Happy New Year, everybody.
This doesn’t have anything to do with the Braves, but in accordance with the rules of the Baseball Bloggers Guild, I endorse the Hall of Fame candidacy of Bert Blyleven.
So, what does it take for a pitcher to get into the Hall of Fame? There aren’t any cut-and-dried standards, of course, nor should there be, but one obvious one is “a lot of wins“.
Twenty retired pitchers have 300 or more wins: all of them are in the Hall of Fame. Fifteen retired pitchers have 260 or more wins: eight are in the Hall of Fame. Of the seven who are not, four were nineteenth century pitchers who piled up some or most of their wins in leagues whose claim to Major League status is borderline at best. The other three are Tommy John (288 wins), Bert Blyleven (287), and Jim Kaat (283).
I think all three should be in the Hall of Fame, but Blyleven is the best candidate and has the best chance. Why isn’t he in the Hall? Well, one thing is a lack of big seasons, or rather a perceived lack of big seasons. Blyleven won 20 games only once, when he was 22 years old, in a year in which twelve American League pitchers won 20 or more games and Blyleven lost seventeen. He never won an ERA title, won one strikeout title (in a year in which he pitched for two teams), and made only two All-Star teams. He scores at 16 in the Black Ink Test, which is good for a tie for 131st all-time.
This perception is somewhat unfair. Blyleven didn’t lead the league a lot, but very few pitchers have finished among the league leaders as often. He scores 237 in Gray Ink, 24th all-time. Every eligible pitcher ahead of him is already in the Hall except for Bobby Mathews, one of the 19th century guys whose baseball really can’t be compared to ours. The next three guys after him are all also in the Hall of Fame. Blyleven finished second in ERA twice, in the top ten ten times.
Another reason Blyleven isn’t in the Hall of Fame is that he spent most of his career in Cleveland and Minnesota. This hurt him two ways, because those teams were off the beaten path, and because they were generally poor teams that didn’t give him the support of, say, Don Sutton. The one really good team he played for was the 1978-80 Pirates, and he didn’t pitch especially well those years. (He did play for a World Champion Twins team in ’87, but that wasn’t really a great team.)
There’s one other reason Blyleven isn’t in, or rather six reasons: Steve Carlton, Phil Niekro, Gaylord Perry, Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, and Don Sutton. There are 23 pitchers with 300 wins, with Randy Johnson needing thirteen to make it 24. Six 300-game winners, more than a quarter of the current total, debuted in the major leagues between 1962 and 1967. Blyleven debuted in 1970. (Kaat debuted slightly before, in 1959, John in 1963.) These players created a perception that 300 wins was the Hall of Fame standard, which it hadn’t been. Jim Palmer (268 wins) was able to make it in on the strength of three Cy Young Awards; Fergie Jenkins (284) had to wait three extra years despite a Cy Young and six twenty-win seasons. The guys who didn’t have the big years didn’t make it.
The line, by the way, seems to be about 235 wins. If you have more than 235 wins, you’re probably a pretty good Hall of Fame candidate. If you have less, you better have a lot of big years. That may not be the case now, though. There are two active pitchers between 287 and 235 wins, Mike Mussina (250) and David Wells (239). Mussina might get in, might not; I don’t think Wells, or Jamie Moyer (230), has much of a chance.