Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

2011 Hall of Fame Ballot: No to Bert Blyleven

18 comments

Blyleven throws his trademark Curveball. Image courtesy of http://cheapseatchronicles.blogspot.com

Apparently, from the looks of the baseball blogosphere lately, it is part of my duty as a baseball blog writer to put in my 2 cents on the 2011 Hall of Fame ballot.

On Jan 5, 2011, Hall of Fame BBWAA voting will be announced and we’ll have an entire week of blog postings doing post-vote analysis.  Its a great little way to fill the time in-between insignificant FA signings but before pitchers and catchers report.  However I have so tired of hearing about Bert Blyleven from every blogger on the planet that I had to write my own post specifically about him.

Bert Blyleven got 74.2% of vote in his 2nd to last year on the ballot in 2010 and the groundswell of stat nerds who think he was one of the best pitchers ever (despite his having a middling career that was more about longevity and accumulation rather than achievement) has officially reached a crescendo.

He pitched 22 seasons but only ever received Cy Young votes in 4 seasons.  That means, on a season to season basis his name came only even came into the conversation of being one of the game’s best 4 times in 22 seasons.  Even more of an indictment, he only made 2 all star teams in his career!   How can someone be considered one of the best who ever played the game if he was rarely even considered one of the best 25-30 players on a year to year basis?  The reason the lack of all star appearances matters is because it is as good of an indicator of his stature within the game as exists.  Jack Morris was the STARTER in several all star games, was a top-5 cy young candidate over and again, and was perceived to be among the best pitchers of his decade.  Blyleven was always just considered to be a decent pitcher with a great curveball.

He never led league in Wins or Era.  Only once he led in ERA+ and one other time Whip.  Lots of Blyleven apologists discount the Wins (obviously) since they’re a team stat, but nobody points that out when looking at Steve Carlton‘s 27-10 record for the god-awful 1972 Phillies.  They talk about how amazing a pitcher Carlton was; a Hall of Famer.  But when Blyleven pitched year after year and only reached 20 wins once; that was all his teams’ fault.

The big stat-nerd argument for Blyleven is his career Strikeouts, yet he only ever led the league in Ks once despite having 3700 for his career.  Blyleven accumulated exactly 3701 Ks in 4970 innings.  That’s a K/9 of only 6.7.  And in the one year he led the league in Ks, he averaged 6.3 K/9.  That’s only slightly better than the Nat’s own Craig Stammen‘s 2010 totals, by way of comparison.  Just because someone pitches a gazillion innings and accumulates a ton of Ks doesn’t mean he’s one of the all time best.  3701 Ks in 4900 innings means a career 6.7 K/9 rate.  That’s mediocre!

Go look up where his K/9 ranks in the all time list on baseball reference.  He’s just ahead of Doug Davis and just behind Barry Zito.  Yeah, that’s hall of fame company.

Blyleven is the epitome of an “accumulator.”  He played long enough to accumulate stats that reached one of the magical baseball marks (500 homers, 3000 hits, 3000 Ks, 300 wins) that some sportswriters seem to think indicate automatic inclusion to the Hall.  However, I offer the comparison of Jamie MoyerMoyer sits at 267 career wins and wants to keep playing.  It is not inconceivable that he returns from injury and gets a few more career wins.  Now ask yourself a hypothetical question; if Moyer had 300 wins, would he be a hall of fame pitcher?  I would hope your answer would be “absolutely not.”  He just pitched long enough to reach the magical threshold number.

All this hype about Blyleven is sabre-matrician stat nerd revisionist history hoopla who pay ZERO attention to what actually happened on the field during his era and just look at stats.  Well, the game isn’t played in the stat books; its played on the field.  And on the field Morris was far superior to Blyleven, and on the field Blyleven belongs in the hall of “good,” not the hall of fame.

I have never understood the fanatical desire of the modern blogger to get Blyleven into the hall of fame.  In my book he’s not a Hall of Famer now, he has never been, and I think he’ll immediately be the most mediocre player in the hall when inevitably he earns his spot this year.

Written by Todd Boss

December 24th, 2010 at 1:09 pm

18 Responses to '2011 Hall of Fame Ballot: No to Bert Blyleven'

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  1. The main point viz a vie Blyleven is between your Joe Morganesque dismissal of Blyleven’s candidacy on the spurious grounds of “well he didn’t seem like a hall of famer to me” versus rationally examining the facts and judging by rational means.

