Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Spring training is almost here! (Part 2)

As regular readers know, my favorite spring ritual is reading all of the articles talking about how Player X is "in the best shape of his life/career" and is therefore optimistic that last year's struggles are behind him.

This year, one man has gone above and beyond the call of duty to provide us with a look back at how these men fared last year.

Jesse Spector, you have my eternal gratitude. (Hat tip to BBTF).

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Hall of Fame Postmortem: Andre Dawson

With luck, this post will be much shorter than the other postmortems I've written.

Andre Dawson played for the Montreal Expos, Chicago Cubs, Boston Red Sox, and Florida Marlins in a 21 year Major League Baseball career spanning 1976 to 1996. He won an MVP award in 1987, though he probably did not deserve it. He finished in the top five in MVP voting three times. He made the All-Star game eight times. He never won a World Series (after all, he played for the Expos, Cubs, and Red Sox; he retired from the Marlins in 1996, just before their first World Series title). He finished with a career line of .273/.323/.482 and an OPS+ of 119. He accumulated 1373 runs, 1591 RBI, 2774 hits, and 438 home runs.

In 2008, Dawson fell short of being inducted into the Hall of Fame with 65.9% of the vote (75% is required for induction).

Complicating Dawson's candidacy is that he split his career between center field and right field. As a young player in Montreal, he played center field full time, but by the time he left for Chicago, he was exclusively a right fielder. This muddies his case a great deal because the offensive standard for admission to the Hall of Fame is much higher for right fielders than center fielders, as it should be.

Also of interest is that there aren't really any contemporary center fielders from Dawson's prime in the Hall of Fame (excepting perhaps Robin Yount, who moved to center field from shortstop). Dawson followed after the heyday of Mantle, Mays, and Snider in the 1950's and 1960's and shares minimal overlap with modern elite center fielders like Ken Griffey Jr. and Andruw Jones. Further complicating the picture is that center field is home of some of the most dominant players of all time, like Mantle, Mays, Cobb, DiMaggio, and Speaker, but also some of the more dubious Hall of Fame selections, like Earl Averill, Earl Combs, Edd Roush, Lloyd Waner, and perhaps Hack Wilson.

Dawson accumulated 107.1 WARP3 during his career. His career EqA, a metric that measures total offensive contribution on roughly the same scale as batting average, was .286. Neither are explicitly adjusted for the position that the player plays, though WARP3 incorporates runs saved on defense, which gives a large boost to players playing prime defensive positions. EqA has no adjustment for defense of any kind.

For comparison, the elite center fielders mentioned above Hall of Fame center fielders performed thusly: Mickey Mantle (148.6 WARP3, .340 EqA), Willie Mays (214.0, .328), Ty Cobb (197.9, .330), Joe DiMaggio (120.8, .322), Tris Speaker (179.6, .322).

All of these center fielders crush Dawson from the perspective of EqA, indicating that they all produced at a much higher rate over the course of their careers. The only player he's even remotely close to in terms of career WARP3 is DiMaggio, despite playing for eight more seasons than Joltin' Joe (who lost a chunk of his prime to World War II). Each of these players had a massive peak where they put up multiple MVP caliber seasons. Dawson put up only one season in which he was MVP caliber, 1981, which was unfortunately shortened by a strike. Dawson certainly does not belong in this group. In fact, the only player even close to this group who is not in the Hall of Fame is Ken Griffey Jr. (136.2 WARP3, .312 EqA), and he's still playing. Andruw Jones (101.6, .282 EqA) may also join this group by the time he's done.

Dawson is clearly better than the group of scrub Hall of Fame center fielders listed above, so much so that I will leave it to the reader to investigate just how much Dawson was better.

No, if Dawson is to be elected it will have to be shown that he meets the standards of the next tier of Hall of Fame center fielders. Let's take a look at them, ignoring the Negro Leagues and 19th century players.

