Saturday, January 9, 2010

Bert Blyleven's Hall Of Fame Candidacy

  • An objective non-stat zombie, non-blind "I know it when I see it" look at Bert Blyleven's Hall of Fame credentials:

The debate is essentially moot because with Bert Blyleven having fallen five votes short of induction this year, he's going to get in, more than likely next year. That said, there still appears to be a chasm between those who think Blyleven really belongs and those that have been swayed either by the stat-based argument or by Blyleven's incessant whining.

It's as if certain people whose thoughts on Blyleven were altered from simply looking at his 287-250 record and saying "no" were affected by the way his numbers have been examined intently to bolster his candidacy. With that, there's a reticence that I can sense as if some who don't think Blyleven belongs are voting for him because they think they're supposed to.

I've never really taken a close look at Blyleven's year-by-year performance. On the surface, with the number of strikeouts; wins; shutouts; innings; and complete games, Blyleven is a viable Hall of Famer. But you can understand the way he was pushed to the side when he first became eligible. He never won a Cy Young Award nor finished higher than third in the voting; he was only 27 games over .500; made two All-Star teams; and won 20 games once in an era when starting pitchers went out there 36-40 times. If you look at his year-by-year records without anything else, you'd say he was a .500 pitcher and not worthy of the ultimate honor.

Let's take a look at Blyleven's career, year-by-year.

1970--Record: Won-10; Lost-9; ERA-3.18; Innings-164; Hits-143; Strikeouts-135; Shutouts-1

The 1970 Twins went 98-64; Blyleven could've won five or six more games and lost one or two that he did win as a 19-year-old rookie.

1971--Record: Won-16; Lost-15; ERA-2.81; Innings-278; Hits-267; Strikeouts-224; Shutouts-5

The 1971 Twins went 74-86. Blyleven could've won seven more games easily. He was 5th in ERA; 4th in strikeouts; and 5th in shutouts. Vida Blue had an all-world year and won the Cy Young Award and the MVP; Mickey Lolich also had a better overall year than Blyleven.

1972--Record: Won-17; Lost-17; ERA-2.73; Innings-287; Hits-247; Strikeouts-228; Shutouts-3

The 1972 Twins went 77-77. Blyleven could conceivably have won seven more games than he did; his 17-17 record is tarnished by his mediocre team. Aside from innings and strikeouts, Blyleven wasn't in the top ten of any major pitching category.

1973--Record: Won-20; Lost-17; ERA-2.52; Innings-325; Hits-296; Strikeouts-258; Shutouts-9

The Twins record was 81-81. Blyleven got shelled more than a few times that year and his record is surprisingly in line with how he pitched. When he was on he was great, when he wasn't, he got pummeled.

He led the league in shutouts; was second in ERA to Jim Palmer. He came in seventh in the Cy Young voting, but probably deserved to finish third.

1974--Record: Won-17; Lost-17; ERA-2.66; Innings-281; Hits-244; Strikeouts-249; Shutouts-3

The Twins went 82-80 in 1974. He could've won six more games. He was fourth in ERA and second in strikeouts. He wasn't in the CYA voting, but probably should've been around fifth or sixth.

1975--Record: Won-15; Lost-10; ERA-3.00; Innings-275; Hits-219; Strikeouts-233; Shutouts-3

The Twins went 76-83 in 1975. Blyleven's numbers were pretty well in line with the way he pitched. He got knocked around quite a bit. Palmer was at the top of his game then as the best pitcher in the American League.

1976--Record: Won-13; Lost-16; ERA-2.87; Innings-297; Hits-283; Strikeouts-219; Shutouts-6

Blyleven was traded from the Twins to the Rangers on June 1st, 1976. The Twins went 85-77 and the Rangers went 76-86. He should've won four more games with the Twins; five or six more with the Rangers.

If you look at the Gamelogs after he joined the Rangers, it's shocking how many games he pitched into extra innings----talk about a workhorse.

1977--Record: Won-14; Lost-12; ERA-2.72; Innings-234; Hits-181; Strikeouts-182; Shutouts-5

The Rangers went 94-68 in 1977. Blyleven could've won close to 20 games with more luck. He pitched a no-hitter against the Angels in his last start. He was second in ERA and in shutouts. He wasn't listed in the CYA voting, but should've been around fifth.

1978--Record: Won-14; Lost-10; ERA-3.03; Innings-243; Hits-217; Strikeouts-182; Shutouts-4

Blyleven was traded to the Pirates after the 1977 season. He could've gotten close to 20 wins with a little more luck. His numbers are in line with the way he pitched. He wasn't an award contender that year.

