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Blyleven and the Hall of Fame

 I tried to be neutral in the title. I think it is important to examine and consider even the most unpopular ideas if we expect improve our understanding of something. If this post only lets people vent in lieu of stewing over how we didn't get Beltre, maybe it has value. Here are my points:

 

1) The Hall of Fame should only be for no doubt all time greats. Can this point be debated? There will always be a cutoff line, but some players are so far away from the cutoff that we all say, "Yup that guy is a no doubter!" Rickey Henderson was a no doubter. Of the pitchers who have retired recently, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux and Pedro Martinez were no doubters. I think we should be selective around the line. Bill James says the argument, "guy X is just as good as guy Y and guy Y is in the HoF so guy X should be too" is flawed. The flaw is, if in the history of the HoF voting one guy got in who was not really good enough to be there, this argument will mean you will add a whole bunch of guys to the HoF who also are not good enough to be there.

2) I want to see the quality of the Hall of Famers to stay constant or improve. I would like to think in 100 years when someone looks at the quality of the "median" hall of famer they see the same sort of guy we see today, if not someone a little better. If you don't agree with this, I think you are saying, "I don't mind seeing the quality of the Hall of Fame go down." I guess I am a hardliner on the quality of the players in the Hall of Fame. It's too magical of a place for me to let it lose any quality at all. It's a shrine and I want to protect its greatness.

3) I love stats and try to quote meaningful stats to back up every one of my arguments. But I don't think the Hall of Fame is all about stats. Just as I think not all scouts are always wrong when they look at a player and say to themselves, "that guy reminds me of this other guy who was good in the bigs so I think this guy will succeed too." This approach is not approved by stats-centric people. Stats-centric people think that you don't even need to watch players to see who has value, just look at stats alone. Well, I agree with the stats people as long as they have exactly the right stats to look at. Of course all us enlightened people now believe Wins is not an approved stat to use as a measurement of quality. So then we digress into the discussion of what IS the right stat.  Finding just the right stat is tough, and maybe impossible to find.  Certainly difficult for a goup to agree about, as I think AN proves on a daily basis.

4) OK now let's talk about Blyleven. I am from Minnesota and I went to the U of M from 1985 to 1989. I paid for my living and tuition doing 2 jobs, parking attendant and vending beer at the Metrodome. When I wasn't at the game vending, I was watching from the stands, when they were away I was watching on TV, I saw just about every pitch Blyleven threw in those 3 years he was on the Twins 86-88.

In the "Baseball Forecaster 2011 - What About the A's?" post by baseball girl, there is a table by WadellCanseco listing "Superstars" of World Series Champions year by year. I disagree that Blyleven was the superstar on that '87 team. Find someone in their 40s from Minnesota. I guarantee they remember most of that Twins team, it was the first time a MN team had won anything and everyone who was there has fond memories, lasting memories. Ask them who the stars of the Twins that year were. Here are the answers you will hear: Puckett, Viola, Brunansky, Gaetti, Hrbek, Reardon. You might hear someone talk about Dan Gladden or Greg Gagne, but who you won't likely hear named as a star on that team is Blyleven. In ‘87 Blyleven was the #2 starter on the Twins behind Viola. Viola was 24-7 with an ERA of 2.64. Blyleven was 15-12 with an ERA of 4.01 and an FIP was 4.88. His ERA for those 3 years was 4.01, 40.1, 5.43. If you are going to say Cahill is overvalued because his FIP was higher than his ERA, can you also say Blyleven was undervalued, also with his FIP>ERA?

Baseball-Reference.com shows that in ‘86 and ‘87 Blyleven led the league in homers allowed. Since I tell you I watched all those pitches, let me tell you what I remember about the homers. They tended to fall into 2 categories. The first category is the hanging curveball. The second category is the 3-0 or 3-1 meatball. Now I actually think the 3 ball count meatball might be a good pitch. In those situations, maybe the Twins were up by 5 and Blyleven was  good at K/BB, he didn't like to give up walks. Sometimes especially in the Metrodome, giving up a HR 20% of the time might be better than a ralley-starting walk 100% of the time. What I saw from those 3 years I watched closely was a battler with a good curveball. A pitcher who would overmatch the weak hitters of the league with the curveball. The good hitters could always hit it though. I'd guess he threw 65% curveballs in those years. Is there anyone these days throwing that many curves?

OK OK, so my 3 years of Blyleven scrutiny are not his complete career. Maybe you say he was over the hill at the age of 35-37. Well it looks like his best year was the NEXT year, he went to the Angels and at age 38 he was 17-5 with a 2.73 ERA. I happen to think this one year abberation is questionable, but also maybe his one legit Hall of Fame year.

Besides the ‘89 seaons, Blyleven's other year which stands out to me is ‘85 where he was 17-16 with 24 complete games. That is an awesome complete game total.  If you are going to say wins don't matter, can you also say wins don't matter over a 22 year career? I would think the law of averages would catch up to players with that big a sample size and eventually wins would matter. Blyleven's win percentage is .534. Without even looking at the average Hall of Famer that must lower than the median. Blyleven was a .500 pitcher with a good curveball who struck out a lot of guys, didn't walk too many, gave up a lot of HRs and pitched a lot of innings for a lot of years. A compiler, a battler, a good #2 starter, a Hall of Famer?

I have a little trouble with the argument that no one who actually saw Blyleven pitch was able to see how good he really was. No Cy Youngs, never led the league in ERA. All Star only twice. His first year of eligibility he got 17% of the HoF vote. Year after year his vote% for the HoF has risen. As the years have gone on his legend has grown. But those of us who watched were completely fooled? Here is where I think stats are lacking. I want the guys in the HoF to be guys that grandpas tell their kids about. I want people to say "I saw Greg Maddux pitch. His mastery out there was palpable." Or "I saw Pedro Martinez hit every speed on the Coliseum scoreboard gun one night. From 74 to 96 mph! And Cory Lidle beat him that night!" I do remember one night Blyleven was dominant. He was throwing curveball after curveball to a Twins team in '84 while playing for the Indians. He really had his stuff that night. He won and pitched a complete game. And I watched him start 100 more games and never felt like that again. I saw 10 games where Barry Zito looked better than I ever saw Blyleven look. Now if you want the HoF full of players whose stats look better than they looked in person, I guess that's ok. You have to be willing to admit that though. You need to say, "I am ok with guys who had great stats, but who in person really didn't look dominant." The low number of CYAs and AS tell you that's how Blyleven looked to everyone who could vote on those awards. 

If you look at similarity scores from Baseball-Reference.com from age 31 to 41 the most similar pitcher to Blyleven was Don Sutton. I call Don Sutton the poster boy for "questionable Hall of Famer". Doesn't everyone? And now we just let in the guy most similar to that guy. The HoF is certainly not disgraced by adding Blyleven, but is it better now, or even just as good?

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