Duke Snider checks in with 93.3 WARP3 and a .309 EqA. Richie Asburn has 108.1 WARP3 and a .290 EqA. Max Carey nearly qualifies for the bottom feeders with his 94.4 WARP3 and .275 EqA.

This leaves us with two special cases: Kirby Puckett, a contemporary of Dawson's, and Larry Doby. Puckett and Doby are both marginal cases on a statistical level. Puckett has 93.0 WARP3 and a .296 EqA. Doby has 70.1 WARP3 and a .301 EqA. Puckett dubiously receives credit for having his career abruptly terminated due to a case of glaucoma and subsequent loss of vision in one of his eyes. Doby receives extra credit, and rightly so, for being the first black player in the American League. Though he was only 23 when he made his Major League debut, he had been playing in the Negro Leagues for years, and it is conceivable that he may have lost some of his early career to the color barrier that existed in baseball at that time.

Regardless, Dawson would not appear to deserve an special bonus points for his career. Some have argued that he would have performed better later in his career if he had not spent the early part of his career playing his home games on the artificial turf in Montreal. While this may be true, I do not in general subscribe to the belief that players should be given credit for hypothetical performance due to baseball related injuries or wear and tear. Introducing hypothetical performance into the equation leads to an endless string of "what ifs" that make it impossible to achieve any sort of objective standard.

What then to make of Dawson's career?

Certainly, Dawson would not be the worst member of the Hall of Fame were he to be elected. You can see him settling down quite comfortably with the Ashburn-Snider-Carey group.

No, the real problem with Dawson's candidacy is the implications that it would have for other Hall of Fame candidates.

Can you vote for Dawson and not Bernie Williams? Bernie Williams had 106.2 WARP3 and a .301 EqA. At his peak offensively, he put of MVP quality numbers as the rock of the Yankee teams that won four of five World Series in the late 1990's.

Can you vote for Dawson and not Jim Edmonds? Edmonds has 106.9 WARP3 and a .306 EqA and is still active. He's a fantastic center fielder and also has a higher offensive peak than Dawson.

Are you prepared to vote for Carlos Beltran? He sits and 74.1 WARP3 with a .291 EqA and is still in his prime.

What about Kenny Lofton? He's got 102.9 WARP3 and a .288 EqA and he's still kicking.

So Dawson looks like a marginal center field candidate. His career EqA of .286 would actually be below some other guys, like Williams and Lofton, who probably don't have a prayer.

Here's the problem though: as mentioned before, he wasn't a center fielder for even half of his career. In fact, he spent most of his time in right field (1281 games in right, 1027 games in center). That's why I couldn't vote for Dawson. If you're a marginal center field candidate with Dawson's numbers, you have a chance. But if you're actually a right fielder, I couldn't vote for you.

Ultimately, Dawson is undone by his astonishingly low .323 on base percentage. That kind of offense just isn't acceptable in a Hall of Famer, unless it is coupled with outstanding defense at a prime position and epic power. Dawson doesn't quite make that cut.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Hall of Fame Postmortem: Jim Rice

I've waffled back and forth on how to proceed with my take on this year's Hall of Fame voting. At first, I thought maybe I'd go alphabetically, but now I've just decided to write about whoever I want to whenever I want to. It's my blog, so you just have to deal with it.

Today's topic is the Hall of Fame candidacy of Jim Rice. Many in the blogosphere are tired of the debate on Rice's candidacy by now. If any of you are reading this, I apologize. For those who aren't, here's my take.

Jim Rice played for the Boston Red Sox from 1974 through 1989. He never played for any other team. He won an MVP award in 1978. He finished in the top five in MVP voting six times. He made the All-Star game eight times. He never won a World Series (after all, he played for the Red Sox). He finished with a career line of .298/.352/.502 and an OPS+ of 128. He accumulated 1249 runs, 1451 RBI, 2452 hits, and 382 home runs.

