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— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Tuesday, January 07, 2003
Jack Morris and Bert Blyleven
Charlie looks at two of the top pitchers of the 80s.
Who the hell was Bert Blyleven? Bert Blyleven was a right-handed starting pitcher, mostly in the American League, who played between 1970 and 1992. He pitched for Minnesota, Texas, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Minnesota again and California, and played on World Series winning teams in Pittsburgh and in his second stint in Minnesota. Folks knew him to have a great curveball.
Who the hell was Jack Morris? Jack Morris was a right-handed starting pitcher, mostly for Detroit, who played between 1977 and 1994. He pitched for Detroit, Minnesota, Toronto and Cleveland, and played on World Series winning teams in Detroit, Minnesota and Toronto. He won the most games of all pitchers in the 1980s, and won Game 7 of the 1991 World Series.
1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in baseball?
I think it is safe to say that no one thought Bert Blyleven as the best player or pitcher in baseball. Even for a pitcher, Blyleven did not fare well in the MVP voting:
1973 AL 4/336, 26th
That’s it. Two seasons, 0.09 MVP award shares. If someone did think Blyleven was the best player in baseball, he wasn’t telling the MVP voters this.
It is the same tale for Jack Morris. Morris, like most pitchers of the Cy Young Award era, did not garner many MVP votes.
1981 AL 17/392 15th
That’s 0.18 Award Shares. He did better than Blyleven, mostly because he pitched on better teams, but Morris’s voting record is nothing about which to brag.
2. Was he the best player on his team?Usually not, though usually the best pitcher. When Blyleven came to the majors, he joined a Twins pitching staff that Jim Perry and Jim Kaat led, and Ron Perranoski was the closer. Luis Tiant even pitched a half-season for the 1970 Twins. In a few years, he was the Twins best pitcher, though he stood out more for bulk totals than for anything else. In 1972, Blyleven threw 287.1 innings and had a 2.73 ERA—but finished 17-17 for a 77-77 team, and the staff ERA was 2.84.
He kept pitching well though his win-loss numbers were not much better than those of his teammates in both Minnesota and Texas.
His ERAs were usually better. He was likely the Pirates’ best pitcher in the Fam-I-Ly era, though he did not pitch much better than his teammates. Those Pirate staffs had very good bullpens, and Blyleven pitched many no-decisions. In Cleveland, he was the best pitcher on the team when he was not hurt, which was most of 1982 and much of 1983. He likely did not have the best stuff on the team, but the man who did, Len Barker, did not pitch to his full ability. These were his best years, and the poor Cleveland team and injuries masked this.
When he came back to Minnesota in the mid-1980s, Frank Viola, not Blyleven, was the Twins ace.
In short, Blyleven was usually the best starter on his team from 1971 to 1984. He had better ERAs than his teammates, but not much better win-loss numbers. He was 21 Wins Above Team for his career, and his teams were a bit worse than .500 when he was not pitching. Some of those teams did have position players who were better than Blyleven, like Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, Willie Stargell and Dave Parker (at that time).
Morris was the best pitcher on the Tigers, though Willie Hernandez won the MVP award in 1984. (Sparky Anderson was the last manager to not use the one-inning closer, so the thought that Hernandez was the best pitcher in the league in 1984 is not outrageous.) Alan Trammell was a better player than Morris, and Lou Whitaker may well have been too.
3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?
Bert Blyleven was likely never the best pitcher in baseball or his league. He did not fare well in the Cy Young Award voting:
1973 AL 1/120, 7th
Blyleven had two good showings in the mid-1980s with Cleveland and Minnesota. Both of these teams were bad when Blyleven pitched for them.
In his 1984 year with Cleveland, he went 19-7 with a 2.87 ERA for a team that won 75 games and lost 87. That was likely his best year, and Willie Hernandez, a relief pitcher, won the Cy Young Award.
Jack Morris never won a Cy Young Award, but did do well in the voting.
1981 AL 21/140, 3rd
That’s 0.74 Award Shares. He was never the best pitcher in the league—in the 1981-1984 time frame, Dave Stieb was the best pitcher in the AL, and after that, Roger Clemens was the best pitcher. He was usually good, but never brilliant.
4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?
Blyleven usually did not pitch for good teams, which made his win-loss numbers worse. Thus, you would not think he would have pitched in many pennant races. He did pitch in some, and pitched well when he did.
In 1970, Blyleven’s rookie year, the Twins won the AL West by 9 games. Blyleven went 10-9 for this team, which would have won its division with or without Blyleven. The Twins did not play well for years after that, hovering around .500.
In 1977, Blyleven went 14-12 for a Texas team that went 94-68, good for second place, 8 games behind Kansas City. For Blyleven to have pitched well enough for the Rangers to have a more wins than the Royals, Blyleven would have had to have won 23 games and lost 3.
