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The Case for Bert

Matt Imbrogno

January 2008

 

            So, once again, Bert Blyleven was skipped over for the Hall of Fame. This is an absolute crime. Let's look at his total stats first:

 

            He has 287 wins; he has 3701 strikeouts, good for fifth all time, a 3.31 career ERA, 4,970 innings pitched, and a career WHIP of 1.198. As an added bonus, he ranks ninth on the all time list with 60 shutouts. Does someone want to tell me what's wrong with those numbers? His 250 losses might be a lot but he played for some TERRIBLE teams. Keep in mind, Bert Blyleven only played for THREE playoff teams in his twenty-two year career. If you make the playoffs only three out of twenty-two years, you must be playing for a god-awful team.

 

            Another knock on Bert is his lack of finishes in the tops of Cy Young voting. Well, with baseball, writers tend to vote stupidly. They look at things like W/L record to determine who should win awards. Things like this handicap pitchers from bad teams. If a team doesn't win a lot of games, their pitchers won't. This is what happened to Blyleven. Let's look at some of the categories big Bert finished top ten in and how many times he did it:

 

            He finished in the top ten in ERA ten times! What is also incredibly impressive about Bert's ERA is that only SIX times out of TWENTY TWO SEASONS did he have an ERA over four, and two of those were ERA's of 4.01. If that isn't consistency, I don't know what is. He finished top ten in WHIP eleven times, and the same goes for IP. He was top ten in K/9 FOURTEEN TIMES! He was in the top ten for strikeouts FIFTEEN TIMES and is FIFTH on the all-time list. He was top ten in K/BB SIXTEEN TIMES.

 

            That is complete and utter dominance and consistency. I will, responsibly, frame the other side of the debate-Blyleven does have 250 losses; that's a lot. So many, in fact that he appeared on the top ten losses list a handful of times in his career. Let's look at this a little more closely, though.

 

1971: 15 losses w/2.81 ERA
1972: 17 losses w/2.73 ERA
1973: 17 losses w/2.52 ERA
1974: 17 losses w/2.66 ERA
1976: 16 losses w/2.87 ERA (3.12 w/Min, 2.76 w/Tex)
1980: 13 losses w/3.82 ERA
1985: 16 losses w/3.16 ERA (3.25 w/Cle, 3.00 w/Min)
1986: 14 losses w/4.01 ERA
1988: 17 losses w/5.43 ERA

 

            So that's really one (1988), arguably two (including 86), seasons in which Blyleven's performance was the reason for the high losses. A guy with an ERA under 3 (1971-74, 1976) shouldn't lose 15-17 games. If a pitcher has a career 3.31 ERA and 1.198 WHIP, he shouldn't lose 250 games. So, how did Bert Blyleven lose 250 games? Well, it was by god-awful run support. Here is his run support by year (baseball-reference.com):

 

1970: 4.03

1971: 3.51

1972: 3.76

1973: 4.18

1974: 4.11

1975: 4.79

1976: 2.66 (!!!)

1977: 4.93

1978: 4.24

1979: 4.36

1980: 3.29

1981: 3.99 (short)

1982: 5.66 (short, shorter than 1981)

1983: 3.77

1984: 5.35

1985: 4.20

1986: 4.73

1987: 5.15

1988: 4.30

1989: 4.82

1990: 4.63

1991: UNAVAILABLE

1992: 3.14

            That averages out to 3.77 runs of support a game for his career. With an ERA of "only" 3.31, 3.77 runs of support a game are not that much. It is pretty evident why Bert Blyleven has 250 losses. Here's another very interesting bit I found online. This is from an article on ESPN.com (http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/hof08/news/story?id=3169651): "Rich Lederer, a baseball analyst and historian, studied Blyleven's career and estimates that if he had received even league-average run support, his record would be closer to 313-224 than his 287-250." If that isn't telling of a guy who had some damn bad luck, I don't know what is.

 

            There is a horrible myth amongst "people in the know" that Bert Blyleven wasn't a "dominant" pitcher. I would ask them, how good sirs and madams, do you think that when there is all the evidence against it? He is fifth all time in strikeouts and has a very respectable ERA, along with a good WHIP and batting against stats-what is so "un-dominant" about his numbers? 

 

            There's another bit of garbage circulated that Bert Blyleven doesn't belong in the Hall of Fame because his numbers don't stack up against those already in the hall. Again, I defer to the same Jerry Crasnick article I posted before. "If you judge a player by the company he keeps, Blyleven certainly merits a place in Cooperstown. He has more complete games (242) than Tom Seaver, a better strikeout-walk ratio (2.8-1) than Walter Johnson, more shutouts (60) than Bob Gibson, Jim Palmer and Juan Marichal, and a better WHIP (1.198) than Whitey Ford, Steve Carlton and Nolan Ryan." Hmm, that's pretty interesting. He's got better numbers in a lot places then a lot of Hall of Famers, some of whom people consider among the greatest pitchers of all time, Yet somehow, he isn't good enough to be in the hall. That is absolutely ridiculous.

 

            Some people say Bert Blyleven couldn't get it done in the big games. Well, when you only play on three playoff teams in a twenty-two year career, you don't often have a chance to prove that. When Blyleven did get the chance, however, he excelled. In the postseason, Bert posted a 5-1 personal record in 8 games, 6 of which were starts. His ERA in the postseason is a wonderful 2.47 and his playoff WHIP is 1.08. In his few chances to perform in the toughest of spotlights, Bert Blyleven did incredibly well.

 

            The next myth floating around is that Jack Morris is a better pitcher than Bert Blyleven and should get into the Hall long before the Dutch Dandy (I just made that up if it hasn't been used). Well, that just isn't true.

Stat

BB

JM

W/L

287-250

254-186

ERA

3.31

3.90

IP

4970

3824

H

4632

3567

BB

1322

1390

SO

3701

2475

K/9

6.7

5.8

K/BB

2.79

1.78

WHIP

1.198

1.296

BAA

.248

.247

OBPA

.301

.313

SLGA

.367

.380

OPSA

.668

.693

BB/9

2.23

3.27

H/9

8.38

8.39

Men On/9

10.61

11.66

 

Judging by this chart here, Blyleven wins in just about everything. Morris gives up fewer hits, but again, it's in less innings. Blyleven's superior WHIP and slightly lower hits against per nine total negate that advantage. What's scary is in that 1,146 fewer innings, Jack Morris walked 70 more people than Blyleven did.

 

            Bert Blyleven is a Hall of Fame pitcher without the Hall of Fame recognition. It's sad that he will probably get passed over for consideration and have to be swept in by the Veteran's Committee at some point. He should've gotten in along with Goose Gossage on January 8 and that he didn't is an absolute travesty. For shame, baseball writers of America. For whatever pitiful reason, you are disallowing a great, great pitcher from being immortalized in the baseball shrine of shrines. Hopefully, you'll correct your mistake before it's too late.   

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