However, Rice never had a season with a WARP3 greater than 10, a roughly MVP level season, and his career was short by Hall of Fame standards, ending with only 83.2 WARP3. Contemporary Hall of Fame left fielders include Willie Stargell (100.4 career WARP3), Carl Yastremski (133.5), and Lou Brock (88.2). For comparison, Ted Williams has 167.2 WARP3; Barry Bonds has 234.8; Rickey Henderson has 187.7; and Tim Raines has 123.9.

In 2008, Rice fell just short of being inducted into the Hall of Fame with 72.2% of the vote (75% is required for induction).

Even Rice's greatest advocates will admit that he did not have a long career, nor will they argue that his play defensively contributes at all to his Hall of Fame case. Instead, the focus is on whether or not Jim Rice was so offensively dominant during his peak that he makes up for his short career and mediocre defense. Even examining only this question, Rice's advocates will admit that he does not fare well enough by using more modern valuations of offense to be considered a Hall of Famer.

Indeed, the more one reads arguments for Rice, the more it seems that Rice's candidacy stems from three basic arguments, two of which are silly enough that I'm not going to spend a lot of time on them.

The first argument, which has appeared numerous times, I have lifted from Rice's Wikipedia article:
From 1975 to 1986, Rice led the American League in total games played, at-bats, runs scored, hits, homers, RBIs, slugging percentage, total bases, extra-base hits, go-ahead RBIs, multi-hit games, and outfield assists.
The first thing to note here is that we've cherry-picked a select set of statistics from a select set of years. This is the combination of stats and years that makes Jim Rice look his absolute best. You can do this for just about any good player in history to make them look great. This is as close to the wrong way to use statistics as you can get.

Furthermore, notice how correlated all the statistics are. Most of them are counting stats, which means they are highly related to the fact that Rice lead the league in games played and at-bats. Yes, this speaks to durability, but it also means that he had a lot of opportunities to accumulate numbers. Notice too that homers, slugging percentage, total bases and extra-base hits are all basically saying the same thing: he had power. The outfield assists aspect of this is silly, because Rice played left-field in Fenway park, which massively boosts the assists total of every outfielder who plays there, due to the small left-field created by the Green Monster.

Ultimately, it's telling which stats are not on this list. There's no mention of outs, double plays, walks, or on-base percentage. Why? Because Rice made a ton of outs and hit into a ton of double plays all while not walking that much. We'll address this later on, but the key point here is that cherry-picking in this fashion is amateurish at best and intellectually dishonest at worst.

The second argument for Rice is that he was the most "feared" hitter of his generation. There's just no way to talk about this objectively, so I'm not going to try. The only way to back this assertion up, besides the notoriously unreliable and crotchety ramblings of ex-ballplayers, is to cite the first argument. Personally, I need something more concrete than that.

The final argument for Rice, and the best one by far, is to simply admit that, yes, Rice's game had serious deficiencies by today's standards. However, in Jim Rice's day, he was not expected to walk. He was expected to drive runs in. This expectation lead him to a style of hitting that we understand today as suboptimal. However, Rice was doing what was asked of him and he did it extremely well.

This is the argument that Buster Olney has been making in his back and forth with Rich Lederer on this subject. I have three points to make regarding this debate.
  1. The available evidence shows that Jim Rice walked exactly as often with men on base as he did with the bases empty. In other words, if Jim Rice were altering his style of play in order to drive more runs in, the stats show that he was not succeeding at this. It's far more likely that Rice was the same player with men on base as he was with the bases empty: an out machine with tremendous power.
  2. Jim Rice had a lot of men on base in front of him. During the later part of his career, he had Wade Boggs setting the table for him. Boggs is one of the best on-base men in the history of baseball. If we look at Rice's OBI%, the percentage of baserunners driven that Rice drove in, we find that he ranked 9th, 21st, 15th, 4th, 8th, 17th, 49th, 31st, 14th, 10th, 33rd, and 10th in that twelve year period from 1975 through 1986 (500 PA minimum, except for 350 PA minimum in 1981, a strike year). Keep in mind that there are only around 70 names that qualify to be ranked this way. That's just not an impressive showing, especially if driving men in is the one skill on which your Hall of Fame case is hanging.
  3. Finally, why is it that Rice is virtually the only Hall of Fame candidate whose candidacy desperately needs the voter to accept the idea that we should judge Rice not on what is objectively valuable, but instead on what was perceived to be valuable while he was playing? So many other players from Rice's day have been admitted to the Hall of Fame with the support of both those who believe in an objective standard and those who do not. Why is Rice the only player who seemingly needs this argument? To me, the answer to that question is that the argument itself is born not of the desire to select the best candidates but rather of the desire to select Jim Rice. The bottom line is that when you compare Rice to other Hall of Famers, we find that those men performed objectively well despite the perceptions of the people playing, coaching, and covering the game during their era. I don't see why we shouldn't hold Rice to that same standard.
There's one final argument against Rice: he played his home games at Fenway Park. There is no question that Rice benefited enormously from this. Had he played elsewhere, it is likely his numbers would not be so impressive and we would not be having this discussion.

