Revisiting the Hall of Fame case for the unappreciated Bert Blyleven
Some people seem to think that because I am now focusing
I realize that the game has changed a lot since Blyleven's day. Still... did you know: That Bert Blyleven has more shutouts than:
He also has more shutouts than every single pitcher of his era except
What makes this interesting... well there are a couple of things. One, it points out that Blyleven has a better ERA+ than three 300-game winners -- Niekro, Ryan and Sutton. In truth, he has as good or a better career ERA+ as eight of the 17 300-game winners since 1901. His ERA+ is also better than those of
But the larger point seems to be that those three former Royals -- Sabes, Appier and Cone -- have better ERA+ than any of them. And so they do. But, of course, there's a pretty substantial point to be made there. None of those three pitched as many innings as Blyleven (or Niekro, Ryan, Sutton, etc.). And in fact, none of them came CLOSE to pitching as many innings as Blyleven.
Sabes pitched 2,562 innings.
Blyleven, as you probably know, pitched 4,970 innings -- about 2,000 more innings than Cone and about 2,500 more than Appier. He basically pitched as many innings as Saberhagen and Appier combined.
And the simple fact is that Blyleven, through 2,500 or so innings, had a better ERA+ than anyone on that list.
Through 2,500 (or so) innings:
Bert Blyleven: 131 ERA+
And for that matter ...
Greg Maddux: 143
Of course, Blyleven (like Niekro, Ryan and Sutton) had a whole second career. There have been only 27 pitchers in baseball history sturdy enough to throw 4,000 innings in the big leagues. Only eight of them are not in the Hall of Fame, and four of those -- Johnson, Clemens, Maddux and Glavine -- will be soon*. So these are some of the best ever. And when you compare Bert Blyleven to every pitcher in baseball history who threw 4,000 innings, his 118 ERA+ ties him for 10th overall. Every other pitcher who threw 4,000 innings with an ERA+ of better than 110 is in or going to the Hall of Fame.
I know that many people don't like giving credit for longevity. And that's because longevity is kind of boring. They would point out that Blyleven only led the league in strikeouts once, rather than pointing out that he had 200-plus K's eight times (only Hall of Famers have done it that many times). They would point out that Blyleven made just two All-Star teams without noticing that he was a second-half pitcher -- he was 115-84 with a 2.93 ERA in August, September and October throughout his career.*
People would point out that Blyleven only once led the league in ERA+ without mentioning that he finished second three times and in the top 5 seven times. They would point out that twice, later in his career, he gave up record-setting home run numbers without pointing out that over a long career his home run rate was better than those of Niekro, Sutton, Marichal,
The reason I put up the remarkable number of shutouts Blyleven had was not to say that those shutouts should qualify him for the Hall of Fame but only to point out... that he has a remarkable number of shutouts. The thing that I think Blyleven has going against him -- aside from him falling 13 victories short of 300 -- is the enduring image that he was not a great pitcher. He did not win a Cy Young. He did not make many All-Star teams. He did not excite kids when they got his baseball card. The idea that Blyleven was wildly unappreciated in his time does not rest easy in the mind. If he was that good, dammit, we would have noticed.
Well, as far as I know, a shutout is pretty much the best thing a pitcher can do for his team. He doesn't do it alone, of course, but he's the main component. And only eight pitchers in baseball history -- only THREE pitchers since the Deadball Era -- threw more shutouts than Bert Blyleven. Of course, all three of those pitchers --
I'll give you one more statistic -- something to think about (I hope). There are shutouts. And then there are SHUTOUTS. I suspect that if a shutout is great, a super-shutout is even better. What's a super-shutout? Right: 1-0. That's the stuff of legend. Your team scrapes together one run and the pitcher makes that run stand up -- they'll write songs for that guy. Jack Morris did it in the World Series and is still remembered for it. Winning 1-0 is magical.
Well, you know what's coming now.
Bert Blyleven won FIFTEEN 1-0 games in his career. And I will bet you that no one -- certainly no one in 50 or 60 years -- had more 1-0 shutouts. I looked at the obvious choices and I have not found anyone yet.
At a glance (since 1954):
Steve Carlton won 12.
Look, the idea is not to convince you that Bert Blyleven belongs in the Hall of Fame. Of course I believe that. The idea is to convince anyone who cares that there might be more to his career. And that Blyleven was damned good.
Look: There are 38 starters in the Hall of Fame since Deadball. Blyleven's 118 ERA+ puts him in the middle third, his 287 wins would rank ninth overall, his 3,701 strikeouts would rank third, his 60 shutouts would rank fourth, his won-loss percentage would be low but still ahead of four others. By the readily available Hall of Fame standards, it seems pretty obvious to me that he's a Hall of Famer.