287-250 won-loss record
3701 career strikeouts
ERA+ of 118
242 complete games
Top 5 in strikeouts – 13 times
15+ complete games – 8 times
ERA+ of 125 – 11 times
The Case for Blyleven
Blyleven amassed some career numbers that we may not ever see again. 242 complete games. 3701 strikeouts, good for 2nd all time when he retired. He finished Top 5 in strikeouts 13 times, and posted 7 seasons with 17 or more wins.
The Case Against Blyleven
His career record was much closer to .500 than nearly any other pitcher from the modern era that is in the Hall of Fame. He did not reach that magical number of 300 wins. He had 6 seasons with 15 or more losses.
Some of his career totals speak for themselves. You don’t get 3701 strikeouts in a career by not being a very good pitcher. When I started digging a little deeper into his won-loss record, I noticed something interesting. According to Baseball-Reference.com, Blyleven had 99 “tough losses”. They classify a tough loss as a start where a pitcher receives a quality start (6+ IP, < 3 earned runs), but also receives a loss. That number seemed unusually high until I started looking at some of the pitchers in his era who are already in the Hall of Fame.
- Blyleven – 99 (39.6% of all losses)
- Nolan Ryan – 107 (36.7%)
- Steve Carlton – 100 (40.9%)
- Don Sutton – 98 (38%)
So that doesn’t really help his case in my opinion. His contemporaries all had similar percentages, so it doesn’t really seem like a differentiating characteristic.
Another thing I wondered about was what effect, if any, the teams he pitched for had on his won-loss record. To do this, I went back to Baseball-Reference, and looked at his run-support, and compared it to league average. I selected the 5 seasons which he had the most tough losses:
- 1972 – 12 tough losses: 3.8 runs per start vs. 3.47 (league average)
- 1973 – 8 tough losses: 4.2 runs per start vs. 4.28
- 1974 – 8 tough losses: 4.2 runs per start vs. 4.10
- 1976 – 9 tough losses: 2.7 runs per start vs. 4.01
- 1980 – 8 tough losses: 3.3 runs per start vs. 4.03
In 3 of these cases, Blyleven actually received at least league average run support or better. But ERA+ does say a little something in these as well:
- 1972 – 118
- 1973 – 158
- 1974 – 142
- 1976 – 125
- 1980 – 96
So, to me this is a bit inconclusive. And I am left to look for dominant periods of his career to see if this puts him over the top in my mind.
From 1971-1976, Blyleven did the following:
- Never posted an ERA above 3.00
- Struckout at least 219 batters each season
- Won at least 15 games 5 times
- Posted a season ERA+ of 125 or higher 5 times
- Had at least 3 shutouts per season, and 11 complete games per season
- Never posted an innings pitched total below 275
To me, this elite period, combined with the career numbers he posted, make him a Hall of Famer to me. I don’t think that we would even be having this argument about Blyleven if he had spent the majority of his career in larger markets than Pittsburgh, Minnesota, and Cleveland.
MY VOTE: YES