That being said, the hyperbole from some opponents of Rice's candidacy with respect to his home park has absolutely got to stop. It's being claimed in different places from otherwise solid objective analysts that Rice was a poor hitter on the road and that he would have been a mediocre player had he not played for the Red Sox.

Comments like these server only to inflame the passions those who are inclined to vote for Rice. Furthermore, they have the disadvantage of being both untrue and intellectually dishonest. Hitters tend to hit better in their home park in general. If they play in a pitcher's park, they do not see as much of a decline. If they play in a hitter's park, they see even more of a boost. To extrapolate from Rice's road numbers that he was a crappy hitter who only looks good because he played at Fenway is just not correct. Rice's games at Fenway still count, even if we have to devalue them a little to correct for the hitter's haven that it was and is.

In any case, I would not vote for Jim Rice. It's too hard for me to buy the argument that he could have been an objectively better player if he had been asked to be one. And objectively, he just doesn't stack up against other Hall of Fame players, and even one, Tim Raines, who is not in the Hall of Fame.

None of this is a knock on Jim Rice as a person or as a player. There's no shame in being not quite good enough to be a Hall of Famer and if you gave me the option of having Rice on my team and not having Rice on my team, I'd take Rice without thinking about it for even a fraction of an ounce of a piece of a second.

However, the Hall of Fame is about more than that. It's about honoring a select few of the greatest baseball players who ever lived. Jim Rice simply is not one of them.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The best thing you'll read today

"Gorillas Are Cool," written by minor league ballplayer Dirk Hayhurst, is just awesome. It's peripherally about steroids, I suppose, but it's also a humorous look at one man's willingness to try anything (legal) to get an edge.

(Oh, and a tip of the cap to BBTF.)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Must Watch

I posted a while back about how I feel analysts need to express scouting information to the general public. Another great example of well-presented scouting information is offered over at River Ave. Blues. This kind of stuff is just cool.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Spring training is almost here!

How do I know? Quotes like these:
"I believe that I am as strong and I know I feel as good and as strong as I've been in the last three years, by far," [new Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Scott Rolen] said.

Woohoo! Ballplayers everywhere are in the best shape of their careers! Let the good times roll!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Exhibit 1B

From Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe (hat tip to BBTF):
Memo to 30-year-old stat geeks combing through Jim Rice's numbers: Get out of the house and look at the sky one time. I know personal contact frightens you, but let go of OPS for a moment and try talking to someone who saw Rice play, or better yet, played against him.
It's very hard for me to stay calm when I read something like this, so let me see if I can describe how this comment makes me feel in a rational manner.

Mr. Shaughnessy is a long-time writer for the Boston Globe and a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. It's his belief that Jim Rice, a member of the Boston Red Sox from 1974 through 1989, is worthy of induction into the Hall of Fame.

So far, Mr. Rice has been unable to garner the level of support needed for that honor, though he stands a mere sixteen votes shy with one year remaining in his eligibility. It is highly likely that he will be elected next year, or by the Hall of Fame Veteran's Committee after his eligibility on the BBWAA ballot runs out.