    For so long, baseball analysis was little more than the sum of so called baseball wisdom based on what baseball men saw on the few occasions they happened to a player. Were past that now. We can measure and compare on an even scale across eras and without the biases of subjective opinion.

    Let,s examine your own statistical biases. For examole

    Traderkirk1

    24 Dec 10 at 5:51 pm

  2. […] Nationals Arm Race "…….Nobody likes to hear it, because it's dull, but the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver « 2011 Hall of Fame Ballot: No to Bert Blyleven […]

  3. You use k/9 as a metric and adjudged Blyleven’s number to be insufficient compared to modern pitchers. Go take a look at the recently departed bob feller’s k/9 rates. They rarely went higher than 6/7 k/9. It was the era, this is a more k prone era. Compared to his era, Blyleven stacks up well enough.

    Then the old win canard. How many wins did lefty have in,71 or 73? His 72 season was great no doubt but the win total was nothing more than a fluke.

    The question is: is Blyleven worthy of being a hall of famer? Based on the accepted level of hall performance, he easily qualifies especially compared to the recent crop of relief pitchers now entering the hall.

    Traderkirk1

    24 Dec 10 at 5:57 pm

  4. In my opinion, Blyleven was a guy who pitched a gazillion innings, never got hurt and ended up with a ton of strikeouts. He’s an accumulator of stats, not a defining player.

    If Jamie Moyer pitches a few more years and gets to 300 wins, is he a hall of famer? Javier Vazquez sits at 2374 career strikeouts at age 34 and seems rather durable … it isn’t really that inconcievable that he hits 3000 ks. Is he a hall of famer?

    You mentioned relievers before; in my opinion the “save” is a useless statistic and relievers need to show something above and beyond a huge number of arbitrary saves in order to be Hall worthy. Lee Smith? No way. Mariano Rivera: yes.

    But the Smith vs Rivera argument is not stat-based; its subjective.

    Bill James himself once defined a list of measures to determine whether or not someone was Hall worthy, and several of them were to answer questions along the lines of “Was player X the best person on his team?” Was he the best in his league? I add to that (speaking as a fan and as of a life long player of the game): If player X’s team was coming to town did you look forward to possibly seeing him? If you heard pitcher X was throwing against your team would you be “afraid?” I think the answer to all these questions in the case of Blyleven was “eh, not really.”

    Stat-based arguments, as I mentioned in the post, don’t take into account the actual game being played. Not everything in baseball can be neatly measured by statistics. In some cases you just had to see the player and judge for yourself. In my opinion, Morris was a game-changer, a dominant pitcher who was one of the most feared players of his era. Blyleven was just a guy with a rubber arm and a great curve.

    Todd Boss

    24 Dec 10 at 6:08 pm

  5. If a player is consistently good for a long time, shouldn’t that be its own positive?

    Also, I always find it kind of funny when people knock looking only at stats because “it takes feelings/emotions/biases/etc out of the equation,” seeing as that’s kind of the whole point. The objective is to make an objective look at what happened.

    Arguments like the Cy Young and All Star things miss the point entirely. The whole point of looking at it from a stats only point of view is to find out which people went largely unappreciated, and which people didn’t get the accolades for a reason, so it’s not surprising that when you find those people, they went largely unappreciated in their time.

    So, in closing, you can argue Jeter must have been the best shortstop this year because he has the Golden Glove to prove it. I’ll take stats, thanks.

    vita10gy

    30 Dec 10 at 12:21 pm

  6. Sure, if a pitcher was good for a long period of time its a positive. But its not a mandate to induct them to the hall. Johnny Damon right now has over 2500 hits, is only 36 and in all likelihood plays for enough years to get to 3000. He’s got a career OPS+ of 104. He’s never even sniffed a MVP vote and when someone says his name, there’s nobody out there that immediately goes “one of the best players in the game.” So is he a hall of famer if he gets to 3000 hits? Because you KNOW his name will come up.

    I am of the opinion that certain cumulative stats OVER state a player’s worth. Career WAR for players that played in a different era for example. That’s why the consideration of a player’s overall hall-of-fame worthiness should not only be an analysis of their career stats and accomplishments, but also a subjective view of the player’s impact while he played. Personally I believe the save is an overrated stat and that most saves achieved would be earned even by the most mediocre pitcher in your bullpen. However, I believe there are certain closers who transcend the position, whose career dominance will earn their place (Rivera and Hoffman mostly).

