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Does Blyleven = Baines?

1/4/2010

Well, here's a brand-new argument, courtesy of Jon Heyman, for keeping Bert Blyleven out of the Hall of Fame: he's the same as Harold Baines:

    My contention regarding Blyleven is that almost no one viewed him as a Hall of Famer during his playing career, and that is borne out by the 17 percent of the vote he received in his first year of eligibility in 1998, followed by 14 percent the next year. Blyleven obviously had an excellent and extremely lengthy career that looks a lot better to many with a decade to review it. And it doesn't hurt that he's the favorite of the Internet lobby.

    --snip--

    While I leave some room for statistical re-evaluation (and am on the verge of being convinced regarding Raines), I still see Blyleven as just short. I look at numbers, too, and while my numbers may be slightly more simplistic than WHIP, WAR or VORP, I think they tell a story of a pitcher who was extremely good, consistent and durable but not quite Cooperstown-worthy. Blyleven was dominant in a lot of at-bats (thus, the 3,701 strikeouts) and even a lot of games (60 shutouts). But he was never dominant for a decade, a half decade or even a full season.

    Only four times in 22 seasons did he receive Cy Young votes (he was third twice, fourth and seventh once), only twice did he make the All-Star team and only twice did he win more than 17 games. I tend not to vote for players who I see as great compilers rather than great players, which is why I don't see Lee Smith or Baines as Hall of Famers, either. Baines and Blyleven compiled similarly in some key areas, with Blyleven finishing with four percent short of 300 victories at 287, and Baines four percent short of 3,000 hits with 2,866. And actually, a case could be made that Baines had more greatness, as he made six All-Star teams, three times the number of Blyleven.

    Some will say that Blyleven's career was equal to Hall of Famer Don Sutton's but I say it is just short of Sutton's. They both had big totals in other categories but Sutton wound up with 37 more victories, going over the magic 300 mark by 24.

It's actually sort of interesting, watching voters twist themselves into knots trying to rationalize odd decisions. Last week, Murray Chass suggested that he couldn't vote for Blyleven because the curveballing righthander "had some of his worst years when his team had good years."

Maybe you can figure that one out.

While you're chewing on that one, let's return to Blyleven's and Harold Baines' relative greatness.

It's true that Baines was a six-time All-Star, compared to only three for Blyleven.

Baines' only MVP finishes were 9th, 10th, 13th and 20th (all in a four-season span early in his career).

Blyleven's only Cy Young finishes were 3rd, 3rd, 4th and 7th.

One solid measure of a hitter's greatness is on-base percentage. Baines finished in the top 10 in his league in on-base percentage exactly zero times. Another solid measure is slugging percentage. Baines finished in the top 10 in his league in slugging percentage exactly once. And one more solid (if shorthand) measure is on-base percentage plus slugging percentage. Baines finished in the top 10 in his league in on-base percentage plus slugging percentage three times: 6th, 7th, and 10th.

One solid measure of a pitcher's greatness is baserunners per nine innings. Blyleven finished in the top 10 in his league in baserunners allowed 11 times. Another solid measure of a pitcher's greatness is earned-run average (often shortened to "ERA"). Blyleven finished in the top 10 in his league in ERA 10 times.

Baines and Blyleven both played for a long time. That's about all they have in common. Baines was a good hitter for a long time. Blyleven was a great pitcher for a long time. Conflating the two simply isn't defensible. I do appreciate Heyman taking the trouble to justify not voting for Blyleven. But he'll need to work just a little harder on his justification next time around.