There has been a substantial effort on the part of many in the Internet community to persuade BBWAA voters not to vote for Jim Rice. The effort has not always been conducted with the appropriate level of respect to the BBWAA members or to Mr. Rice himself, but, by and large, those prominent members of the Internet community who have argued against Mr. Rice's inclusion have done so by using objective evidence presented with good intentions and free from personal vitriol if not hyperbole.

There are those in the mainstream media, many members of the BBWAA, who have viewed this effort as offensive, either because it impugns the career of Mr. Rice or because it implies that the BBWAA is not adequately doing its job.

I do not at this time want to address the adequacy of either Mr. Rice's candidacy or the BBWAA. However, a word must be said about the attitude of some members of the BBWAA, such as Mr. Shaughnessy, who have decided that ad hominem attacks represent an appropriate response to the criticism coming from the Internet community.

BBWAA writers are professionals. They are paid to provide a service to their employer: quality baseball writing and reporting. It is shameful that any of them would decide to stoop to the level of an anonymous Internet forum participant when replying to well reasoned criticism about their work or opinions. It is their job to remain above the low level of discourse found in many areas of the Internet.

Furthermore, the knee-jerk reaction to smear every form of analysis that one does not fully understand with grade-school level taunting is behavior not befitting a grown man, let alone one who has access to such a public forum. It is a sad situation, and one increasingly common in all aspects of American life, that allows such blatant anti-intellectualism to be so pervasive. If Mr. Shaughnessy or any member of the BBWAA has an objection to the criticism offered by some of the more visible critics of Mr. Rice's candidacy, he or she would do well to take the time to understand the criticism and refute it with reason rather than stooping to such irrational and immature attacks.

Those who argue against Mr. Rice's candidacy do so with the intention of upholding the standards of the Hall of Fame. Those arguments worthy of response by supporters of Mr. Rice should be countered on the basis of their substance, not who their author was or where they were published.

I hope that this demonstrates to those reading why my respect for mainstream sports media has been almost completely obliterated.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Hall of Fame Postmortem: Bert Blyleven

It's been quite some time since I put a post up, nearly a month. I'm going to go ahead and blame the holidays for most of that, but the fact is that this is the slowest time of the year for baseball. In fact, the only interesting thing going on has been the Hall of Fame voting. I suppose I've missed the boat on that one too, but since I can't argue about it before the vote, I'm going share some thoughts now that the votes have been counted. I'm going to start with Bert Blyleven.

Bert has had a lot of digital ink devoted to his cause over the last few years. In fact, my little blurb here can hardly do justice to the efforts of his other online advocates, most notably Rich Lederer. Rich's work can be found here, here, and here, as well as many other places I'm sure. Rather than replicate all of Rich's work, I instead want to focus on one specific argument.

When people are giving reasons for not voting for Bert, they usually focus on his win-loss record, or his Cy Young voting record, or the fact that he just doesn't feel like a Hall of Famer. I can't do anything about that latter point, and even though I don't really like the first two arguments, I'm going to accept them for the purpose of this discussion.

My question to these voters is this: how can you elect Nolan Ryan on his first ballot and not vote for Bert Blyleven?

Let's take a look at their careers.

Nolan Ryan pitched from 1966 through 1993. During that time he won 324 games (14th all time), struck out 5714 batters (1st all time, more than 1100 more than 2nd place), and threw 61 shutouts (tied for 7th all-time). On the other hand, Ryan lost 292 games (3rd all time), walked 2795 batters (1st all-time, more than 900 more than 2nd place), and gave up 321 home runs (tied for 33rd all-time). In 1999, Ryan received 98.8% of the Hall of Fame vote in his first appearance on the ballot.

Bert Blyleven pitched from 1970 through 1992, missing 1991. During that time he won 287 games (26th all-time), struck out 3701 batters (5th all-time), and threw 60 shutouts (9th all-time). On the other hand, Blyleven lost 250 games (10th all-time), walked 1322 batters (29th all-time) and gave up 430 home runs (8th all-time). Blyleven has been lingering on the ballot since 1998, peaking at 61.9% in 2008.

