 2nd).

As an announcer, Blyleven loves to drop the f-bomb and, based on the above pic, you can take a man out of the Netherlands but Dutch ovens die hard.

8 Responses

  1. royce! says:
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    Another excellent piece. Heyman really is over his head. His argument boils down to I won’t vote for him as one of the greatest (and advocate that other sportswriters do the same) because sportswriters in the past did not vote for him as one of the greatest. Which it seems to me boils down to an attempt to protect the reputations of sportswriters past. Which in turn shows that Heyman’s argument considers the HOF as a celebration of sportswriters and what they like (another statement that bolsters this is his assertion that “I don’t think numbers define a player’s career.” What seems to define a player’s career is doing interesting, non-numeral things that sportswriters can write about.) It’s also funny how he characterizes the advocates of Blyleven as an “Internet campaign,” which seems to deride those who don’t write for real papers or magazines.

    Anyhow, good times. Happy 2011.

  2. @royce!: @ChrisV82: I obviously agree w/ both of you. Great point royce regarding sportswriters. ‘Internet campaign’ is a misnomer – it’s more of a sabermetrics campaign imho. And some sportswriters (Joe Posnanski for example) are more comfortable with it than others. I’ll give this to Heyman – he at least spells out his case. I disagree w/ it but I respect he’s upfront. I have no idea how this guy thinks other than disqualifying anyone he suspects using PEDs – http://www.jeffpearlman.com/my-2011-baseball-hall-of-fame-ballot/

  3. What, you don’t like this as reasoning? “To me, his career was bullshit.”

    He could probably cut down his (sparsely worded) article and just add more cursing.

  4. Roy says:
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    Blyleven was a better pitcher than Nolan Ryan. They pitched in the same league in 8 seasons. In those 8 years, BLYLEVEN HAD THE BETTER ERA 6 OUT OF 8 TIMES. So, when comparing apples to apples, Blyleven was a better pitcher than Ryan 75% of the time, even with Blyleven pitching in more hitters’ parks.

    1973 is a great example that debunks the Ryan “dominance” myth. Most Ryan fans remember from that year Ryan’s all-time record 383 strikeouts. However, Blyleven was better than Ryan in Ryan’s most “dominant” season. Despite setting the record in Ks, Ryan had a far worse ERA than Blyeven (2.87 to 2.52). Why? Ryan fans don’t mention his 162 walks (4 per start!) compared to 67 for Blyleven. Walks kill. So although it looked like Ryan dominated, Blyleven actually dominated more in what matters: giving up fewer runs. The same thing happened the next year. Ryan led in Ks but also he also led in BBs with 202! (that’s 5 walks a start!), and thus again gave up more runs than Blyleven. In fact, year after year, Ryan struck out more than Blyleven, and gave up fewer hits than Blyleven, but gave up more runs than Blyleven. Why? WAY MORE WALKS. So, while Ryan “should have been” one of the best pitchers ever, he was NOT even one of the top 10 in his own league in ERA in most years. Walks kill.

    Ryan was a physical freak who was a power pitcher for longer than anyone we are likely ever to see again. But was he a better pitcher than Blyleven? No.

  5. royce! says:
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    @Rudy Gamble: Yeah I was thinking the same thing about his calling it an “Internet campaign.” It’s clearly sabermetricians who are arguing against him, and they just happen to be using the internet to do so. Reminds me of how some politicians scoff at “bloggers,” and use the term to imply some lack of connection with the real world. I wonder if politicians and magazine/newspaper writers have Philip K. Dick style cyber attack nightmares…

    I might have read the Pearlman thing wrong (it takes a lot of beer for me to get through a day of college football), but is he saying that he won’t vote for a player he suspects of using steroids (Bagwell) but he’s cool with voting for a player that definitely used cocaine (Raines)? I have yet to read a reasoned argument for such distinctions. But I don’t know anything about Pearlman’s ability to measure objective merit. All I know about him is from reading his Mets book, which I found entertaining, though mostly because the Mets were balls to the wall.

  6. Paulie Allnuts

    Paulie Allnuts says:
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    @Rudy Gamble: Another great piece. Last year I wrote articles on ten individuals who I believe should be in the Hall. Blylevin was one of them. There are also a number of individuals who probably shouldn’t be in the Hall; Ruffing, Drysdale, and maybe Hunter are three of them.