From 1978 to 1980, Blyleven pitched for Pittsburgh, which had good teams. Blyleven went 14-10 for a Pirates team that had a 88-73 year, 1.5 games out of first place. In 1979, the Pirates won the World Series, and beat Montreal for the AL East title by 2 games. In 1980, the Pirates fell to 83-79, 8 games out of first. Blyleven had a bad year, going 8-13, which was a big reason the Pirates lost.
After 1980, Blyleven pitched for Cleveland, which was in the middle of it swell-known 33 year funk that lasted from trading Rocky Colavito for Harvey Kuenn to John Hart signing many young players to long-term contracts. Thus, he did not pitch in any pennant races.
The Twins of 1987-1988 were good. The Twins won the AL West in 1987 by 2 games, but that’s misleading. They lost their their last 5 games after clinching. Blyleven pitched well, 15-12. The next year, he pitched poorly, 10-17 for a team that finished 91-71. It is unlikely the Twins could have made up 13 games had Blyleven pitched better, though they would have made it closer.
In 1989, Blyleven pitched for California, which ended the year 8 games out of first place. Blyleven had his last good year for this team, 17-5, and likely could not have pitched well enough to make up those 8 games.
Looking at what Bill James looked for Don Drysdale—how well Blyleven pitched against all teams that ended the year within 10 games of the division winner in all years Blyleven’s team ended the year within 10 games of the division winner (save 1970), from 1 August until the division winner clinched the division—we come up with these numbers:
GS IP H R ER HR BB SO W-L ERA 13 96.1 82 33 31 6 25 68 7-4 2.90The years in the above numbers are 1978-1980, 1987 and 1989. He threw two shutouts—16 August 1980 against Montreal and 24 August 1989 in Kansas City—and two other complete games. He threw 9 quality starts, and had a mean game score of 60. His worst game—a 7-1 loss against Montreal on 23 September 1980—scores at 36, which is good for a worst game of 13.
Furthermore, Bert Blyleven pitched well in the postseason, 5-1 with a 2.47 ERA in 6 starts and 2 relief games. Thus, in the 19 most important starts of his life, Blyleven went 11-5 with a 2.86 ERA in 138.2 innings, and was 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA in 5 relief innings to boot, and he did not have a really bad start.
That is good pitching, folks. Let’s add Blyleven’s postseason starts:
GS IP H HR R ER BB SO W-L ERA 13 96.1 82 4 35 31 25 68 7-4 2.90 6 41.1 38 6 14 13 7 31 4-1 2.83And, with the Pirates down 3-1 in the 1979 World Series, Blyleven pitched 4 innings of scoreless relief to win Game 5. Damn you, Bert Blyleven.
Jack Morris started 24 times against pennant contenders—a team that ended the season within 10 games of first place (or won the division by less than 10 games) from 1 August until the clinch/elimination day—during his career. He went 12-9 in these games with a 3.78 ERA, about what one would think a pitcher with Morris’s overall numbers would have.
His best year down the stretch was 1983, a tight race where he went 3-1 with 4 complete games in these games against New York, Toronto and Baltimore.
His worst year in these games is, oddly, the most well-known pennant race of these, the 1987 AL East race. Morris was 0-3 in 4 starts against Milwaukee and Toronto in this race, which Detroit won on the last day of the year.
GS IP H HR R ER BB SO W-L ERA 24 188.1 161 18 79 68 73 141 12-9 3.78 13 92.1 83 10 39 39 32 64 7-4 3.80Morris was 7-4 in 13 postseason starts, with a 3.80 ERA. One of those wins was Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, as we all know, and one of those losses came against Bert Blyleven. Bert beat Jack in Game 2 of the 1987 ALCS; Twins 6, Tigers 3.
Overall, he was as good as Blyleven in the key regular season starts when you fix for era and park and he was as good as Blyleven in the postseason. He has a big game rep, which he warrants no more than Blyleven does. Neither pitched like Bob Gibson did in the big games, but both pitched well.
5. Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime?
Blyleven pitched until he was 41, and had many good years after 30. He was 11-7 for a bad Cleveland team in 1981 and 19-7 in 1984, 17-16 with two teams in 1985, 17-14 in 1986 and 15-12 in 1987, and 17-5 in 1989. So yes.
Morris had a long prime, so this is a little hard to give an answer, but yes. Morris pitched until he was 39, and won 21 games at age 37, though he pitched only OK.
6. Is he the very best player in baseball history who is not in the Hall of Fame?
No for both pitchers. Ron Santo was likely a better player, though in a shorter career. Eddie Murray and Ryne Sandberg definitely were better.
