Year Inducted: 2011 (BBWAA, ballot #14, 463/581)
There are some pitchers that become synonymous with a particular pitch. Classic examples include: Phil Niekro and his knuckleball, Mariano Rivera and his cutter, Bruce Sutter and his split finger, Pedro Martinez and his changeup and Nolan Ryan and his fastball. All of these pitchers, of course, are either in Cooperstown already or going to be in very soon. The curveball, according to lore, was first developed by Candy Cummings, and while many have thrown it very few have become linked to the pitch. The man who is most linked to the curveball is Holland’s own Bert Blyleven.
Blyleven pitched for 21 seasons, mostly with the Twins. He won 287 games (against 250 losses), tossed nearly 5000 innings and had an ERA of 3.31. Blyleven used his dominant curveball to hammer out a bunch of strikeouts, retiring 3rd all-time in strikeouts with 3701 and walked only 1322. Opposing hitters could only muster a .244 average off of him, while getting very little hard contact (.78 HR/9). Blyleven was truly a great pitcher.
One thing that holds Blyleven back a little bit was his defense behind him. Blyleven’s FIP was only 3.19, much lower than his 3.34 ERA. Blyleven played a lot of years in hitter’s havens as well as during some big hitting seasons, so on paper his ERA doesn’t look impressive for a Hall of Fame pitcher. However, his ERA- was 85, while his FIP- was 82. Both of these stats show how truly dominant he was.
Blyleven had to wait a really long time to gain induction by the BBWAA. Out of a maximum of 15 years, Blyleven was on 14 ballots prior to induction in 2011. Why the wait for a guy who retired 3rd in career strikeouts, 4th in fWAR, 10th in RA9-WAR (was one of 3 players at the time who had over 100 in both categories) and 23rd in wins? Because he only had 287 wins, not 300. That’s really the only statistical reason for not inducting Blyleven almost immediately upon him being on a ballot. The 1990’s did see some crowded ballots, but there was more than enough time to induct Blyleven sooner. But, eventually they corrected their mistake, thanks to more and more writers who understand advanced evaluations and can properly place Blyleven in the game’s history.
By any measure, Blyleven is a Hall of Famer, and was always worthy of the title.
Stay tuned for the next update.
On deck 10/29/16 Mr Padre