1979--Record: Won-12; Lost-5; ERA-3.60; Innings-237; Hits-238; Strikeouts-172; Shutouts-0

Blyleven got off to a bad start and had a lot of no-decisions pitching for a Pirates team that won the World Series. He pitched excellently in the post-season.

1980--Record: Won-8; Lost-13; ERA-3.82; Innings-216; Hits-219; Strikeouts-168; Shutouts-2

Having pitched far better than his record would indicate, Blyleven should've been around .500 pitching for a Pirates team that fell to 83-79 the year after winning the World Series.

1981--Record: Won-11; Lost-7; ERA-2.88; Innings-159; Hits-145; Strikeouts-107; Shutouts-1

Blyleven was traded to the Indians after the 1980 season in what was a rotten trade for the Pirates. The Indians went 52-51 in the strike-shortened year. He regained his form, could've won four or five more games than he did despite the strike; and without the strike, would've gotten close to 20 wins.

1982--Record: Won-2; Lost-2; ERA-4.87; Innings-20; Hits-16; Strikeouts-19; Shutouts-0

Blyleven missed almost the entire season with an elbow problem.

1983--Record: Won-7; Lost-10; ERA-3.91; Innings-156; Hits-160; Strikeouts-123; Shutouts-0

Still struggling after returning from his elbow injury, by all rights, Blyleven coud've gone 12-6 or thereabouts rather than 7-10.

1984--Record: Won-19; Lost-7; ERA-2.87; Innings-245; Hits-204; Strikeouts-170; Shutouts-4

How is it possible that the Indians, with a starting rotation that included Blyleven at the very top of his game; Neal Heaton; and for half the season, Rick Sutcliffe could end up at 75-87?

Blyleven had a renaissance with the Indians in 1984 and could easily have won 23 games. He finished in third place in the Cy Young Award voting behind two relievers, Willie Hernandez and Dan Quisenberry.

1985--Record: Won-17; Lost-16; ERA-3.16; Innings-293; Hits-264; Strikeouts-206; Shutouts-5

Blyleven was traded back to the Twins at mid-season. He had 24 complete games and led the league in games started; innings pitched; and strikeouts. He should've won a couple more games, but objectively, his record wouldn't have been any better than 19-14. He finished third in the CYA voting only because it was a down year for AL pitchers. Bret Saberhagen finished first and Ron Guidry second.

1986--Record: Won-17; Lost-14; ERA-4.01; Innings-271; Hits-262; Strikeouts-215; Shutouts-3

The Twins went 71-91 in 1986. Blyleven had become more of an innings-eater and durable horse than the dominant force he was early in his career. His record was what it should've been.

1987--Record: Won-15; Lost-12; ERA-4.01; Innings-267; Hits-249; Strikeouts-196; Shutouts-1

The Twins won the 1987 World Series and Blyleven was one of their three starters who helped carry them there. He should've gotten close to 20 wins that year and pitched well in the playoffs and World Series.

1988--Record: Won-10; Lost-17; ERA-5.43; Innings-207; Hits-240; Strikeouts-145; Shutouts-0

The Twins went 91-71 and had Blyleven pitched just a bit better (and he didn't pitch as badly as his record indicates) the Twins might've posed a greater challenge to the Athletics in the AL West. His record should've been around .500 judging by the way he pitched.

1989--Record: Won-17; Lost-5; ERA-2.73; Innings-241; Hits-225; Strikeouts-131; Shutouts-5

No one could've seen this coming. The 38-year-old had a masterful year on and off the field as the anchor of the veteran Angels surprising run into contention and inspirational leader and joker off the field. The Angels went 91-71 and were also stuck behind the mighty A's of the late-80s.

Blyleven should've won 22 games and conceivably might've won 25. He finished fourth in the CYA voting, but should've been second behind Saberhagen.

1990--Record: Won-8; Lost-7; ERA-5.24; Innings-134; Hits-163; Strikeouts-69; Shutouts-0

Time and wear began catching up to Blyleven as he tore his rotator cuff and pitched poorly for the disappointing Angels. He pitched to his record.

He missed the entire 1991 season.

1992--Record: Won-8; Lost-12; ERA-4.74; Innings-133; Hits-150; Strikeouts-70; Shutouts-0

It says something about the man's fortitude that he went through surgery and rehab at age 40 and came back to pitch reasonably well. He probably didn't pitch as well as his 8-12 record might indicate as he ran out of gas in the final season of his career.

Overall, you're talking about a pitcher who was caught in the early 70s with a bunch of other top starters who were getting the Cy Young Award votes. Vida Blue had a few dominant years; Jim Palmer, Catfish Hunter, Gaylord Perry and Fergie Jenkins are all in the Hall of Fame and Blyleven was right up there with any and all top names back then. In a few years, he was absolutely dominant and that dominance spanned a generation.