7. Are most players who have comparable career statistics in the Hall of Fame?
This is Blyleven’s best argument. Of his 10 best comps, all are in the Hall of Fame save Jim Kaat, a former teammate of Blyleven’s, and Tommy John, another pitcher from the same time. Both are popular candidates. He is very similar, both in numbers and in non-statistical arguments, to Don Sutton. Both pitched for many years and were good, but not great, pitchers most of the time. Both won 20 games once, were All-Stars 6 times together. Sutton has better numbers, and he pitched for better teams, though Blyleven pitched much better in the post-season. As a pitcher, Blyleven was similar to Robin Roberts and Ferguson Jenkins—right-handed pitchers with great curveballs who threw high in the strike zone.
Morris’s best comp, Dennis Martinez, is not in the Hall of Fame and is not going into the Hall of Fame. Martinez is the only pitcher who has a 900+ similarity score. Morris was a better pitcher overall than Martinez, and had a much better peak, though he was not a much better pitcher overall. Of the rest of his top 10, it has 7 Hall of Famers (Bob Gibson, Red Ruffing, Amos Rusie, Burleigh Grimes, Bob Feller, Jim Bunning and Jim Palmer), one popular candidate (Luis Tiant) and one man who is not yet eligible but will not go into the Hall once he is eligible (Chuck Finley). Even though Morris is clearly a better pitcher than Finley and is a bit better than Martinez, his ERA+ is 105, worse than all his comps.
8. Do the player’s numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?
Blyleven scores 50 on the HOF Standards test, 113.5 on the HOF Monitor. His Black Ink is 16. Looking at the top 200, there are 6 Hall of Fame pitchers who have lower Black Ink scores than Blyleven: Pud Galvin, Eddie Plank, Herb Pennock, Hoyt Wilhelm, Rollie Fingers and Candy Cummings (whom some say invented the pitch of which Blyleven was the master, the curveball). He won 287 games. Of all the eligible pitchers who won between 270 and 300 games, we have:
* 6 Hall of Famers (Lefty Grove, Early Wynn, Robin Roberts,
Fergie Jenkins, Red Ruffing and Burleigh Grimes)
Morris is on the cusp. He has a Black Ink score of 20, which is low for a Hall of Famer, and he meets 39% of Hall of Fame standards. He won 254 games in his career, 38th all time, tied with Red Faber (a Hall of Fame mistake).
Among the eligibles between 240 and 270 wins, 14 of 21 pitchers are in the Hall of Fame. Many of these men are borderline Hall of Famers or outright mistakes (Eppa Rixey, Ted Lyons, Vic Willis, Herb Pennock).
None of the seven men who are not in the Hall of Fame (Jim McCormick, Gus Weyhing, Jack Quinn, Dennis Martinez, Jack Powell and Frank Tanana) are candidates.
Morris was a better pitcher than the men who are not in the Hall of Fame, though about as good as the borderline folks.
9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?
None that I can tell. Blyleven was an average hitter and fielder. Morris pitched one of the best postseason games of all time, a 10-inning shutout against Atlanta in the seventh game of the 1991 World Series. Overall, however, he was 7-4 with a 3.80 ERA in the postseason, which is about as good as his regular season record. Morris came to bat only once in the regular season; in fact, Morris was an outspoken booster of the designated hitter rule.
10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame but not in?
Well, let’s limit this question to the starting pitchers on the ballot:
Blyleven, Rick Honeycutt, Darryl Kile, Sid Fernandez, Danny Jackson, Morris, Fernando Valenzuela, Tommy John and Jim Kaat. Only Blyleven, John and Kaat are reasonable candidates, though some sportswriters will make arguments for Morris, who has no business being a Hall of Famer.
It is hard to pick the best of the three. Blyleven had 339 Win Shares, Kaat has 268 and John has 289. My gut feeling agrees with the Win Shares, ranking them Blyleven, John and Kaat, in that order. If Blyleven is the best eligible pitcher not in the Hall of Fame, Morris cannot be.
11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?
Blyleven was never an MVP candidate, which is common for a pitcher in the Cy Young Award era. He never won a Cy Young Award, though he did have a good year in 1984 and the writers picked him third in the Cy Young Award voting. The AL writers chose Willie Hernandez, a relief pitcher. Dan Quisenberry, another reliever, was second. Were we to limit the field to starting pitchers, I would have picked Mike Boddicker or Dave Stieb myself. Like Don Sutton, he did not have many big years.
Morris never won an MVP award, nor was he close. Pitchers rarely won MVP awards in Morris’s time, though the AL MVP voters often chose the MVP award winner out of a hat (which they still do to this day, giving MVP awards to men who had no business winning such an award, like Juan Gonzalez, Ivan Rodriguez and Miguel Tejada). In Morris’s best year, 1986, Roger Clemens, another pitcher, won the MVP award.
