Better late than never, Bert

Today, Bert Blyleven finally got recognized for being the great pitcher he was. It took fourteen years, but it’s always better late than never. Congratulations, Bert.

In the long, traditional and tainted history of baseball, you will find few players who were as good as Bert Blyleven. A pitcher who spent 86% of his career in the AL, Blyleven was not only one of the most durable pitchers ever to play the game (14th all time in innings pitched), but he also played each and every one of those innings, up until the last few years of his career, remarkably well and consistently. Blyleven was not just “good” at baseball, he was nothing short of great, and unlike Javier Vazquez, he did not underperform his stellar peripherals.

In terms of the topical, traditional statistics, Blyleven’s career 3.31 ERA puts him in company with current/future Hall of Famers Randy Johnson (career 3.29 ERA), Fergie Jenkins (3.34), Phil Niekro (3.35), and Robin Roberts (3.41). His ERA is also lower than that of Tom Glavine (3.54).

You like wins? His 287 wins give him one more than Robin Roberts and place him 27th all time. Only six other players in the history of baseball who have more wins than BlylevenTommy John (288), Bobby Mathews (297), Johnson (303), Glavine (305), Roger Clemens (354), and Greg Maddux (355)—are not currently in the Hall of Fame, and five years from now, that number will dwindle down to two.

Many pitchers with fewer wins are already in. Furthermore, Blyleven was never known as a jerk or cheater or drug user during his career, unlike Albert Belle, Ron Santo (God rest his soul), Tim Raines, Kenny Rogers, Barry Bonds, Clemens, et al. To the contrary, Blyleven has a great sense of humor. But wins don’t really matter, at least not in measuring a pitchers talent, and attitude has nothing to do with his talent and production on the field.

While Blyleven performed remarkably well in the surface stats that most Hall of Fame voters obsessively ogle, his underlying skill sets are equally impressive. Blyleven ended his career with a 3.19 FIP over almost 5,000 innings pitched, making him top-50 all time amongst starting pitchers who threw 2500+ innings. That FIP mark puts Blyleven in company with such current and future Hall Of Famers as Steve Carlton (career 3.15 FIP) and Jim Bunning (3.22) and ahead of such guys as Don Sutton (3.24), Maddux (3.26), Fergie Jenkins (3.28), Dennis Eckersley (3.40), and Phil Niekro (3.60).

In fact, Blyleven’s FIP was only above 3.00 twice during his first nine major league seasons (one of which was his rookie year). Over those first nine years of his career, his career-high FIP was 3.27. In his career, his FIP was above 4.00 only three times.

His BB/9 was only three times above 3.00 in a season and only once above 3.50. Blyleven’s K/9 (6.70 career) was also above average each season until his final three in the majors. With the exception of his final three seasons—over which Blyleven’s K/BB was 2.98, 2.76, and 2.41—his K/9 was never below 6.0.

Blyleven’s numbers are so good because his control was superb. It was not Greg Maddux-like, but a career 2.39 BB/9 is none the less fantastic. Blyleven posted a career 2.80 K/BB mark, which is top-35 amongst all pitchers who threw 2000+ innings (top-25 amongst all pitchers with 2500+ innings). And just in case Blyleven’s career 2.80 K/BB does not sound sweet enough, between 1970 and 1992, the league average K/BB was only above 1.75 once (1988).

Fangraphs does not have any groundball data available for any season prior to 2002, but it is well known that Blyleven had a fantastic curveball, and he kept the ball in the yard plenty with a 0.78 HR/9.

In sum, we have the portrait of a pitcher with great peripherals and quality surface stats. Blyleven was an almost entirely AL pitcher with a good reputation, a lot of wins, great control (in terms of both BB/9 and K/BB), and a very quality FIP and ERA. His 3,701 career strikeouts are fifth all time and he’s better than many of the pitchers who are already honored (some of whom should not be…but that post is for another time) in the halls of history in Cooperstown, New York.

Blyleven was one of baseball’s true greats, and I am glad he is finally being recognized as such. With luck, Blyleven’s entry will pave the way for Mike Mussina.