If he'd had a little better luck and pitched for better teams, he would easily have surpassed 300 wins and had a more gaudy record in which he would've been voted into the Hall of Fame on his first or second try.

There's no question that Bert Blyleven is a Hall of Famer.

  • Viewer Mail 1.9.2010:

Franklin Rabon writes RE my quote about my gambling/entertainment preferences yesterday:

Your "spend, not waste" comment reminded me of tug mcgraw's famous quote. Still one of my all-time favorites:

"Ninety percent I'll spend on good times, women, and Irish whiskey. The other ten percent I'll probably waste."
- Phillies pitcher Tug McGraw, on his plans for his $75,000 salary.

Tug was a piece of work. His signature moment of "Ya Gotta Believe!!" with the Mets was long thought to be an inspirational phrase to rally his troops. In reality, many of his Mets teammates have quietly said that McGraw was in actuality making fun of a pep talk from team boss M. Donald Grant in which he said the organization still believed in the floundering Mets of 1973.

I'm totally on board with spending my money and time in the same way that Tug suggested.

Whatever works.

John Seal writes RE the Mets acquisition of Jay Marshall:

Congratulations to the Mets for picking up Jay Marshall off waivers from the A's! One of my favorite sights last season was watching Marshall and Brad Ziegler warm-up at the same time. I always wanted them to switch sides so that Marshall would warm up on the left side of the bullpen, whilst Ziegler would warm up on the right. My dream was that at some point their hands would collide and turn them both into side-arming super heroes, or something. Never happened, though. I wonder how many other teams have had both a left-handed and a right-handed submariner in their bullpen at the same time. Can you think of any?

I must admit that I didn't have the faintest clue as to who Marshall was before looking at his numbers.


Well, I guess a lefty sidearmer has use especially in the NL East with the Phillies crew of lefty bats. It was a good idea to pick him up regardless of his heinous numbers----they got the guy for nothing.

I'm trying to think of any sidearmers who came from the right side with the Yankees during Mike Myers days there and can't come up with any. There are the "kinda/sorta" lefty sidearmers I can remember like Tony Fossas, but aside from that, there haven't been that many lefties coming from down under that I can remember off the top of my head.

While the sidearmers locking arms or bashing their hands into one another while warming up would be funny, your sense of humor is growing darker and darker. What's Billy Beane and the flickering genius done to you? Look at it this way: you've got Jack Cust back!!!

David writes RE Peter Gammons:

I'm really curious if there is more behind the scenes to this departure of Peter Gammons from ESPN. Unlike most people I talk to, I like the MLB Network and I think he will do pretty well there with his personality and experience. But knowing how ESPN has given people the shaft before and is very hush-hush when doing so makes me think twice. Sorry, but when your only justification for leaving as an award-winning baseball sportswriter, who works for the 800lb gorilla of sports networks is wanting a "less demanding schedule", I do the math and think otherwise...

Gammons's departure from ESPN could really have little to do with ESPN itself and a desire to have a more relaxed work schedule.

He has lost his fastball in recent years in part due to his illness a few years ago. I think he'd like to take it a little easy rather than chasing Theo Epstein around seeing what three-and-four team deadline deals the Red Sox are trying to pull off. Gammons was never a "burn the place down" type of writer who unloaded on even those who deserved it. It's gotten to the point where he only doles out criticism in an apologetic fashion, if at all. Whether that's due to him not wanting to alienate his friends or he's trying to be nice is unclear.

This is the problem with being so well-liked and congenial while dealing with the players, manager, owners, agents, etc. I'd like to think that if I was in that position where I had to associate with the people I write about, I'd be able to say the same things I say now; it's easier said than done. I've said before and I'll say it again as I quote Bob Gibson about being friendly to opposing players: "I might like them; then I might not want to throw at them."

It works both ways. If a good player is a colossal jerk off the field, I might be reluctant to say positive things about him.

As for ESPN, they may simply be catering to their clientele. The number of actual reporters they have is dwindling rapidly. Aside from Jayson Stark and Jerry Crasnick, you have hacks or mean-spirited, lazy and obnoxious armchair experts dispensing advice for fantasy sports players rather than useful in-depth analysis from a broad-based view. Gammons will be better off at MLB Network since ESPN is such a farce from top-to-bottom----and is getting worse by the day.


Jeff said...

Speaking of the MLB Network, Prince, I remember a long time ago you mentioned you'd never watched it and didn't desire to watch it. I'm curious why you feel that way.

Personally, I love the MLB Network. There has never been anything like it; and every time I turn it on I am entertained. It's become a part of my daily routine.

Joe said...

You say you are going to use a "non-stat zombie" approach, and then give us stats to support Blyleven's case. And why use win/loss record at all? Even you know that is a garbage stat.