On the surface, they appear to be very close. So why the disparate vote totals?

As I see it, Ryan breezed into the Hall of Fame for five key reasons:
  1. He crossed the magical 300 win mark.
  2. He struck out approximately 100,000,000,000 batters.
  3. He threw seven no-hitters.
  4. He was viewed as a freakish and legendary physical specimen, capable of pitching until he was 46 years old.
  5. He felt like a Hall of Famer, probably for the above four reasons.
On the other hand, Blyleven is not in the Hall of Fame for five key reasons:
  1. He did not cross the magical 300 win mark.
  2. He never did well in awards voting, as evidenced by his lack of a Cy Young award.
  3. He never threw a no-hitter. (See the edit at the end of the post.)
  4. He is viewed as a "compiler": some one who has really big numbers only because he played so long.
  5. He does not feel like a Hall of Famer, probably for the above four reasons.
Allow me to address these points.

Win Totals

With respect to their win totals, Ryan's supporters have always cried that he pitched for a lot of bad teams. It was hard for Ryan to win games, but he did the best he could and won 300 anyway. Blyleven, his detractors say, pitched just well enough to lose. He didn't pitch to the score. If the other team allowed one run, he would allow two. Yeah, he played for bad teams, but a pitcher's job is to get wins.

You all know that I don't buy that for one minute, but let's say that I do. To that I say this: Ryan's winning percentage is 52.6%. Blyleven's winning percentage is 53.4%. Yes, Blyleven won a higher percentage of his decisions than Ryan did. The only reason that he doesn't have Ryan's win-loss record is that he pitched for five fewer years. If wins and losses are your metric of choice, Blyleven is superior to Ryan.

Cy Young Voting

With respect to Blyleven's poor showing in Cy Young voting, his detractors have always used this as evidence that Blyleven was not thought of as a dominant pitcher. Leaving aside the circular logic for a second, what then can you say about Ryan's performance in Cy Young voting? Nolan Ryan never won a Cy Young. Ever. How is it that this is a point against Blyleven, but not Ryan? You say that Blyleven was never considered the best pitcher in the league? Neither was Ryan.

Yes, Ryan did finish in the top ten more often than Blyleven, but did he deserve to? Let's look at their careers season by season. Here are their careers, sorted by ERA+ (ERA relative to the league; 100 is average, higher is better):

Blyleven: Ryan:
Year Starts Innings ERA+ Year Starts Innings ERA+
1 1973 40 325.0 158 1981 21 149.0 194
2 1977 30 234.7 151 1987 34 211.7 142
3 1984 32 245.0 144 1977 37 299.0 141
4 1974 37 281.0 142 1991 27 173.0 139
5 1989 33 241.0 140 1972 39 284.0 128
6 1985 37 293.7 134 1989 32 239.3 124
7 1975 35 275.7 129 1973 39 326.0 122
8 1981 20 159.3 127 1974 41 332.7 118
9 1971 38 278.3 126 1970 19 131.7 117
10 1976 36 297.7 125 1990 30 204.0 115
11 1978 34 243.7 123 1983 29 196.3 114
12 1970 25 164.0 119 1979 34 222.7 113
13 1972 38 287.3 118 1984 30 183.7 109
14 1987 37 267.0 115 1986 30 178.0 107
15 1979 37 237.3 109 1982 35 250.3 105
16 1983 24 156.3 109 1992 27 157.3 103
17 1986 36 271.7 107 1969 10 89.3 103
18 1980 32 216.7 96 1975 28 198.0 102
19 1982 4 20.3 85 1976 39 284.3 99
20 1992 24 133.0 84 1978 31 234.7 98
21 1988 33 207.3 75 1980 35 233.7 98
22 1990 23 134.0 73 1968 18 134.0 98
23 1988 33 220.0 94
24 1985 35 232.0 91
25 1971 26 152.0 86
26 1993 13 66.3 85
27 1966 1 3.0 24
By my count, Blyleven has fully nine seasons in which he had both a better ERA+ and a better innings pitched total than Ryan's equivalent on this list. It isn't until you get down towards the bottom where both pitchers are pitching at or below league average that Ryan has clearly better years. In fact, this transitions well to my next point.