    This is the piece I wrote:

    Bert Blylevin – Somewhere in the last 50 years the “Deciders” who vote for Hall of Fame candidates have established “guidelines” which insure induction in the Hall. One of these guidelines for pitchers is the establishment of the magic number of 300 wins. In all honesty, Blylevin would have had no difficulty making the Hall if he had stuck around for a year or two and reached the mythical 300 win mark. I remember as a kid watching Early Wynn struggle to get #300; I am not certain whether the effort was valiant or pitiful. But the Hall places great value on reaching certain plateaus, and thus anyone who has won 300 games, reached 3,000 hits, or (before the steroid age) hit 500 homers, got a pass go and collect 200 card. The exceptions to this rule are those players who were clearly brilliant, but their effervescence and dominance at their position lasted a comparatively short period of time; examples of such players are Sandy Koufax and Dizzy Dean. After Early Wynn, we have three pitchers – Bobby Mathews (297), Tommy John (288), Bert Blylevin (287), none of whom are in the Hall. Going down the list, we have Tony Mullane (284), Jim Kaat (283); all within striking distance of 300, none of them in the Hall. (One can make a strong case that most if not all of these pitchers should be in Hall of Fame, and it is a certainty that all of them would be enshrined if they had but won a few more games. ) It will be interesting to see how voters perceive Mike Mussina, who had 270 victories, and likely could have struggled to get the magic number, but had the temerity to retire after winning a career high 20 games
    An example of a player who never was the best pitcher in any given year, yet managed to have an incredibly consistent career over a long course of time was Don Sutton, who managed to win 300 games, and has been inducted in the Hall of Fame. One method of comparison is the early Sabermetric concept called the Similarity Score, originally created by Bill James in order to compare non-Hall of Fame players to those already enshrined at Cooperstown, in order to determine if an eligible player had been snubbed by the selection committee. Sutton’s career was incredibly similar to Blylevin’s; in fact, utilizing Bill James Similarity Scores, Sutton’s score in reference to Blylevin’s is 914 (any score over 900 means the two players are very similar.) The second most similar pitcher to Blylevin is Gaylord Perry, at 909, also in the Hall. The third most similar is Ferguson Jenkins; a resident of Cooperstown. In fact, of the ten most similar pitchers to Blylevin, eight of them are in the H.O.F.; the two who aren’t are Tommy John and Jim Kaat, who, like Blylevin, are strong candidates for admittance.
    Perhaps no one in the modern era, outside of Sandy Koufax, had a better curve ball then Bert Blylevin. MLB Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson stated “It (his curveball) was nasty, I’ll tell you that. Enough to make your knees buckle. Bert was a terrific pitcher — a dominating pitcher.” Since the beginning of the modern era (1900), Blylevin currently ranks 5th all-time in K’s with 3701, 8th all-time in Shutouts (60), and 17th in Wins, with a life-time record of 287-250. There is only one player in baseball history, Nolan Ryan, who ranks higher in all three categories. And Ryan, a first ballot Hall of Famer, had a lower lifetime winning percentage 324-292, for a .526%, vs. Blylevin’s lifetime winning % of .534. Although Blyleven didn’t win a Cy Young Award during his 22-year career, a pretty strong case could be made on his behalf in 1973, 1977, 1984, and 1985. During his career, more then half of the teams he played for had won-loss records below .500. Blylevin’s lifetime ERA was 3.31; however, his entire career with the exception of three years with the Pirates, was in the American League; his career spanned the advent of the Designated Hitter, which raises ERA approximately 0.50 runs per game in comparison with the National League. Blylevin scores much higher if one uses a Sabermetric Tool called the Advanced ERA, or ERA +, which measures the number of runs a pitcher prevents from scoring compared to the league’s average pitcher in a neutral park in the same amount of innings. A score over 100 is considered above average, and fewer than 100 below average. Blylevin’s ERA+ of 118 is better then that of Ferguson Jenkins, Jim Bunning, and Catfish Hunter, all residents of Cooperstown. The group average of the eight most similar pitchers in the Hall of Fame is 115, lower then Blylevin. With consideration for all of these achievements, Blylevin is ranked as the 39th greatest hurler of all time. in Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, ahead of a number of other worthy Hall of Famers, including, Old Hoss Radbourn, Joe McGinnity, Early Wynn, Tim Keefe, and Rube Waddell, amongst others.

    Reference – ‘http://baseballanalysts.com/archives/2004/12/bert_blyleven_f_1.php

  7. Ciarrai says:
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    @Roy:
    Bert Blyleven was a better pitcher than Nolan Ryan! That kind of a reckless comment cannot go unpunished. What the fuck are you smoking, dude? I have followed a lot of pitchers since about 1965 and I am fully aware of Blyleven’s prowess. He belongs in the HOF, but it is madness to say he was better than Ryan. Simple test: ask the guys who faced both, who do you want to hit against? I bet they didn’t want to hit against Ryan all that much. No, and not just because he could kill someone, but because he was nearly unhittable. You didn’t ask, but Jim Kaat REALLY, REALLY belongs in the HOF. Look at his pitching stats and throw in, what, 12 Gold Gloves. Plus, he was a threat at the plate. He’s got to get in next year, I recommend his book, “Still Pitching”, as a very interesting look at the bigs from 1959 on and so many funny moments from his long HOF career. My uncle Jim… only kidding. But he ought to be in the HOF. Happy New Year, one and all.

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