The View From Wisconsin

Just a random set of rants from a Sports Fan from Wisconsin.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Dear Bert, I'm Sorry.

31 March 2010
Bert Blyleven
c/o Minnesota Twins
Target Field
1 Twins Way
Minneapolis, MN

Dear Bert,

First of all, I have to apologize. I am not a Twins fan, and have always been a fan of teams which you were always the opposition, not of my club. That's not to say that I never admired your work over the years; I always knew you were a good pitcher and you had a couple of World Series rings and everything, but you never pitched for my team.

In a way, I think, that's why it's a bit harder for me to break this to you and your faithful followers than anything else. I really don't like being the bearer of bad news, especially for someone who was, more often than not, "the enemy".

But, I'm going to have to level with you: you're not a Hall of Fame pitcher.

Not that I didn't get caught up in the numbers and everything. I mean, I've looked at the stats, done all the Sabermetrics and studied all the Bill James projections and what-not. But it kept bothering me - probably more than it should have - that you had yet to be selected to the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA.

I think I've found out why.

I went through the "basics" of your numbers, just as Mr. James had suggested in his excellent book, Whatever Happened To The Hall of Fame?: Hall of Fame Standards, the Career Monitor, the Black/Gray Ink tests, comparisons to other players, Award Shares. It all looked too good for you to not be considered Hall-of-Famer. So, I set out to try to figure out what, exactly, was preventing you from being in Cooperstown already.

The first thing I did was look at that last area I mentioned - Award Shares. In looking at your career, I was surprised (at least at first) at how poorly you actually did in the Cy Young and MVP award voting. Only four seasons with at least one CYA vote, and two with token MVP votes, for a combined Award Share of .54. That does put you in the category of some pretty good pitchers - Mario Soto, Don Sutton, Dave McNally and J.R. Richard. But only Sutton is in the Hall of Fame.

So I had to do some further digging, Bert, and to do that I used a little metric of mine that I call Cy Young Points. You can find a better explanation of how it works elsewhere on this site; suffice to say that it takes the areas that most of the voters look at - wins, losses, ERA, WHIP Ratio, even Saves - and combines them into a number that is easy to understand, since it generally follows Wins. The best part about it is, it generally follows the CYA voting, in as much as the person with the best CYP total generally wins the Cy Young Award during a given season. It's not foolproof, but the CYA rarely goes to anyone who isn't at least in the top five in the CYP totals.

It's also great because you can use it to easily find the best seasons from an individual pitcher's career - like, say, yours. And it really wasn't too hard to discern your five best years: 1989 was your best, hands down; 1984 was next, followed by 1975, 1979 and 1973. Of the five, only in 1975 and 1979 did you not get any Cy Young votes.

Now, I think you may know why you didn't get any notoriety in 1979 - and it didn't take me too long to remember that year, either. I can only imagine how both incredibly great it was to be on a World Championship club that year - and, at the same town, how incredibly sucky it was to be far from the star pitcher on the team. It wasn't hard to see: John Candelaria, Jim Bibby, Kent Tekulve - all of them had as good, if not better, seasons than you did that year. You did, however, get a ring out of it, and a win (in relief, of all things) in game five.

That, however, isn't what concerned me. It was something else that just nagged me, especially when I started looking at your other "great" years. In 1973 and 1975, you had your "break-out" seasons as a pitcher for the Twins. Over the three year period from 1973-75, you won 52 games, struck out 740 batters, and were pretty much the ace of the Twins staff. That 1973 campaign, you struck out 258 batters - which was good enough that it may have led the league in many other seasons.

Except, of course, there was this guy named "Ryan" who struck out 383 that year, more than any other pitcher in the history of the AL. Two years later, when you struck out 233, it was still good enough that you might get a shake at the strikeout lead - and Ryan wasn't the strikeout pitcher he was two years prior.

That was when Frank Tanana had his 269 strikeout season, of course. And boy, it looked like Frank was on his way to something special back then, probably the same way you were with the Twins two years earlier. He, however, did something you never did: lose 18 in a single season.

Sure, you lost 17 five times (and, like him, led the AL in losses one year). But you were a lot better as you were collecting your World Series ring from the Pirates in the spring of 1980. That was a great time for you, I'd think (or at least hope) - you were essentially halfway to a 300-win career, and you'd been a key player on a pennant-winning team.

And then, in December, you were traded to the Cleveland Indians.

Now, I remember the Indians back then. They had so much promise - Joe Charbonneau, Miguel Dilone, Rick Manning, Len Barker. Heck, you were 7-3 when the strike hit in mid-June of 1981.

Boy, did things go downhill after that. The Tribe stunk after the players came back, and then there was the elbow injury the following year which you really didn't recover from until 1984.

The 1984 season was one of your finest, without a doubt. You did more with less in that season than almost any other pitcher in major league history. 19-7, 170 strikeouts, a 31.9 CYP total. It probably wouldn't have elevated the Indians out of sixth place that year, but you were arguably the best starting pitcher in the American League. And that should have meant a Cy Young Award for you.

Only problem: you weren't the best pitcher in the AL that year. I'd argue semantics over whether you were better than Dan Quisenberry - I say you were, if only because of the 19 wins - but when you look at the total picture, Willie Hernandez deserved his Cy Young Award in 1984. Part of me wonders if what happened to your former teammate Rick Sutcliffe that season didn't bother you to no end. He got out of Cuyahoga County and ended up nearly pitching the Cubs to a World Series. That might have been you.

Anyways, there's a recurring trend that is showing up in these "best" seasons of yours: someone else was always better. And what's frustrating is, we haven't even gotten to your best season, according to CYP: 1989.

1989 was a great season for you and the Angels: you were 11-2 through August 3rd, and the team had just taken a slim half-game lead over the defending AL champion Athletics with a win over the Mariners while the White Sox beat Oakland. You kept it up, ending the season with a 17-5 record, allowing only 76 runs - your lowest total since 1983 - and though the team had lost ground to the powerhouse "Bash Brothers" (aside note: you probably have every right to be angry over Canseco and McGwire's "apologies", if only because of this season - though you were 2-1 against the A's in '89), the Angels were still contending for a runner-up finish.

And, of course, on the penultimate day of the season, Bret Saberhagen threw a four-hitter against the A's, striking out 13 to win his 23rd on the season - and essentially clinching his Cy Young Award that year.

Bert, I'm truly sorry, but if you can't be the best pitcher in the league in your five best seasons, then maybe we shouldn't be considering you for Cooperstown.

That's not all, though. I did find out a few other things, after poking around more at those seasons (and the rest of your career):
Bert, I think you're a great guy, despite all the reports and such I've heard. I think, back in the early 1980's, I would have loved to have seen you in Brewer pinstripes. You probably would have gotten us over the hump, maybe even another pennant and even a World Series.

But no, I don't think you're a Hall of Famer.

The BBWAA might prove me wrong, of course. They have two more opportunities to vote you in, and you've picked up support over the last few years. I won't be sad or sorry if you do actually make it into the Hall of Fame, of course; there are wiser heads than me that have been watching baseball games longer that have the vote.

However, Mr. Blyleven, I honestly don't believe you really belong in the discussion.

And for that, I'm truly sorry.

Joseph Houk

EDIT: Congratulations on your selection anyways. I still don't believe that you really deserve to be in the Hall, but you're definitely not going to be making things worse by being there. Robby, on the other hand...