Compiling Statistics

How is it that Blyleven is a "compiler" and Ryan is not? Ryan started 88 more games in his career, and as the above table shows, he had a lot of years where he was a below average pitcher. Blyleven's peak is higher than Ryan's and his career, though very long, is shorter. Sorry, there's just no way to smear Blyleven with this label and not also smear Ryan. Both men contributed quite a few seasons where they were basically average or below average pitchers. Ryan contributed more than Blyleven did. He hung around longer. That's a fact.

The No-Hitters

A large part of why Ryan is perceived as dominant is that he threw seven no-hitters. How much of an edge should this give him over Blyleven? Let's start with a rhetorical question: which event contributes the most to a team's chance of winning a ball game: a perfect game, a no-hitter, or a shutout?

The answer to this trick question is that they all contribute the exact same amount. In fact, while the perfect game is obviously the most impressive accomplishment, a no-hitter is not necessarily more dominant than a shutout. Just ask anyone who saw Pedro in the late 90's: he never threw a no-hitter, but when he threw a shutout, he dominated you. Ask anyone who saw Mike Mussina's near-perfect game if it was less dominating than some of the multi-walk no-hitters that have been thrown.

Yes, Ryan threw seven no-hitters, but that was largely because his philosophy was that he would rather walk you than give you a hit. Look at Ryan's career walk total again. Like his strikeout total, it's almost incomprehensibly massive. Ryan was going to throw the perfect strike or he wasn't going to throw a strike. The price he paid is that he walked an astronomical number of batters and many of them scored. Yes, it got him those no-hitters, but how many shutouts did it cost him?

Bert Blyleven started 88 fewer games than Ryan did. He threw only one fewer shutout. No, he never achieved that odd statistical quirk that is the no-hitter (See edit at the end of the post), but he was even more effective at single-handedly shutting down the opposition. If you have one game to win, and you need your pitcher to throw a shutout to win it, you're going to choose Blyleven over Ryan every time.


Look, I believe that Nolan Ryan is a surefire Hall of Famer. The man contributed a lot to his teams over a very long period of time. He was a unique pitcher, and he deserves the honor of being a member of the Hall of Fame.

All that being said, Bert Blyleven was better than Ryan. He had a higher peak and he had a very long career. He contributed more excellent seasons than Ryan and fewer below average seasons. That Ryan is perceived as one of the greatest pitchers of all time and Blyleven is not is due only to the fact that Ryan has some nice, large, shiny numbers and Bert Blyleven does not.

No, he wasn't Jim Palmer or Steve Carlton or Tom Seaver. You don't need to be as good as them to be a Hall of Famer. Blyleven is better than many pitchers currently enshrined, and, in my humble opinion, better than Nolan Ryan.

If you're a better pitcher than a guy who gets 98.8% of the Hall of Fame vote, what percentage should you get?

If you're Bert Blyleven, the answer is apparently 61.9%. There just isn't a universe out there where that makes sense.

**EDIT** I am dumb. Blyleven has, in fact, thrown a no hitter, as Bill notes in the comments section. It occurred after he was traded to the Texas Rangers from the Minnesota Twins during the 1977 season, September 22 to be precise. He only walked one man, with two outs in the ninth. This did not break up a perfect game, as a batter had reached on an error in the 3rd. Blyleven eliminated him on a double play. He faced only one more batter than the minimum, while striking out seven. Nonetheless, the general point still stands: Ryan's no hitters are his legacy. Blyleven's no hitter is apparently not part of his. Again, Blyleven was a dominant pitcher. That he is not perceived this way is a problem with our perception of him, not an indication that he was not dominant.