Category Archives: Baseball Hall of Fame

Bert Blyleven: not a compiler

Bert Blyleven had a 2.39 BB/9 and a 6.70 K/9 in his career.  That’s 1,322 walks and 3,701 strikeouts in 4,970 innings pitched. Note that when he retired, he was third all-time on the strikeouts list behind Steve Carlton and Nolan Ryan (Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson passed him afterward).

Four players in history have pitched more than 4,900 innings and had a BB/9 under 3 and a K/9 over 6.  Roger Clemens, Don Sutton, Bert Blyleven and Greg Maddux.  If you relax the standards to 4,700 innings, Tom Seaver joins; to 4,500, Ferguson Jenkins is in.   Maddux will definitely be a first ballot Hall of Famer and Clemens would be if not for off-the-field issues, so why isn’t Bert?

*Also note that I use these stats because a pitcher has total control over how many walks and strikeouts he gives up, while everything else is dependent on fielding.  He also has some control over home runs and ground balls, too, but I’ll talk about that at a later time.

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How do you vote Morris into the Hall and not Blyleven?

It seems Bert Blyleven is on the verge of finally getting into Cooperstown, and the one thing that’s stopping him is nobody really knew about him. There’s no folklore. He was traded regularly to smaller market teams that had hard times competing (MIN, TEX, CLE and PIT), but he pitched at an elite level that entire time.

So why is anyone voting for Jack Morris ahead of him?

This is a general problem when you have people whose job it is to cover breaking news working as analysts–both are valuable to society, but they’re two separate jobs.  In the ’50s and ’60s, it was necessary to have the beat reporters vote for the HOF inductees because there was no database of refined statistics and they were the only people who got to see the players play on a regular basis.

Modern day is different, though.  Through the spread of television, the creation of the Baseball Almanac and the advancing of statistics, citing one-game examples as reasons for election into the Hall of Fame is draconian.  Blyleven is, without a doubt, better statistically and was probably better to watch in person.  But Morris had the benefit of pitching really well in game 7 of the 1991 World Series.

Let’s get something straight here: Bert Blyleven had a great career–and also a great post-season record.  He pitched four games in two different World Series’; both were games 2 and 5 (1979 Pirates and 1987 Twins).  Overall, he had a 2.47 ERA in the post-season and a 1.077 WHIP.  A little better than.  Morris, on the other hand, had a 3.80 ERA in 92 IP in the post-season.  This is why small sample size stuff is wrong for analysis–Morris, outside of his 1991 game 7 appearance, was decidedly mediocre in the playoffs.

Let’s not get completely off base, though.  Morris’ game 7, I believe, has its place in Cooperstown as well, but Hall of Fame enshrinement is about the player’s entire work of body.

Morris was a better than average pitcher over his career.  He had a 105 ERA+ in 3,824 innings pitched over 18 seasons.  He had a 1.78 strikeout to walk ratio, which isn’t particularly great and made worse because his BB/9 was 3.3.  There are a few pitchers with worse BB/9 than that already in the Hall, but most of them were terrific strikeout pitchers: Nolan Ryan, Bob Feller and Bob Lemon. The others were either seemingly helped by defense and got into the Hall on ERA (Hal Newhouser) or were likewise elected on questionable merit (Early Wynn, although Wynn had a 107 ERA+ and pitched about 7,000 more innings).

So basically if Morris becomes a Hall of Famer, he would be setting the low bar.

You can use whatever metric you want–even career wins, as fluky as that is; the stats show Blyleven was a better pitcher, and did it in 1,000 more innings than Morris–a career ERA+ of 118 in 4,970 innings. Seriously, look at Blyleven’s and Morris’ pages that I linked to at the top.  It’s not really fair to compare them because Blyleven was so much better.

An acquaintance created this list of the voters who have published their ballot. Pretty cool stuff.

As you can see, a number of votes have been cast for Alomar, Dawson and Blyleven, though Blyleven is favored largely in the stats community and a lot of those dudes post their material online, so who knows. Sixteen votes for Morris out of 36, 25 for Blyleven.  The :-/ emoticon seems appropriate.

Jon Heyman and Bruce Jenkins were the gunmen on the grassy knoll–both voted for Morris and not Blyleven.  You might think they’re doing this just to aggrevate stat fans, but both have made worse analysis and they both have the power to vote.  Their arguments are tenuous at best: Morris pitched on opening day and was considered an ace (regardless of stats), Blyleven is close, but he was a “compiler of stats” (whatever that means).

Whether those two deserve to vote or not, well … that’s something else.

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