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by user DNL


OnDLsmall.jpg
more "on the DL" opinions
On January 10, 2006, the Baseball Writers Association of America announced that only one player -- Bruce Sutter -- had made the Hall of Fame. ESPN was kind enough to share with us how their ten BBWAA members voted. Of specific note is Buster Olney's decision to vote for Jack Morris but omit Bert Blyleven.

On that same day, Olney, on his ESPN.com weblog, explained why he omitted the Angry Dutchman:


     
 

Bert Blyleven was the toughest guy to leave off my ballot, and while I don't know him, it feels like I do, because I see him and listen to him on television three or four times a week. He's insightful, he's direct, he's smart, he's entertaining. I think he's probably going to be frustrated by today's results, and you can't help but feel for him.

But just as I don't believe that a player's personality should be a factor in preventing him from getting votes, I don't think the fact that you like someone should be a reason to vote for him.

Blyleven is a borderline candidate, and while others have made a case for him, here is something that gnaws at me, as a voter: In his entire career, he was not a consistent league leader; he never led his league in ERA or in victories. He did lead the American League in strikeouts in 1985, but he wasn't a regular top-three Cy Young Award candidate. In fact, he was named on Cy Young ballots just four times in his career.

And despite the fact that he played in 21 seasons, he was named to an All-Star team only twice -- and remember, that's an honor doled out by the managers, not writers or fans.

 

Olney did not mention why he voted for Morris. However, one can safely assume that Olney applied the same analysis to Morris's career that he did to Blyleven's -- or, in the very least, he should have.

I am not trying to justify nor discredit Olney's concerns. I am applying them for sake of consistency.

Analysis of Olney's Concerns

For reasons soon to be made obvious, in the analysis below, I am taking the concerns out of order. But I'll address them one by one.

Cy Young Voting

Blyleven "wasn't a regular top-three Cy Young Award candidate." Indeed, he was top three twice. Morris? Top three twice. To Morris's credit, he did make the Cy ballot seven times to Blyleven's four. Give a slight edge to Morris.

Being a Consistent League Leader

Olney notes that Blyleven never lead his league in ERA or wins. Morris also never lead the league in ERA—in fact, he only cracked the top 5 twice. As for wins, Morris lead the league twice; once, in strike-shortened 1981; and again, in 1992. These can both be discounted:

  • 1981 was a strike season, and Morris was in a four-way tie.
  • In 1992, Morris tied Kevin Brown for the wins title. Further, Morris had an absurdly high 4.04 ERA.

Olney also notes that Blyleven only lead the league in strikeouts once. This is true. However, Morris also only lead the league in strikeouts once.

But let's apply Olney's "top-three" criteria to league leadership.

Wins: Blyleven only cracked the top three once. Morris cracked it four times. Of the four, two are recounted above. Another time—in 1984—he was tied for second . . . with Blyleven.

Strikeouts: Morris made the top three a total of 3 times, and never finished fourth. Blyleven made the top three 6 times, and finished fourth an additional six times.

ERA: Three for Blyleven. None for Morris.

The full analysis requires an edge for Blyleven.

All-Star Appearances

On its face, this greatly favors Morris. After all, Bert has only 2 All-Star games to his credit, while Jack has five.

Olney notes that this is an award not voted on. Selections—at least insofar as pitchers are concerned—are made by the manager of the All-Star team. That's fair, but what he fails to not is that these decisions are typically made on the player's first two to three months of the season, and not on full season results.

Morris made the All-Star Game in 1981, 1984, 1985, 1987, and 1991. Blyleven did not play in '91, but did pitch in the other four years. Let's compare Bert's stats to those years to Jack's.

1981

The strike season. The Cy Young voters considered Morris the better guy, but making the case that Blyleven was better is not all that difficult.

Player Wins Strikeouts ERA Cy Young Voting
Morris 14 97 3.05 Third
Blyleven 11 107 2.88 Not on Ballot

1984

In this season, Blyleven was clearly the better pitcher.

Player Wins Strikeouts ERA Cy Young Voting
Morris 19 148 3.60 Seventh
Blyleven 19 170 2.87 Third

1985

This is the only year in which both made the All-Star team. It is nearly impossible to demonstrate that Morris was better than Blyleven this year, given the criteria Olney used, as Bert is better in every category. One should also note that Morris, while arguable deserving the nod, was selected by his own manager.

Player Wins Strikeouts ERA Cy Young Voting
Morris 16 191 3.33 Not on ballot
Blyleven 17 206 3.16 Third

1987

This year is clearly in Morris's favor. The only saving grace for Blyleven is that he was 36 this year, and still put up solid numbers, even in comparison to Morris.

Player Wins Strikeouts ERA Cy Young Voting
Morris 18 208 3.38 Ninth
Blyleven 15 196 4.01 Not on Ballot

Assuaging Concerns

The obvious conclusion from this is not that Olney should have ticked off the box next to Blyleven's name, but that he should not have voted for Morris. Fine—but that is not what happened.

Let's give Olney the benefit of the doubt and assume that he did, indeed, do the above analysis for both Morris and Blyleven. Nevertheless, Olney found Morris worthy of a vote.

The best explanation is that Morris brings to the table something that, in spite of his concerning lack of Cy Young support, lack of league leadership, and spotty All-Star record, merits his candidacy for the Hall.

What those are, I will leave Olney to explain. However, as many have noted before (see "Bert Blyleven Series," sidebar), Blyleven has an exceptional resume. In fact, the only great flaws in his c.v. are the concerns Olney raised—and those, as we have seen, are hardly concerns at all.

Conclusion

In 2000, 17.4% of BBWAA Hall of Fame voters gave Bert Blyleven the thumbs-up. In each year after, ending with the 2005 vote (40.9%), Blyleven has made a steady gain, picking up an additional three to six percentage points.

In 2006, though, he hit 53.3% -- over a twelve point jump. Part of this can be attributed to a rather weak ballot, but, as I noted in an email to David Pinto, that cannot account for the entire gain. More likely than not, Blyleven's meteoric rise is a function of writers like Olney realizing that the negatives assigned to Blyleven's career are, indeed, not really that bad, especially in light of other candidates. On the other hand, the positives are exceptional.

Next year, Olney should be out of excuses.

--DNL 09:32, 11 January 2006 (PST)



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