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Harmon Killebrew On David Letterman!?

With the appearance of Joe Mauer last week on Jimmy Fallon, I was reminded of another episode of a famous Twin who appeared on late ni...

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Blyleven & The Great 1973 Cy Young Robbery (Gif)

(Dan Johnson at The Expansion Years site created this gif)

Our guy Bert, complete with tongue protrusions (1972 gif photo). You really owe it to yourself to check out  his '73 game-by-game numbers at Baseball Reference. Among the things that stand out for me were his innings pitched, strikeouts, 1-0 games, shutouts, et. al.
1973 ★ 20 17 .541 2.52 40 40 0 25 9 325.0 296 109 91 16 67 258 1321 156 2.32 1.117 7.1 3.85
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 9/15/2016.
The "only" stats (see chart) Bert topped the leader boards were in:

 Wins Above Replacement -WAR - (9.9!! - that is for pitchers AND batters)

- Shut Outs (9)
- Strike Out / Walk Ratio (3.85...Mickey Lolich next at 2.709!)
- Adjusted ERA+ (156)
- Adjusted Pitching Wins (5.2)
- Adjusted Pitching Runs (47)
- FiP (2.32)

...and he was second in:

- Walks & Hits / IP (1.117)
- Strike Outs (258)
- Walks/9 (1.855)
- ERA 2.5

His run support from his Twins teammates was a maddening issue in 1973. While Minnesota was first in the league in batting (.270, 4th in runs scored) they left their bats home in a huge proportion of his starts - there were SIXTEEN (of 40 total starts - 40%) games in which they scored 2 runs or less for Blyleven. Sadly his ERA in those games was an otherwise excellent 2.99; he went 4-12 during those contests, pitching complete games in 10 of them.

Now, we hold parades (and rightfully so) for the likes of Mike Trout (7.9 WAR last year, 9.7 in '13, 10.8 in '12) for his nuanced dominance. Blyleven really falls into that category as well.  Clayton Kershaw (7.5) and Corey Kluber (7.4) are also current points for comparison in that stat, as MVPs and Cy Young Award winners. A common citation by writers unfamiliar with Blyleven is that he wasn't dominant in the Ryans and Palmer mode. Well, if a WAR near ten, 9 shutouts, and 25 complete games and 258 strikeouts isn't dominant enough, kindly show me what was, please.

With all that in mind, his placing 7th in the '73 Cy Young voting (Jim Palmer took home the big bacon)is beyond ridiculous. And, for the love of God, even Jim Colburn got more pub & votes than Blyleven, to heap on the absurdity. I'll leave it up to you to check the gazillion other categories in which he placed in the top ten. The lack of recognition is important later in the context of Blyleven's career, as it removes a bullet point from his resume for BBWA Hall Of Fame voters reviewing his credentials.

In another era of statistical analysis, he WOULD have been awarded the Cy Young.

A 2009 article by Rich Lederer serves up a sparkling analysis of why The Dutchman was robbed of the honor for his '73 showcase season (Lederer background link)! One reason I believe he was bypassed was the fact that the Twins lost so many games in which he pitched "quality" ballgames, 6 innings or more, while giving up 3 or fewer earned runs. To wit, he lost 8 one run games that year. EIGHT, my good lords and ladies. Pardon, but I thinketh the voters erred mightily in overlooking this.

That detracted from a record which may have totaled 26, 27 wins instead of his merely excellent 20. Throw in the fact that he was an emotional guy, not one to hold his tongue in check, thus earning a repution (unfairly) of being immature, or just a "thrower," as opposed to a "mounds craftsman" (see "Greg Maddux, professor). He would give up the go-ahead dinger, lose by a run, and the talking heads would wag "He's just good enough to lose. Hmmnph. Not elite. " The lords of baseball: a snooty, testy bunch! Whatever.

Never mind that the punchless Twins had scored only one or two runs in a boatload of his starts. It was his character flaw that had caused him to lose the ballgame for the TC guys, went the logic. Nevertheless, Bert coasted into the Hall of Fame this year, with much credit due to the above-mentioned  Mr. Lederer. He wrote tirelessly for years, in online pieces such as "It's All Dutch To Some" (2005), that helped to turn the tide in favor of Blyleven's candidacy. Once deferred, justice restored. 

Now, if we could just right that goofy 1973 Cy Young voting result... 

As our old friend at the mic, Herb Carneal, quipped:

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