Notoriously outspoken critic of advanced statistics Jon Heyman has a Hall of Fame ballot and he's not afraid to wave it in your face in a taunting motion, all the while dancing around in endless circular reasoning that is jeopardizing the candidacy of one of history's greatest pitchers. Like a dog chasing its own tail, Heyman's arguments for keeping Bert Blyleven out of Cooperstown are not based on sound analysis but rather on an endless loop of doublespeak and his own profession's inability to recognize brilliance.
More on the circular logic claims in a bit. In his annual ballot explanation column, Heyman explains that he won't vote for Bert Blyleven because Bert was a "great compiler" and not a "great player." First, let's read along while Heyman claims to hate statistics but, in the same breath, professes his love for numbers. Which is weird, because what is a statistic except a series of numbers interpreted in a clever way to prove something new and different?
I look at numbers, too, and while my numbers may be slightly more simplistic than WHIP, WAR or VORP, I think they tell a story of a pitcher who was extremely good, consistent and durable but not quite Cooperstown-worthy.
Slightly more simplistic? That's an understatement. Heyman's favorite number to examine when evaluating a pitcher is 'wins'. That's a simple counting stat. A kindergartner could comprehend the concept of counting. Heck, a dead retarded squirrel could understand the numbers Heyman looks at. But! Let us be inclusive, for one mustn't need a B.S. in Mathematics to understand WHIP or ERA+ or WAR, you just need a link to Alex Remington's didactic and entertaining work.
Besides, if Heyman is going to look at 'wins' as his triumphant number, wouldn't it stand to reason that Blyleven and his 287 wins deserves the honor more than Jack Morris (who Heyman did cast a vote for) and his 254 wins?
Heyman then repeats the same mantra that Blyleven naysayers have been spouting for years:
Only four times in 22 seasons did he receive Cy Young votes (he was third twice, fourth and seventh once), only twice did he make the All-Star team and only twice did he win more than 17 games.
Jon Heyman won't vote for Blyleven because he didn't get enough Cy Young votes in his career. The Cy Young Award is voted on by members of the BBWAA. Jon Heyman is voting for the Hall of Fame, which requires him to be a member of the BBWAA for a certain number of years. Heyman himself represents this organization of baseball writers that does the voting in both situations. To put Heyman's argument into simpler terms:
I, Jon Heyman, member of the BBWAA, won't vote for Bert Blyleven for the Hall of Fame because my fellow BBWAA members in the 1970s and 1980s didn't vote often enough for Bert Blyleven in the Cy Young Award races.
Did Blyleven ever deserve to win the Cy Young Award in any year of his career? Probably not, but for a guy to finish in the top ten in ERA a whopping ten times, top ten in strikeouts 14 times, and top ten in shutouts ten times, you'd think he should gotten a few more votes in a few more years. Is it his fault that wins were over-valued during that era by the BBWAA voters? No. Is it his fault that he only won 20 games once? Partly, but not entirely.
It's circular reasoning and it's wrong. Ask Heyman why writers like him don't pay enough respect to Blyleven's career and he'll tell you, "Well, writers like me didn't pay enough respect to Blyleven's career." The BBWAA is made up of very talented writers who sometimes inadvertently regress to personal biases when they rate players (see: Morris, Jack). We should be using new, advanced statistics to eliminate or maybe just soften these biases; we should be evaluating both active and historic players with a fair eye.
My contention regarding Blyleven is that almost no one viewed him as a Hall of Famer during his playing career, and that is borne out by the 17 percent of the vote he received in his first year of eligibility in 1998, followed by 14 percent the next year.
Did you go back and interview the 3,701 batters that Blyleven struck out in his 22 year career, Jon, and ask them if they ever thought Bert was a Hall of Famer as they flailed at a wicked curveball? And do writers ever make mistakes in their HOF voting that they later correct?
Or do we ever take a step back and realize that perhaps our initial thoughts about a situation were incorrect and the time has come to reevaluate using new information? It's like Heyman is convinced that Blyleven has weapons of mass destruction in his bedroom closet and refuses to issue an apology for breaking into his house and rifling through his linens only to find an unsold crate of "Circle Me Bert" t-shirts.
Smarter people have spelled out Blyleven's candidacy in more elegant ways than I, and smarter people have given Heyman the business over his persistent campaign of anti-Bert sentiments. But let us not ignore the fallacies in Heyman's arguments that make it seem like his campaign to keep Blyleven out of Cooperstown is more like a personal vendetta against smart folks and not an honest evaluation of one of baseball's greatest pitchers.
And yes, Mr. Heyman, I may be just a youngster but I remember Blyleven's excellent comeback season in 1989 with California, but I still don't think one needs to witness greatness in person to realize the existence of a historic talent.