March 20, 2023

Just How Good was Bert Blyleven?

January 10, 2011 by · 3 Comments 

Bert Blyleven is in the Hall of Fame at last!!  It took fourteen years on the ballot to do it but the writers finally saw the light.  This was a true victory for sabermetrics – as recognized in the following clip from the Associated Press.

“The great curveballer won 287 games, threw 60 shutouts and is fifth with 3701 strikeouts.   This was his 14th time on the ballot and his career stats have gotten a boost in recent years by sabermetricians who have new ways to evaluate baseball numbers.”

Why have I been saying for years that Bert deserved to be in the Hall?  Because there has never been any question that he has Hall of Fame numbers.

Bill James’ Win Shares system is the most comprehensive tool available to understand how good a season a player had.  It includes offensive and defensive contributions and adjusts for all relevant factors.  The CAWS Career Gauge (Career Assessment/Win Shares) uses win shares to measure how good a career a player had.

According to the CAWS Gauge, Blyleven has two solid credentials for induction into the Hall.  First, Bert is one of only twenty-three (23) pitchers in modern times (since 1920) who have accumulated 300 career win shares in the major leagues.  And the CAWS Gauge suggests that any pitcher who has 300 win shares deserves to be in Cooperstown. And, now that Bert has been elected, every pitcher with this distinction who has been eligible has been inducted. Here are those pitchers (Clemens, Maddux, Johnson and Glavine are not yet eligible).

The first number is career win shares, the second is core value (the win shares for the ten best seasons) and the third is the CAWS score [CAWS = CV + .25(CWS – CV)].  Bold print indicates the player is in the Hall of Fame.

Player Years CWS CV CAWS
Lefty Grove 1925-1941 391 301 324
Roger Clemens
1984-2007 432
Warren Spahn 1942-1965 412 259 297
Tom Seaver 1967-1986 388 255 288
Greg Maddux
1986-2008 398
Gaylord Perry 1962-1983 369 243 275
Bob Gibson 1959-1975 317 258 273
Steve Carlton 1965-1988 366 240 272
Phil Niekro 1964-1987 374 235 270
Robin Roberts 1948-1966 339 246 269
Jim Palmer 1965-1984 312 252 267
Carl Hubbell
1928-1943 305
Fergie Jenkins 1965-1983 323 233 256
Randy Johnson
1988-2009 326 230
Bert Blyleven 1970-1992 339 218 248
Eppa Rixey 1912-1933 315 217 242
Red Ruffing 1924-1947 322 212 240
Early Wynn 1939-1963 309 217 240
Ted Lyons 1923-1946 312 210 236
Tom Glavine
1987-2008 314 203 231
Nolan Ryan
1966-1993 334 191 227
Don Sutton
1966-1988 319 187 220
Dennis Eckersley
1975-1998 301 183 213

The second credential that establishes Blyleven’s place in the Hall is that his was the #16 best career by a starting pitcher in modern times.

Check the list above and you will find fourteen pitchers ranked above Bert.  There is one missing since he did not earn 300 win shares in his great career – but he certainly did have HOF numbers.

Player Years CWS CV CAWS
Bob Feller
1936-1956 292 239 252

With the 2011 ballot, Bert Blyleven has finally been granted his rightful place in the shrine in Cooperstown.  After a long wait, appropriate recognition for a great pitching career.

Michael Hoban, Ph.D. is a retired professor of mathematics.  His new book, A GOOD CAWS: A Hall of Fame Handbook will be available soon.


3 Responses to “Just How Good was Bert Blyleven?”
  1. Chip says:

    Michael, I always enjoy your well-reasoned Hall of Fame discussions. Here’s a question, though, unrelated to Blyleven’s induction. Does it diminish the Hall of Fame that not one player in the history of Hall of Fame voting has ever received 100% of the vote? How is it that no single electorate of a particular ballot could unanimously agree that one player was worthy of the HOF? I’m talking abou the immortals- those who merit discussion as the ‘greatest player of all time.’ Not Ruth? Williams? Mays? Aaron? I don’t believer there were steroid types of discussions inherent in their selection, so how do we explain that lack of 100%? Is it writer’s bias? For example, the relationship between Williams and the Boston press was infamously contentious. Were there writers who didn’t vote for him because they didn’t like him? That’s crap; if you can’t vote for the talent, don’t vote. Anyway, I’m interested in your thoughts.

  2. Mike Hoban says:


    Thanks. I do have a theory on this but I have never mentioned it before. I believe that there are some writers who truly believe that “no one should get into the Hall on the first ballot.” So, even if they think that John Smith is a worthy Hall of Famer, they would not vote for him on his first year on the ballot. Let’s be grateful that there do not seem to be many such writers.

    But how to explain that Jeff Bagwell only got 40%? I have never heard him accused of taking steroids. He was good enough to be inducted on the first ballot.

    Roberto Alomar was a great player but Bagwell ranks ahead of him on my CAWS career ranking.


  3. Al Featherston says:

    Chip, I think Bill James has a better explanation for the failure of any player to get 100 percent of the vote … in his great book “Whatever Happened to the Hall of Fame” he talks about how the HOF voting procedure was screwed up from the beginning.

    Neither Ruth nor Cobb got 100 percent because the first ballot in the mid-1930s was loaded with literally hundreds of great players and managers — Ruth, Wagner, Cobb, Speaker, Walter Johnson, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Nap Lajoie, Three-finger Brown, Connie Mack, John McGraw, Cap Anson, Christy Mathewson, John McGraw — the list is endless. Is it surprising that the vote was spread around dozens of great players and that only five got 75 percent of the vote?

    The huge starting list created so many problems — with so many worthy candidates on the ballot, it got to the point that 75 percent of the voters couldn’t agree on ANYBODY. That’s why the veteran’s committee was first formed, so that enough early baseball greats could be inducted to make it possible for the more recent retirees to get in.

    Plus, there was considerable debate about waiting period. At first, there was no waiting period, but many voters thought there should be and wouldn’t vote for players in the first few years (which explains why DiMaggio failed on his first votes).

    Now, I think the early confusion works against the modern no-brainers. Because Ruth and Cobb weren’t 100 percent, there will be voters who think Mays or Seaver shouldn’t be 100 percent either, so they leave their off their list. In addition, there are no gradiations in the HOF between the true greats (Ruth, Wagner, Ted Williams, etc.) and marginal guys like Chick Hafey and Highpockets Kelly, some voters try to create their own graduation by denying merely HOF worthy players first-ballot entry.

    All that said, I too am baffled by Bagwell’s low vote total. I had never heard PED accusations either, but reading some of the post-vote commentary, it seems like some voters have their suspicions (without evidence).

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