On one final note, I would like to point out that Jeff Bagwell‘s snub, garnering less than 50% of the vote, seems awfully ridiculous. As Chris Jaffee noted earlier this week:

Some talk has surrounded Jeff Bagwell as a steroid taker. He’s never been named as one, never tested positive, and there’s no solid evidence or even evasive statements before Congress linking him to steroids. But he might be dinged by the power of gossip and innuendo.

Rather than extol upon how unfair tainting innuendo is in our guilty until proven innocent-until-proven-guilty society and rehash a long-winded argument in favor of Jeff Bagwell, I will instead let the numbers visually stand for themselves. Below, courtesy of Fangraphs’s WAR graphs, is a visual representation of the career of Jeff Bagwell in comparison to the careers of the three most recently elected Hall of Fame hitters — Roberto Alomar (congratulations!), Andre Dawson, and Jim Rice.

image

Like I said, I think the image speaks for itself.

Card Corner Plus: Gene Michael and High Intelligence on 1972 Topps
Three smart players devoted their lives to baseball.

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Jeffrey Gross is an attorney who periodically moonlights as a (fantasy) baseball analyst. He also responsibly enjoys tasty adult beverages. You can read about those adventures at his blog and/or follow him on Twitter @saBEERmetrics.

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34 Comments on "Better late than never, Bert"

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Michael Yelnosky
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Michael Yelnosky

Jeff:

Good work.  I have always been a Blyleven skeptic (although I note that before Chris Berman became a caricature of himself “Bert BeHomeByEleven” was some of his best work).  But I’m curious.  Which was Santo—a jerk, a cheater, or a drug user?  I’m just not that familiar with the details of his life and career.

Michael

Jim C
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Jim C

I had the pleasure to hang out with, and hit against, Bert Blyleven at a fantasy camp about 10 years ago, and I saw his first major league start, at RFK in 1970, against the Senators. He’s a great guy, a great pitcher, and a great storyteller. As to the writers snubbing Bagwell, just remember what Ted Williams said, after Hank Aaron was not voted in unanimously. “You know those writers, some of them wouldn’t vote for Jesus Christ himself. After all, he did drop the cross twice.”

Jacob Rothberg
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Jacob Rothberg

I’m curious about how a guy who pioneered the Derek Bell ‘Operation Shutdown’ maneuver is not a jerk.

mando3b
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mando3b

Good column on Blyleven, who truly deserves to be in the HOF. I must take exception, though, to your suggestion that Ron Santo was “a jerk, cheater, or drug user”. He could be hot-tempered, and he always wore his heart on his sleeve, but I don’t know of anyone in the game who ever considered him “a jerk”.

Michael Yelnosky
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Michael Yelnosky

I’m aware—painfully aware—of how bad a broadcaster Santo was.  But did he shut it down as a player after he was traded to the White Sox?  Or at some other time?  This is not a rhetorical question, I really don’t know.

Jeffrey Gross
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Jeffrey Gross

@Michael Yelnosky,

From what I am told by those who lived in chicago and were born well before I, and again, god rest his soul, Ron Santo was a jerk during most of his playing days. He was not particularly nice to fans (routinely refusing autographs) and it was not until after his playing career that he became the sweet Ron Santo I had come to love to listen to on the Radio.

I do not mean to tarnish Santo’s name, however.

Cyril Morong
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Cyril Morong

Is that FIP ERA park adjusted or adjusted for the league average?

Jeffrey Gross
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Jeffrey Gross

@mando3b,

Again, not my intention to slander Santo, just relay history as it was portrayed to me growing up. I always asked why Santo never got into the hall of fame and was told Santo treated the media and fans inconsiderately during his playing career.

Perhaps those who informed me growing up were wrong. If that’s true, I sincerely apologize and can edit the above, but as i said, this is how I’ve been informed thus far. Ron the Broadcaster is supposedly a different personality than Ron the player.

Jeffrey Gross
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Jeffrey Gross

@Cyril Morong,

Neither is park/league adjusted, but here is the information you seek:

The average FIP over Bertie’s career was 4.263 across 1,682 different pitchers who tossed at least 10 innings over that span.

