The Case Against Bert Blyleven

by Ross Friedman

There is a reason Bert Blyleven is not your prototypical Hall of Fame pitcher, it's because he doesn't belong in the Hall of Fame.

Let's get this out there right away, all Bert Blyleven was, was a mediocre pitcher who pitched for a very long time.

I ask, who considers a 13-11 pitcher a Hall of Fame pitcher? That's what Blyleven was. For his career he averaged 13.0 wins and 11.4 losses per season. That's about 1 and a half more wins than losses per season. Not very prolific numbers. Yes, Blyleven has 287 career wins. However, there is a statistic I greatly prefer to wins, and that's wins minus losses. Or how many games over .500 a player was for their career. This is still a career number, but one that it doesn't help your Hall of Fame chances being a .500 pitcher.

There are also other things that we must consider before election into the Hall of Fame. First, how dominant a player was at their best. Being the best in the game, or one of the best, definitely helps. Also, how is the player remembered.

First I will use the competitive set of my very intelligent, yet very misguided colleague and see how Blyleven compares. Then I'll use my own competitive set for Blyleven.

The fact is, Blyleven was never considered the top pitcher in the game, or even close to it. In his 22 seasons he only made two All-Star teams. He also only made the Cy Young balloting a total of three times. He finished 3rd in the American League in 1984 and 19xx and got one last place vote in 1973. So for 2 years he was considered the third best pitcher in the American League and at no other time in his career was he considered a top pitcher.

Also, Blyleven only had one 20-win season in his entire career. That occurred in a year where he was in a 4-man rotation (as opposed to the 5-man rotations of today's players), and the season in which he did that, he still only finished three games over .500 (20-17).

Then let's look at what Bert Blyleven is best known for. GIVING UP HOME RUNS! In 1985 he gave 50 home runs. This was no fluke, the following season he gave up 46 more. To put these numbers in perspective, the 50 home runs he surrendered in the 14-team American League in 1985 accounted for 2.4% of the total home runs hit that year. This year, in the still 14-team American League, Jeff Suppan surrendered the most home runs allowing 35. This accounts for only 1. 1.4% of the total home runs hit, and that's the worst person. Then there is Pedro Martinez who, in this higher offensive era gives up fewer EARNED RUNS (42) in a season than Blyleven gave up HOME RUNS.

So now let's compare him to Nolan Ryan, Steve Carlton, Fergie Jenkins, Gaylord Perry, Phil Niekro, and Don Sutton.

PitcherW-L20 WinsERACy Youngtop 3ballotAll-Star

As we can see, all but Fergie Jenkins (and Blyleven) are 300 game winners. So let's start with Jenkins. While Blyleven had one season of 20 wins, Jenkins had seven. Jenkins also won a Cy Young and had five top 3 finishes in the balloting. There is no question Jenkins was considered a more dominant pitcher.

Nolan Ryan is the only pitcher in this group with a worse wins-losses than Blyleven. So what, besides the 300 wins makes Ryan a Hall of Famer. While Bert Blyleven is best known for surrendering home runs, Nolan Ryan is considered, arguably, the greatest power-pitcher ever. He has over 1500 more strikeouts than any other player, and as many no-hitters as any two players put together. Ryan was a player who made the Hall of Fame off of unbelievable career achievements that may never be matched. Oh, and he did make 8 Cy Young ballots and 8 All-Star games compared with 3 and 2 for Blyleven, respectively.

Steve Carlton won four Cy Young awards. Blyleven didn't make 4 ballots. Enough said.

Gaylord Perry won two Cy Young awards (two more than Blyleven), made five Cy Young ballots (two more), five All-Star appearances (three more), and had five 20-win seasons (four more). He was a much more dominant pitcher at his best.

As Gaylord Perry did, Phil Niekro also made five Cy Young ballots and five All-Star appearances. While Niekro only had three 20-win seasons, that's still two more than Blyleven had.

Finally there is Don Sutton. Sutton was much like Blyleven except still a bit better. He had the 300 wins (324), finished 68 games over .500 and went to 4 All-Star games, while making 5 Cy Young ballots.

All of these pitchers were much more dominant than Blyleven.

I have a different competitive set for Blyleven, one that doesn't include any Hall of Fame players.

This list includes Jimmy Key, Bob Welch, Dave McNally, Jack McDowell, Allie Reynolds, Carl Mays, and Ron Guidry.

PitcherW-L20 WinsERACy Youngtop 3ballotAll-Star

I won't get into Allie Reynolds and Carl Mays as they were much before Blyleven's time, but you can see the statistics.

So first there is Ron Guidry. The fact is, there is no way Blyleven is a Hall of Fame pitcher if Guidry isn't. Guidry finished his career 79 games above .500 as compared with 37 for Blyleven. They had just about the same career ERA but in Guidry's 14 seasons, he won a Cy Young award, had three top-three finishes, six times on the ballot, and made four All-Star teams. Oh, and one of the most dominant pitching years ever in 1978. Now Guidry would have the same won-loss as Blyleven if he you add 117 wins and 159 losses. That's a .424 winning percentage. Does a .424 winning percentage for 276 games make Guidry a Hall of Famer?

Now some people (including myself) believe Guidry should be in the Hall of Fame. So instead let's look instead at people who surely don't belong in the Hall. Nobody considers Jimmy Key, Jack McDowell, Bob Welch, or Dave McNally Hall of Fame pitchers. They all have comparable ERAs (remember Welch, Key, and McDowell pitched in a higher offensive era).

Key, Welch, and McNally all have at least 65 more wins that losses, much better than Blyleven's 37. They all have the same number of times Blyleven does of making Cy Young ballots, and Bob Welch and Jack McDowell both won the award while Key finished in second place twice. McNally had four 20-win seasons. Key, McDowell, and McNally all appeared in more All-Star games. Basically, all of them were just as, if not more dominant than Blyleven yet nobody considers them Hall of Fame material (and they shouldn't) just as Blyleven shouldn't be considered.

The Hall of Fame is for great players and doesn't need a mediocre pitcher, and a mediocre pitcher is all that Bert Blyleven was.

Send Ross your opinions, comments or verbal abuse at ross@JBaseball.

© 2000-2023 JBaseball

"How can you not be romantic about baseball?" - Moneyball.