    I completely disagree with you that All star appearances, Cy Young votes and MVP votes don’t matter. They absolutely DO matter. If a player is barely considered to be one of the best players during their era (by virtue of negligible recognition for individual achievement), how can we honestly say they were one of the best ever? To me that makes zero sense. They have 20-something all stars every year right? Albert Pujols is an automatic all-star every year and gets MVP votes every year. To me THAT is what a hall of famer is.

    By the way, clearly the gold glove is a joke on a year to year basis … but eventually people realize that former decent fielders (like jeter) are no longer in their prime and move on. Problem is, what replaces it? uzr/150? The variances in the uzr ratings make it so flaky that its impossible to determine who really is a plus fielder anymore. Nyger Morgan went from a 39.4 to a 4.2 uzr/150 ranking from 09-10. So which is right? Was Morgan that significantly WORSE in 2010 than in 2009? Even stats cannot make up for the deficiencies in fielder quality; stats can’t measure fielders who are better or worse at making split second decisions in the field, who have errors erased by better-catching first basemen, or fielders who cut down on base advancers based on reputation of arm strength.

    Baseball is stat heavy, and for that I love it. But baseball is not ONLY stats. You have to combine stats with opinion to arrive at some of these decisions.

    Todd Boss

    30 Dec 10 at 1:29 pm

  7. MVP and CY Young determine who the best player was that year, and if there was a “Person who had the best 1982 Hall of Fame” then those would be relevant, but since Hall of Fame is about who had the best careers, they shouldn’t really mean jack squat. It’s not exactly a rarity to have seasons where no one really stands out so one is more or less just picked, and seasons where there are 3 guys that all out performed what last years MVP did, but only one can win.

    It would be like arguing that the Buffalo Bills can’t be considered one of the best teams of the 90s because they never came out on top. Being good for a longer period counts when taking the long view, because not everyone is.

    The fact that there are many players that are a shoo-in for the All Star is a prime example of why it’s a flawed basis for anything. Pujols would have to die in a car accident before mid May to NOT make it, and he’d still probably come close. The all star game, to a large extent, is one of those “once you’re in you’re in” things, even for pitchers, though to a lesser extent. It also falls prey to big market biases.

    vita10gy

    30 Dec 10 at 2:40 pm

  8. I guess in the end, though I do get what you’re saying, is that I don’t think it makes a whole lot of sense to basically say, “because this guy was overlooked on an annual basis for the same reasons many people overlook him now, that’s a reason to overlook him.”

    vita10gy

    30 Dec 10 at 2:59 pm

  9. With MVP and Cy Young for me, its not just about winning them. I would rather see someone who is always mentioned in the argument. Someone who perhaps wins one or two but always garners enough votes to be in the top 5 discussions. Take Jack Morris for example http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/m/morrija02.shtml. Two 3rds, a 4th, two 5th place finishes in Cy Young voting. Marginal numbers of votes in two other years (a 7th and a 9th place). To me that says that in five of his 18 seasons he was considered among the top 4-5 pitchers in the league, a consistent show of superior performance.

    Blyleven: http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/b/blylebe01.shtml: same analysis: two 3rd places, a 4th and a 7th place. So to me that says that in his 22 seasons, he was only even mentioned 3 times as one of the best in the league. Big difference.

    Here’s something else to consider when I talk about the “accumulator” stats that some sabrematricians overdepend on. Career War.
    http://www.baseball-reference.com/leaders/WAR_pitch_career.shtml According to this list, Blyleven is the 13th best pitcher ever to play. He weighs in with a 90.10 career war. Meanwhile, Pedro Martinez comes in at 23rd place, just above Mike Mussina in the 74-75 career war range.

    Now, to me Pedro Martinez is among the best 3-4 right handed pitchers who have EVER played the game. Yet he’s equal to a marginal hall of fam candidate in Mussina and leagues behind Blyleven in this stat. It grinds me when i see columnists use WAR as “proof” that Blyleven is amongst the best ever pitchers.

    Todd Boss

    30 Dec 10 at 3:29 pm

  10. Again, I see what you’re saying, and stats can be flawed/teaked/etc, but while you think the fact that they don’t line up with what we “feel” is a fatal flaw, I see as the whole point.

    People are biased, emotional, unobservant, and irrational. Numbers aren’t. If we’re watching a guy we’ve already decided sucks, we only remember the times he fails us, and vise versa with good players.

