Bert Belongs (the Saga Continues)

I’ve been a Bert Blyleven fan going way back, and since we’re in Hall of Fame voting season, time to rehash here my prior writings on behalf of his Cooperstown case:
My first Blyleven Hall of Fame column, from TEN years ago.
Blyleven was MUCH better than many Hall of Fame pitchers.
On whether to choose Blyleven or Koufax, if you could pick one at age 19 & hold their whole careers.
How Blyleven outlasted most of the other top phenoms.
In his wins, Blyleven was as good as all but a few of the best, and much better than Jack Morris.
-Blyleven places well on my list of High Quality Starts.
More fun facts:
A graphic comparing Blyleven to the median Hall of Fame starting pitcher.
A chart of pitchers with a career ERA+ of 112 or better and 4000+ innings pitched. Note that everybody on the list – other than recent 300-game winners who are Hall-bound (Clemens, Maddux, Glavine and Randy Johnson) – is in the Hall but Blyleven.
-Blyleven’s the only eligible pitcher with 10 seasons of 200+ IP and an ERA+ of 120. Number 2 is Mullane & Hippo Vaughn with 7.
-Blyleven threw as many shutouts as Greg Maddux & Tom Glavine. Combined.
-So, you think Blyleven didn’t win enough. Let’s see you try to go 19-7 for the 1984 Cleveland Indians.
-14 eligible pitchers with 230+ wins are not in the Hall of Fame. Oddly, this includes all five European-born pitchers to win 100+ games. Those 5: Blyleven (287), Tony Mullane (284), Jim McCormick (265), Jack Quinn (247), Tommy Bond (234). (It’s safe to say Jack Quinn will never lose the distinction of being the winningest pitcher born in Austria-Hungary.)

14 thoughts on “Bert Belongs (the Saga Continues)”

  1. I don’t think these “good for a very long time but never great” players deserve to be in the hall of fame. Blyleven pitched for 20+ years and had 3, maybe 4, really good seasons. Doesn’t cut it, to me. Now, I didn’t see him pitch for most of his career – I only go back to (what I lovingly call) the Doug Flynn/Frank Tavaras era, and only really remember the American League in the mid to later 80s. But I don’t see anything in the stats to change the opinion I had of him from my own eyes in the later stages of his career.

  2. You have to remember that Bert came up with the Twins back when their record of futility would have matched the current Royals, Nationals, Pirates and until the last couple of years Rays. He had the best curveball I have ever seen. Bert should have been in the HOF 10 years ago. Shame on Jon Heyman and others who may not have voted for him.

  3. The Twins weren’t that bad. His rookie year they won their second straight division title, and they had Rod Carew in his prime those years. On the whole, they were no worse than the teams Seaver, Carlton and Ryan pitched for in that period.

  4. The HOF has two levels of players who don’t belong:
    The ones the idiots on the Veterans Committee (starting with Friend of Ted): Jim Bottomley and Bill Mazeroski comes to mind
    The compilers. If you are really good, but not necessarily great, especially if you are a pitcher who can throw strikes, you will be considered a candidate, because you’ve compiled longevity numbers. Don Sutton, who benefited from great teams and the best damn pitchers’ park in the universe comes to mind.
    While it’s true Blyleven was a compiler, if you put him in the place of Don Sutton, he would get a lot more than Sutton did. Jack Morris, while not a compiler, well, all he did was win, baby. I have no qualms about putting either of them in. Context is EVERYTHING. When it came to facing Bert, the batters were not happy campers. They just had to wait him out.

  5. Bottomley was a little better than I thought when I ran the numbers, but I don’t disagree.
    As to Sutton, the man basically didn’t miss a start for 22 years; only Cy Young and Nolan Ryan started more games, and behind him only Maddux is within 40 starts of him. I get the “compiler” and context arguments but just think how much you’d pay, as a GM, to get Sutton’s durability and consistency in a guy who was a #1 starter for about a third of his career, a #2 for another third, a #3 for most of the rest. Consider:
    Don Sutton: 756 career starts
    JR Richard, Smokey Joe Wood, Herb Score, Mark Prior, Mark Fidrych, Rick Ankiel, Karl Spooner and Stephen Strasburg, combined: 734 career starts.
    Sutton started more games than Bob Feller and Addie Joss, combined. More games than Old Hoss Radbourn and Dizzy Dean, combined. More games than Whitey Ford and Sandy Koufax, combined.

  6. “just think how much you’d pay, as a GM, to get Sutton’s durability and consistency”
    This argument doesn’t make any sense to me. GMs don’t give out 22-year contracts. They give out 5 year contracts or 7. There are plenty of pitchers who are consistent for 5 or 7 years. I would much, MUCH rather have a Sandy Koufax (or Whitey Ford, or other great pitcher, to use your examples) than a Blyleven. Because if your Koufax retires after 5 years, then it’s not like you are stuck with a AAA callup for then next 17 years that Blyleven continued to be above average — you just go out and try to sign (or otherwise get) another great pitcher.

  7. Well, I do buy the argument (seeing as I started it). Picking as a GM is not the same as picking for the HOF. Because by that argument, then Sutton was a better pitcher than Koufax or Pedro, maybe combined (I’m not going to bother to look it up). the Hall is simply that: the most hallowed place in baseball, reserved for the greats. Not the near greats, but those who, when you think about them, you get a quick smile. Not an argument. I could probably make the case that Rusty Staub deserves to be in because others who are lesser belong.
    As I said, context matters. Bottomely was a terrific player, but his context was an offense happy era, and he rated an article for I think one of Stern’s books, called, again, quoting from a 45 year old memory, “When Sunny Jim went on a rampage.” He got in as much for some good years during a hitters’ era and a 12 RBI day as anything. Medwick, for instance, was a way better player but is remembered for spiking a guy and causing a riot.

