Hall of Fame: If you're voting for Jack Morris, how do you not vote for Blyleven?

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Blyleven AP.jpgSports Illustrated’s Jon Heyman set off an hours-long debate last night on Twitter when he revealed his Hall of Fame ballot:

just mailed Hall of Fame ballot, beating deadline yet again. voted for alomar, dawson, larkin, parker, morris & mattingly

At the outset, let me give Heyman some credit. After tweeting that, a cubic crap-ton of people like me came out of the woodwork to attack him, and he basically took on all comers.  As I’ll note below, his arguments were weak, but he stood in the box all night and that’s worthy of some respect.

But with that out of the way, let’s be clear: there is all kinds of ugliness here. Among other things voting for Andre Dawson and Dave Parker while not voting for Tim Raines is more than curious. Voting for Don Mattingly at all is simply silly.  What sparked the big debate, however, was his vote for Jack Morris and failure to vote for Bert Blyleven.

Don’t worry: this is not going to be a big Blyleven-for-the-Hall-of-Fame post. People have beat that to death, and if you’re looking for a comprehensive argument in his favor, there are better places to go for it, including from the man himself.  Personally, I think Blyleven is a Hall of Famer. I understand that a lot of people disagree. They’re entitled to that opinion.  Hall of Fame voting comes with a hefty dose of subjectivity, and with the majority of candidates — including Blyleven, Dawson, Fred McGriff and many like them — there are non-ridiculous arguments on both sides.

But the arguments from any given voter should at least be consistent, and here is where Heyman goes off the rails.  Like Blyleven, Morris is something less than a shoe-in candidate. Personally I don’t think he belongs. Buf if you’re one of those people who do think he belongs — if you’re a proponent of a larger, less exclusive Hall of Fame — how can you vote for Morris and not Blyleven?

As many have noted, Blyleven has a large advantage in just about every possible statistic except for the random “wins in the 1980s” and “wins in Game Sevens of the 1991 World Series” categories. If you’re making a purely statistical case — which I accept that voters do not, as a rule, do — Blyleven is in and Morris is out.

But even if you’re making a broader, shape-of-career case — which voters often do — Blyleven and Morris profile rather similarly: they are good, durable but rarely-considered-great pitchers
without Cy Young awards.  Morris has the rings, but he had a lot of help and they are at the very least equaled in weight by Blyleven’s overall career value. I wouldn’t approach the matter this way, but for those who do,
I can see voting for neither of them. I can also see voting for both of them. I can even see — if voters go to big stats like wins and strikeouts as tiebreakers — voting for Blyleven and not Morris.  I cannot, however, fathom a vote for Morris and not Blyleven.

But that inconsistency is not the most galling.  No, the most galling inconsistencies were volunteered by Heyman himself. First, in response to me lodging the objection from the last paragraph, Heyman saidregarding bert,
86% voted “no” his 2nd yr. unlike others, i’m consistent. he never led
league in wins, ERA but led in HRs, earned runs, Ls

This sort of cherry picking is so common I rarely get outraged anymore, but that doesn’t make it any less outrageous. Ignore all of Blyleven’s stats in his favor and dismiss him as merely a stathead’s pick as so many writers do, but then use the negative stats to hammer his candidacy. It’s simply not legitimate in my mind to look at the dingers he gave up and not even consider his 287 wins and 3701 strikeouts. You have to take his overall stats and weigh them, and guys like Heyman never do that. “Stats are overrated,” they often say when dismissing Blyleven, and then they use stats to twist the knife.  And by the way: Jack Morris led the league in earned runs once. Steve Carlton led the league in homers, ERA and losses on occasion as well. What’s your point?

But the worst part of Heyman’s case comes in the “86% voted “no” his 2nd yr. unlike others, i’m consistent” comment.  Setting aside what some smart people have said about such consistency, Heyman isn’t even consistent about his consistency.  Later, in what became a wide-ranging debate among a good dozen or more people, Heyman said that he would (a) look at Tim Raines’ candidacy again; and (b) that he had voted “no” for Mattingly eight times before changing his mind.  If you’re going to reevaluate for Mattingly and Raines, why not Blyleven? Why not just shorten the Hall of Fame voting window to one year per player?