12. How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the other players who played in this many go into the Hall of Fame?
Blyleven was an All Star twice, a very low number. I do not have the numbers and do not care to know how many folks were on two All Star teams, but I know many did and most are not in the Hall of Fame.
Morris was an All-Star five times. This is good, though not great.
13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?
Like any great pitcher, only if either pitched one game and team took the next three days off.
14. What impact did the player have on baseball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way?
Not that I know of.
15. Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?Aside from some ill-timed words when the BBWAA voted for his old teammate Kirby Puckett and not him, I know of no poor showings of Bert’s personality. The man’s teammates liked him, and he was known to be a funny man. He gave postgame interviews wearing a “Who Farted?” T-shirt with holes in it.
As best I can tell, Morris meets these standards. I have heard no one say that Morris does not meet these standards.Now, I understand what I am about to say may well shock most Primer readers. Sit tight. More folks think Jack Morris was the better of the two pitchers. When I told my father I was writing about these two men, he told me that Jack Morris should be in the Hall of Fame, and Bert Blyleven should not be. He is not alone. Most Primer readers would not agree with that. Nor would I. Let us look at the pitcher-only numbers:
Morris Blyleven Difference 3824 Inn 4970 1146 389 HR 430 41 1390 BB 1322 -68 2478 SO 3701 1223 0.92 HR/9 0.78 0.32 3.27 BB/9 2.39 -0.53 5.83 SO/9 6.70 9.60See that Blyleven pitched 1146 more innings, but walked 68 fewer batters. Even if we look at the other numbers, we see that Morris would have had to pitch for about 5 more years with Pedro Martinez’s numbers to match Blyleven. We need no ERA fix; the two men pitched at the same time. Morris had an ERA+ of 105 (3.90 ERA against a mean ERA of 4.08), Blyleven of 118 (3.31 ERA against a mean 3.90 ERA)
There is no way in the world in which we live that Jack Morris was as good a pitcher as Bert Blyleven. Anyone who says otherwise is wrong, and you should argue with him until he goes mad. Why do folks think Jack Morris was a better pitcher than Bert Blyleven? I shall show you some more numbers:
Morris Blyleven difference 254 W 287 33 186 L 250 64 .577 Pct .534 -.043 215 FWP 190 -25 3 20W 1 -2 1 G7W 0 -1The last three areas are “Fibonacci Win Points,” “Twenty Win Seasons” and “Wins in Game 7 of the World Series.”
Morris won fewer games, but his other win-loss numbers are better. His win-loss percent and Fibonacci Win Points are better than Blyleven’s. He won 20 games two more times than Blyleven, and he pitched one of the best games in baseball history in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. The gap in win-loss is having three years of Hugh Mulcahy. You know the man. His nickname was “Losing Pitcher.” Why does Morris have better win-loss numbers than Blyleven? Here are more numbers:
Morris Blyleven difference 1515 TmW 1914 399 1297 TmL 1901 604 17 WAT 21 4 2557 TmR 2855 298 527 GS 684 157 4.85 R/GS 4.17 1.90 23 TmShO 42 19 51 10+R 40 -11 .261 $H .273 0.012 .264 Tm$H .274 0.010 35 $H+ 14 -21Yes, I know Blyleven started 685 games. I missed one. It does not matter. Deal with it.
As you see, both men were both about 20 games better than their teams. Blyleven’s teams were about six more years of .398 baseball, which is the 2000 Kansas City Royals. Those teams were four years of facing Sandy Koufax, 1963, when we look at run support. Blyleven’s batters did not score a run 19 more games than Morris’s batters, and scored 10 or more runs 11 fewer times.
Morris had a better $H, but most of that is because his fielders saved about 40 hits a year. Morris did make better use of his run support, beating his Pythagorean projection by 7.6 Wins; Blyleven missed his by 12 Wins. Even calling that skill (and it is within the range of luck), Blyleven wins this matchup with sheer bulk numbers. (I used career numbers, not season-by-season numbers, so those may be a bit different.)
To give this article an ending, here are Morris and Blyleven career, against each other, ten starts:
IP H HR R ER BB SO W-L ERA Morris 70.2 63 7 34 34 30 48 5-5 4.33 Blyleven 64.2 63 10 29 28 18 32 3-3 3.90The one postseason start is in the above numbers. This means nothing, of course, as does Jack Morris’s first career start being against Bert Blyleven. It is like “A Bridge Too Far” proving the Caine-Hackman theory. I now know Pigman’s joy. To add all this together, I know Jack Morris is not a Hall of Famer. Bert Blyleven is, though he is not an inner-circle member.
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