For park factors, you just need to visit http://www.baseball-reference.com to check out the PF by season. For example, Cleveland Stadium in 1982 was by and large and neutral stadium (favoring batters by 1%)

Cyril Morong
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Cyril Morong

Thanks. I appreciate it.

Jacob Rothberg
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Jacob Rothberg

Mike Mussina has in no way a case for the hall of fame. If he is, then all the fatuous, specious, arguments for Jack Morris are are correct and he should be in as well.

Jeffrey Gross
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Jeffrey Gross

@Jacob,

In my view, Moose was a better pitcher than Glavine.

Moose Career ERA/FIP/WHIP/K/BB (AL):
3.67/3.32/1.19/3.58

Glavine Career ERA/FIP/WHIP (NL):
3.54/3.95/1.31/1.74

In the few years they played post-2002:

Moose xFIP/tERA: 3.68/3.95
Glavine xFIP/tERA: 4.58/4.94

Jeffrey Gross
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Jeffrey Gross

er, that 1.74 figure is Glavine’s career k/bb

Michael Yelnosky
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Michael Yelnosky

Jeff:

Thanks for the information on Santo.  No need to change anything you wrote as far as I’m concerned.  If he was a jerk, he was a jerk, regardless of how lovable (although frankly crappy) he may have been as a broadcaster.

Great to see you over the holidays.

Best,

Michael

Jacob Rothberg
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Jacob Rothberg
I’m sorry are you using the Glavine stats as a way of demonstrating that Mussina is hall worthy? Now maybe I’m just a simple Canadian baseball fan, but is Glavine really a lock for the hall? Look, I know its slightly verboten around here to say, but having watched a lot of both those guys they never gave you the feeling of, ‘wow, I’m watching one of the all-time greats here.‘I think that feeling is a big part of hall worthiness. They were good, but no better than David Cone, or Dave Steib, or John Smoltz, or Kevin Brown; guys… Read more »
Jeffrey Gross
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Jeffrey Gross

@Jacob,

I’m just using them to show that his stats are better than one of the next assumed “locks” for the hall. Moose’s numbers also play out comparably to Blyleven’s when you look at league average FIP and such by year in the era of steroids.

I personally think Brown, Smoltz, Moose, Maddux, Schilling, Clemens and Big Unit all deserve a spot in the hall, but that’s just me.

Jeffrey Gross
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Jeffrey Gross

(but not Glavine, Cone or Steib)

Jeffrey Gross
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Jeffrey Gross

@Michael,

It was good to see you too. Sorry I could not be around more. I’m sure we’ll run into each other in the summer.

Jeffrey Gross
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Jeffrey Gross

@Michael,

Also, you have my email, right? Feel free to shoot me baseball musings/fantasy questions whenever. If you do not have it, ask Ilana for it. I dare not post my private email here

smile

Jacob Rothberg
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Jacob Rothberg

Hey man, I guess I’m just more of a ‘small hall’ guy. Of the guys mentioned by the both of us the only ones i’d put in for sure would be Clemens, Maddux, and Randy Johnson. With Smoltz highly deserving of a thorough discussion/investigation due to his excellence in two roles and his post-season unstoppability.

Thanks for the back and forth, though.

PS – although you’ve defended your opinion on Santo, you really haven’t backed up how a player who walked out on one team and was traded for pine tar by another was not thought of as a jerk.

Jacob Rothberg
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Jacob Rothberg

GAH – Martinez, I’m sorry to say is not a HOF’er. I think he fails the Bill James Keltner Test, which I honestly feel is the best way to view questionable players.

mando3b
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mando3b
Hey, Jeff—I grew up in the Chicago area; Santo’s tenure with the Cubs basically corresponded with my teen years. I can’t say I was really intimately in touch with the team back then, but I do know that I never heard about Santo being a jerk in the way you have been told—not even from the unwashed hoardes of White Sox fans I knew who liked to make Ron their whipping boy in our many “debates”. I do know he locked horns with Leo Durocher and ragged on rookie CF Don Young, but both those situations got resolved, as far… Read more »
Jeffrey Gross
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Jeffrey Gross

@Paul,

I initially had a chart with Thomas on it. They had identical numbers, more or less. Good points about the comparison, however. I was just more or less making a broad point. But yes, you are correct.