Maybe Heyman was just joking with the consistency crack. Maybe he’s just so moonstruck with Game 7 of the 1991 World Series that no logical case against Jack Morris would ever dissuade him.

Then again, maybe he’s just shooting darts out there, making up his standards as he goes along.

Astros vs. Dodgers is a match made in heaven

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A lot of people who work at the league office or who take paychecks from the Fox network probably wanted to see the Yankees and the Cubs in the World Series. They won’t admit it, of course, but I suspect that many did, as the ratings for a Cubs-Yankees Series might’ve broken modern records. If they are at all disappointed by the Astros and Dodgers winning the pennant, however, they should let that go because they’ve been gifted by a wonderful matchup from a purely baseball perspective. Indeed, it’s one of the best on-paper matchups we’ve had in the Fall Classic in many years.

Before the Dodgers went on their late-August, early-September swoon, this was the potential World Series pairing most folks who know a thing or two wanted to see. At least I did, and I don’t think I was alone. It was certainly the matchup which represented the teams with the two best regular season records and storylines at the time. While Cleveland ended up winning more games than Houston did, for the first time since 1970 we have a World Series pitting two 100-win teams against each other.

Like that Orioles-Reds series in 1970, which featured Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson and a host of other All-Stars, the Dodgers-Astros provide us with an embarrassment of big names and future Hall of Famers. Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw and Astros DH/OF Carlos Beltran are destined for induction already. Astros ace Justin Verlander may very well join them, especially if his late 2017 surge is evidence of a second career peak. Houston second baseman Jose Altuve‘s first seven years and Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen‘s first eight are the stuff upon which Cooperstown resumes are made as well. People will be arguing Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley‘s Hall of Fame case for years once he retires.

Youth is served as well in this matchup, with each club featuring a handful of the game’s best young players to accompany their big name veteran stars.

The Dodgers will bat their no-doubt N.L. Rookie of the Year first baseman Cody Bellinger second or third in the lineup every game. 2016 Rookie of the Year Corey Seager, who sat out the NLCS with a bad back, is expected to be activated for the Series where he’ll be the Dodgers shortstop. The Astros are actually an old team on paper — Verlander, catcher Brian McCann, starter Charlie Morton, first baseman Yuli Gurriel, outfielder Josh Reddick and DH Evan Gattis are all over 30 while Beltran is 40 — but young players are essential to their attack as well. Shortstop Carlos Correa just turned 23 and he’s one of the game’s brightest stars. Third baseman Alex Bregman, also 23, made the play that may very well have broken the Yankees’ back during Saturday night’s pennant clincher. Age aside, the Astros are the product of a major, multi-year rebuild and many of their players are making their first national splash this postseason.

Beyond just the names and resumes, though, the Dodgers and Astros represent a fantastic strategic matchup. The Dodgers attack this postseason has featured admirable plate discipline, with third baseman Justin Turner, right fielder Yasiel Puig and center fielder Chris Taylor all letting balls out of the zone pass them by while abusing pitches left out over the plate. Astros pitchers not named Justin Verlander, however, have lived by getting the opposition to chase bad balls. Game one starter Dallas Keuchel did this by relying on his very fast sinker. Lance McCullers pitched well starting Game 4 of the ALCS and pitched spectacularly closing out the final four innings of Game 7 mostly by virtue of his curveball, which Yankees pitchers could simply not lay off. Indeed, his final 24 pitches of Game 7 were all curves, many of them low and away. Who will give in first in this series?

On the side of things, Dodgers relievers have made a living by pumping in strikes. Particularly strikes high in the zone from Jansen and Brandon Morrow. There may be no better fastball hitter in all of baseball than Jose Altuve, however, and the team as a whole was one of the best in the bigs in dealing with gas in the zone. This was a big reason why the Astros struck out less than any team in baseball this year while simultaneously boasting the best offense in the game. The Dodgers throw strikes. The Astros make you pay when you throw them strikes. Again, something’s gotta give.

Maybe the suits in New York wanted the Yankees and Cubs. But everyone else is getting exactly what we want: a matchup of the two best teams in the game. A matchup of strength against strength. What is, from a purely baseball perspective, the best World Series we could’ve possibly hoped for.