HOF ’09: Bert Blyleven

“He was as good as there was for a long time. Bert is up there with the toughest four or five guys I faced in my career.”

Hall of Fame third baseman George Brett


The case for Bert Blyleven comes down to the argument of era dominance against longevity.  I’ve been a supporter for Blyleven for the Hall for a while and while his case isn’t open and shut, I think he’s got a shot. 

Blyleven Facts

  • Drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the third round in 1969
  • Played for Minn (twice), Tex, Pit, Cle, Cal (1970-1992)
  • 287 wins, 3701 strikeouts, 3.31 ERA
  • Holds record for most HR allowed season (50 in 1986)


Bly came up in 1970 with the Minnesota Twins and won 10 games in his rookie season with a respectable 3.18 ERA.  Through the next five years with the Twins, he won at least fifteen games each season including a 20-17 campaign in 1973.  With ERAs never higher 3.00, he was a stalwart in the Twins rotation but became unhappy in Minnesota toward the end of his time there.  Demanding a trade, the Twins management complied in 1976, trading him to Texas Rangers in a deal that brought Roy Smalley and Mike Cubbage and some cash to Minnesota. 

He pitched well in Texas with sub-3.00 ERAs in 1976-1977 plus a no-hitter against the California Angels on September 22, 1977.  But as was true throughout much of his career, he didn’t get much support and won 9 games in 1976 and only 14 for his full season in 1977.

bly Blyleven was part of MLB’s first 4-team trade later that year that sent him to Pittsburgh.  With them, he went to the World Series in 1979 and helped them win it all by winning two games against the Orioles.  As an aside, Blyleven set a record in 1979 for the most no-decisions with 20. 

Onward to Cleveland in which the Indians sent Jay Bell (yes, that Jay Bell) to the Bucs in 1980.  After a few lean years, Bly broke out in 1984 when he won 19 games for the Tribe.  Not only that, he broke 200 strikeouts for the first time in 10 years. 

Bert won 17 in a split season with the Indians and the Twins who he rejoined after eleven years.  After three years with double digit wins but rather high ERAs, he was traded to the Angels.  In his final hurrah in 1989, he not only went 17-5 but took his ERA down to a level he hadn’t seen in an while, 2.76.  After two sub-par years with the Angels, he retired. 

Pros:  Very good career numbers… 287 wins, 60 shutouts (9th all-time), 3701 strikeouts (5th).  Longevity counts for something.

Cons:  Never won a Cy Young award or ERA title, only one 20 win season, only a two-time All-Star.  Lots of competition in his era. 

Honestly, after researching Blyleven, it does show me how much longevity plays in his value.  That’s not necessarily bad but given all the competition for the Hall from the pitchers from his era, it doesn’t help his cause. 

A couple links I’ll pass along… First, is The League of Nations that link to a few columnists who have opined on the Blyleven issue.  Then there’s Bertbelongs.com.  Well, you know where they stand.

For Blyleven, I’m giving a very tenuous vote for the Hall.


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  Why is he even on the Ballot?



While we wait for January 12 ballot results, The Baseball Zealot will be profiling those players who are on the 2009 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot.  Read the rest the of the profiles.

3 Responses to “HOF ’09: Bert Blyleven”

  1. Thanks for the link and good sum-up of the debate. I’m very pro-Blyleven in the Hall – and one thing I’ll say is that three of the four cons you mention are dependent on other people ‘helping’ him make his case. He’s got a boatload of top-five finishes in ERA, WHIP, shutouts, Ks, complete games, and K:BB ratios.

    He may never have won a Cy Young, and in fact only finished in the top 5 of voting three times, but an argument against that can be seen in 1977, when he led the league in WHIP, was second in ERA, adjusted ERA+, and shutouts, and had the seventh-most Ks (not to mention a no-hitter that season). He went through a rough streak that summer in low-scoring one-run games, and ended with only 14 wins, due largely to low run support. He deserved Cy Young votes and didn’t get a single vote anywhere on the ballot.

    Same thing in 1973 – Blyleven finished 2nd in ERA, WHIP, and strikeouts, and led the league in shutouts and adjusted ERA+, but finished seventh in CYA voting.

  2. An amazing Bert Blyleven statistic that I wouldn’t wish upon any major league pitcher:
    From his 1970 rookie season through 1977 I’ve accumulated his quality starts that I’ve defined as: 6innings, 2earned runs or less; 7,8,9innings, 3earned runs or less; and 9innings+ 4 earned runs or less in which he garnered a no decision or a loss only……

    The totals are:
    82 games
    658 innings
    583 hits
    185 runs
    160 earned runs
    184 base on balls
    540 strikeouts
    2.19 ERA
    His record: 0 wins and 53 LOSSES. I repeat 0 wins and 53 losses with a 2.19 ERA

    1970 0-3 2.09 9 games
    1971 0-6 1.90 9 games
    1972 0-9 2.35 13 games
    1973 0-8 2.55 9 games
    1974 0-8 1.80 10 games
    1975 0-6 2.00 10 games
    1976 0-8 2.29 15 games
    1977 0-5 2.45 7 games

    I understand that pitchers put up great games and get snakebit on occasion, but this accounted for almost 1 of every 3 starts, 82 of 279 to be exact or 29%. Show me a Hall of Famer that had to go through this year by year. Fortunately once Blyleven ended up in Pittsburgh and later some good Minnesota teams, this trend eased to what I would consider normal levels (I had researched this in the past but don’t have the numbers on hand)

    Imagine 1974, your 17-9 in 27 games, and in the other 10, all of which are essentially quality starts, you post a 1.80ERA and go 0-8. You end up 17-17. If you don’t know the facts, and your voting for the Cy Young award, and you see 17-17. Do you cast a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place vote? Probably not. This is what Blyleven faced in yesteryear, and the same writers, who I contend do not know the facts, are what Blyleven faces every year in the HOF vote.

    Go ahead, plug in a different year, or harken back to Baseball-reference and neutralize the stats, do it for every one of Blyleven’s contemporaries. The numbers don’t change much, but for Bert Blyleven, they do. The example given above is my attempt to show why. Teams that didn’t score runs and booted the ball around like it was a soccer match.

  3. Yikes! BB was indeed a hard luck pitcher. His 20 ND in ’79 are indicative of that as well I suppose.

    I don’t know if the BBWAA would be swayed by that or not. don’t throw too many stats their way, they might get confused. :)

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