Jeffrey Gross
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Jeffrey Gross

@Mando3b. If you google it, there are stories floating around.

Jeffrey Gross
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Jeffrey Gross

@Jacob,

I always appreciate the input. I too think the Hall should be small, but I guess I am enamored with certain players. Personally, I’d just like to kick out a few (Phil Rizzuto) to make room for the more deserving players who get the big snub (Raines? Martinez?)

Paul
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Paul
Jeffrey, like the post (mostly). Bert being not a jerk? IIRC, one of the knocks on Bert’s case was that he was a bit of a jerk in his playing days (to managers esp), gave up on a few teams, would vent when pulled from a game but i can’t remember where i saw it, even if he was a fun guy as a teammate, i don’t see how BB qualifies as the saint (if Santo is quoted as a devil). Bagwell I see all the Bagwell steroid stuff and am a bit confused (I would like him in the… Read more »
Grandpa Boog
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Grandpa Boog
I’m 85 years old and do not understand today’s character assassinations in sports, politics, etc. So, why should Santo be excluded from the HOF if, in fact, he was a “jerk”? Is he one of the top thirdbasemen of all-time? Or is he in that second tier of “Maybe’s”? Ken Boyer comes to mind. George Kell made the HOF, but questionably, in my opinion. The top tier includes the Musials, Williams, Ruths, Cobbs, et al, with no questions asked. One problem that I see with the HOF is that they almost “have” to select one or more players each year;… Read more »
Jeffrey Gross
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Jeffrey Gross

@Grandpa Boog,

I never said Ron Santo should not be in the Hall of Fame. I absolutely think he should be in the hall of fame. He is top 8 (No. 8) in career WAR for third basemen.

I was merely explaining one of the reasons that Santo did not get in during his lifetime, god rest his soul, which does not impact Blyleven. Writers tend to incorporate personal politics into HOF voting, which is ridiculous, but a fact. I never said stuff like “niceness” and “courage” made you HOF worthy. I think you read too closely into my statements,.

Grandpa Boog
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Grandpa Boog

Mr. Gross, I was referring to the media having called Santo a jerk, not you.

How do you view Ken Boyer? Where does he rank among thirdbasemen? Also, I am curious about George Kell, A.L. in the 1940’s-50’s. When he was voted into the HOF, I was quite surprised, perhaps wrongly.

Also, what is WAR? We did not have the abundance of stats in my long-ago day.

Grandpa Boog
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Grandpa Boog
Mr. Gross, Thank you. WAR is an interesting assessment and seems to be valid, barring subjectivity. For example, in my opinion, George Brett would rank higher than Brooks Robinson because Brett hit so much better and was strong defensively, albeit Robinson was superior to everyone at 3B (maybe not superior to Cletus Boyer, who never received the defensive kudos that Robinson received). I saw Cletus Boyer as a rookie for the old KC Athletics, perhaps in 1956??. The A’s regularly traded Boyer and other young prospects to their “Daddy”, the Yankees, for re-treads from 1955-maybe 1960. KC gave away Cletus… Read more »
Jeffrey Gross
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Jeffrey Gross

@Grandpa Boog,

Read this series of articles for more on WAR:
http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/glossary/#winvalues

Grandpa Boog
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Grandpa Boog

Mr. Gross, thank you for this website (WAR). Tremendously interesting for an old-timer who has loved baseball for decades. It is so difficult to compare players from different eras.

—Stay tuned.

Jeffrey Gross
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Jeffrey Gross

You’re very welcome.

Jeffrey Gross
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Jeffrey Gross
@Grandpa Boog, WAR is Wins Above Replacement. It is an economic statistics which shows how much more valuable a player is above the triple A level of production. In other words, how much value does player X add to his team compared to who they could generally pluck from the minors in an emergency. It is a composition of Offensive value (batting runs above replacement), defensive value (fielding runs above replacement), position (shortstop is harder to play and gets added value, while first base is relatively easier to play and gets subtracted value), and health (innings played). A 2-3 WAR… Read more »
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