  8. I think the Koufax or Pedro versus Sutton or Kaat is an apples/oranges comparison.
    In today’s MLB, having a transcendant pitcher even if only for a short time, is more valuable because it is easier (assuming sufficient financial resources) to put together a team that can win a championship.
    In the days of Blyleven, Sutton and some of the others mentioned, having a solid started on whom you could count for a decade or longer was more valuable because it took longer — through smart trades and developing young players — to put together a winner.
    Finally, I don’t care about the stats, Black Jack Morris belongs in the Hall. He was the best pitcher in his league for a decade, he was a fierce competitor along the lines of Bob Gibson, and he pitched one of the greatest games of all time (context considered) to give his team a championship.

  9. Magrooder, we still have pitchers who last that long Andy Pettit, Greg Maddux, these guys gave you innings, and Maddux is, of course, a modern day Christy Matthewson (down to the brilliance in gambling…it must go with their abilities to pitch perfectly and read body language).
    As I said though, I would put Morris in. It’s almost an Andy Pettit type of career. Really good regular season, great money pitcher. Maybe you shouldn’t have to look only at a pitcher’s post season record (although if it’s long enough, why not?). the HOF is supposed to be based on a body of work, and if that body includes a lot of post season wins, well, if you are a major reason just to get there and you dominate in it, why not include them. After all, that’s why you play the game in the first place. So to me, BLyleven couldn’t do it alone, so he should go in, Morris, I would put in, but I can see why some don’t, and Pettit, who was a very good pitcher in the regular season for 15 years, and became Cy Young in the playoffs, why think about it? To me, he belongs.

  10. Daryl,
    I wasn’t suggesting that longevity guys don’t still exist, just that they are not as valuable as they were before free agency really took hold.
    Today, there is much more comfort that teams may have relatively short “windows” and a brilliant though not durable starter gives a team a better chance to capitalize on the opportunity of the “window.”
    Pettite is not nearly in Maddux’s class as a pitcher and, in my opnion, he benefitted greatly from being on dominant iteams. Had he pitched on Blylven’s or Morris’ teams his stats would be signficantly less than they are.

  11. Magrooder,
    Morris was not the best pitcher of the 80’s. At no time in the 1980’s was he considered the best pitcher. His prime overlapped that decade and his offense scored enough that he was credited with more wins than other pitchers during that particular ten year period. A whole bunch of pitchers were better during that decade. From Carlton, Blyleven & Ryan at the start of the decade to Clemens at the end with Stieb, Gooden, Hershiser and Saberhagen, among others in the middle, Morris likely is just fighting to be considered one of the top ten pitchers during that decade. If elected Morris would have the highest ERA of any pitcher in the Hall of Fame. He is slightly better than Jamie Moyer a little worse than Dennis Martinez neither of whom will get in Cooperstown without a ticket.

  12. Some in this thread and elsewhere have derided compilers like Don Sutton, Blyleven, etc. My opinion is there is room enough in Cooperstown to recognize both extreme peak performers who have sufficient career length and to recognize consistent very good to occasionally great performance of an extremely long period. Take Raffy Palmeiro. If he retired five years earlier (well short of the 500 hr & 3000 hits) he doesn’t get much support – like Harold Baines. However, being good enough for long enough to rack up those kind of career numbers deserves recognition.
    Having said all that, Blyleven was NOT just a compiler. He was top or near top quality pitcher for a long time. A team’s goal is to win games. A pitchers job is to limit the oppositions score by keeping him off the bases. Blyleven did that very well. 60 career shutouts! Fifth all time in strikeouts. When you strike the batter out he hardly ever scores.

  13. largebill,
    According to baseball reference, of the ten most similar pitchers to Jack Morriss, 6 are in the HOF and Luis Tiant, third most similar, should be. The second most similar pitcher? Bob Gibson. Dennis Martinez, the most similar, didn’t have anywhere near the post-season resume of Morriss.
    Neither Steib, Saberhgen nor Gooden lasted long enough or had sufficiently great peaks to compare to Morris, who I’d take over any of them any day of the week.
    Carlton, a greater pitcher, had one great and two good years in the 80’s. Ryan, one of the most over-rated pitchers of all time in my view, is a longevity HOF’er with the added statistical stand-outs of K’s and no-hitters.
    Hersheiser is the most apt comparison, in that they have similar resumes, but Morris’ overall record is better.
    In a big game, at their career peaks, I’d take Jack Morris over any of the pitchers on your list.

  14. Had a long post about Blyleven vs Morris. It got lost. Bottom line: I think Blyleven is slightly better, and you can have him only, or both. I do not think the careers justify Morris w/out Blyleven.
    On another note, my father in law is a BBWAA member and has a vote. I believe he voted for 10 this year (I am doing this from memory) – Blyleven, Alomar, Morris, Larkin, Lee Smith, Raines, Trammell, Mattingly, Larry Walker, Bagwell. Not sure on Bagwell. He always votes Mattingly because he likes him and feels his 5 years of greatness and shortened career deserve a look (his numbers are very similar to Puckett’s).
    He also believes there are 2 tiers of HOFers. 1st ballot guys, and others who deserve but are not the very top guys. As an example, he didn’t vote for Boggs or Winfield, because he felt theyweren’t 1st ballot guys, even though he felt they were HOFers.

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