    They aren’t supposed to line up with what we already “know” because the point is we don’t always know what we know.

    vita10gy

    30 Dec 10 at 3:45 pm

  11. Fair enough. As you say, 100% stats-based arguments are flawed, and 100% human recollection arguments are flawed. I agree with that. I just don’t agree with the modern day blogger who feels Blyleven by virtue of cherry-picked stats is somehow among the 20 best starting pitchers in the history of the game. There have been exactly 20 starters elected to the hall of fame in 70 years. Yeah its a “feel” argument but I don’t feel like he is in that elite list.

    Todd Boss

    30 Dec 10 at 4:53 pm

  12. “Again, I see what you’re saying, and stats can be flawed/teaked/etc, but while you think the fact that they don’t line up with what we “feel” is a fatal flaw, I see as the whole point.”

    This is an awful argument. How are we supposed to evaluate a player other than looking objectively at what they did on the field?

    The argument against Blyleven goes that he wasn’t thought of as one of the top five pitchers in the game when he played. Yet part of the real reason for this is because he was underrated when he played. Had he played on winning teams in the 70s he absolutely would have been thought of as a top five Cy Young Candidate every year.

    Yet somehow, many “feel” that Jack Morris was one of the best pitchers in his era because he started all-star games and finished in the top five in the Cy Young. Well for most of his career he really wasn’t one of the top five pitchers in the game, and shouldn’t have started most of the all-star games. People even want to throw in that he was the #1 pitcher for the World Series winning 92 Jays even though he pitched in the only games the Jays lost that post-season and none that they won.

    Sure its a “feel” argument. But had Blyleven pitched for good teams you’d feel differently. Had Morris pitched for more mediocre teams, you’d feel differently about him too.

    Fisk

    1 Jan 11 at 8:09 pm

  13. Many call Ryan a dominating pitcher, and they usually refer to his 7 no-hitters or his world record strikeouts. However, the objective evidence shows that, year in and year out, Ryan did NOT dominate his peers. Given that a pitcher’s goal is to give up as few runs as possible, one way to judge consistent dominance is how often a pitcher ranks among the league leaders in fewest runs given up. If Ryan were truly dominant, then he would consistently finish in the top 10 in his league in ERA. We’re not talking leading the league, just Top 10. Let’s see what the objective evidence says.

    Ryan finished top 10 in his league in ERA+ a mere 6 times, or only about every 3 years or so. In other words, in 2 out of every 3 years, AT LEAST TEN pitchers had a better ERA than Ryan. Compare that with Bert Blyleven’s 12 times finishing in the top 10 in ERA+.
    Ryan and Blyleven 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.
    Because Ryan walked tons of batters, while Blyleven was a control artist, Blyleven outpitched Ryan year after year.

    Roy

    2 Jan 11 at 1:48 am

  14. I thought I had something to say until I read “Roy’s” comments. Nuff said. Bert deserves the nod!

    Dan Skidmore

    5 Jan 11 at 5:38 pm

  15. Baseball takes into account many different parameters when determining statistics, even defining certain eras. The steroid era is going to be a complete mess…more so than it has been in the last few years. The fact of the matter is that pure stats are worthless and pure popularity is obnoxious. HOF voters need to do their homework and really study how a certain player affected his position, team, season, etc. I’m glad to see Blyleven get the nod. I’ve heard about him since I was in college.

    Dan Skidmore

    5 Jan 11 at 5:47 pm

  16. Ok…I admit that my initial post was disingenuous in that it was “nuff said.” I’m just curious how all the Bert “haters” will think about steroid era players. Rafael Palmiero? Dude has solid HOF numbers. Barry Bonds? Once again, definitive HOF numbers. How do you reconcile your disdain for Bly and your surgical precision in slicing up his career with a new dynamic such as steroids? The teams that Bly played for can be factored in to some degree but certain eras need to be synthesized as well. Otherwise, explain to me how you will think about steroid era players who are up for HOF consideration as opposed to those that jusst don’t quite reach the “mark.”

    Dan Skidmore

    5 Jan 11 at 6:19 pm

  17. […] for the hall, a position that I “wildly” disagree with and posted as much here about a month ago.  So its doubtful that I’d agree with his […]

  18. […] turning mediocre players into other-worldy hall-of-fame electees (see Blyleven, Bert and my stated opinions on his Hall-worthiness ahead of the 2011 ballot, and especially read the comment section where […]

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