It seems most baseball fans think Bert Blyleven is worthy of the Hall of Fame, while he’s only getting moderate support from sportswriters in the HOF voting.
Fans are adamant about Blyleven not getting in, saying “It’s ridiculous!” or “He’s a slam dunk case!” or “He’s the most deserving player not in.” These overreaching statements lead me to believe that they’re not looking at the data, because at best he’s a borderline case, and Ron Santo, Dick Allen, Rich Gossage, Darrell Evans, Keith Hernandez, Ted Simmons, Minnie Minoso, Jack Morris and Dale Murphy all have more compelling cases than Blyleven does.
I think any argument which claims Blyleven belongs in the Hall of Fame can be effectively refuted, so give it your best shot.
A few preliminary questions for Blyleven supporters:
-Do you feel 287 wins is enough to qualify a pitcher for the Hall of Fame?
-Was there ever a three-year period (or longer) in Blyleven’s career where he was one of the five best pitchers in baseball for that period? If so, when? If not, don’t you think that’s a reasonable standard to start with?
-Do you think Blyleven’s lackluster Cy Young voting (3rd, 3rd, 4th, and 7th) means that the voters didn’t appreciate him, and if so, why didn’t they?
-What do you consider to be Blyleven’s two best seasons?
I will support my position with various evidence as the discussion goes along. I’ll start off by challenging the myth that Blyleven played on poor run-scoring teams, because I know that’s implied every time someone tries to defend his mediocre won-loss record.
Let’s look at his 10 best ERA+ seasons, in order starting with his best:
1973—158, 20-17, 325 IP, Minnesota 6% OVER league scoring average. And yet he won only 3 more games than he lost.
1977—151, 14-12, 234 IP, Texas 4% OVER league scoring average. And yet he won only 2 more games than he lost
1974—142, 17-17, 281 IP, Minnesota just barely OVER league scoring average. And yet he won no more games than he lost.
1984—142, 19-7, 245 IP, Cleveland 5% OVER league scoring average.
Finally, his W-L reflected that of a great pitcher.
1989—140, 17-5, 241 IP, California 3% UNDER league scoring average.
Again, his W-L reflected that of a great pitcher.
1985—134, 17-16, 293 IP, Cleveland (9-11) barely UNDER, Minnesota (8-5) 4% UNDER league scoring average. Still, he won only 1 more game than he lost.
1975—129, 15-10, 275 IP, Minnesota 5% OVER league scoring average. About what would be expected for a decent pitcher in terms of W-L.
1971—127, 16-15, 278 IP, Minnesota 5% OVER league scoring average. And yet he won only 1 more game than he lost.
1981—126, 11-7, 159 IP, Cleveland 2% OVER league scoring average. About what would be expected for a decent pitcher in terms of W-L.
1976—125, 13-16, 297 IP, Minnesota (4-5) 4% OVER, Texas (9-11) 5% UNDER league scoring average. About what would be expected for a decent pitcher in terms of W-L.
10-year total (his ten best seasons)
His teams averaged 2% OVER the league scoring during that time (he was not a victim of playing for bad teams). Let’s repeat this… 2% OVER the league scoring for the ten years of his best ERA+ seasons.
An average pitcher would be expected to have a .509 winning percentage on those teams, or 138-133 given that number of decisions. In his ten best seasons, Blyleven was merely 11 wins above an average pitcher, or a paltry 1.1 wins per season above an average pitcher. And those were his ten “best” seasons. This is not Hall of Fame material.
Or let’s look at his three best seasons of ERA+...
His teams averaged 3% OVER the league scoring during that time.
An average pitcher would be expected to have a .513 winning percentage on those teams, or 50-47. In his three best seasons, he was 1 win above an average pitcher, or only 0.3 wins per season. Not all that great.
Do you still think it was his team’s offenses that kept him from having good W-L records?
I have a further reflection that refutes this myth, but I’ll wait to hear other arguments first.