Monday, April 06, 2009

Curt Schilling and the Hall of Fame

Ever since he announced his retirement last month, debate has been raging on sports talk radio around the country as to whether or not Phillies, Diamondbacks and Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Everyone basically admits that Schill was very solid for a good nine seasons, and that he is one of the premiere post-season pitchers to ever play the game. But the controversy about whether or not to include Schill in the Hall of Fame comes I think from injury problems that prevented him from compiling the kind of numbers typically thought to ensure enshrinement in the HOF, and the fact that he did it during the Steroid Era, and thus his numbers have to be taken down a little bit even though we have no specific reason to believe that Schill violated any rules during his career.

Try as I might (and biased though I may be), I'm not sure I see the controversy here. Here's what I see when I look at Curt Schilling's career numbers:

Career W-L record of 216-146. It's a good record and a solid winning percentage. The 216 wins is certainly on the light side of pitchers entering the Hall of Fame over recent years. However, the first thing to note is that the first four years of Schill's career were wasted as a would-be relief pitcher on Baltimore and Houston, where Curt amassed just 4 wins over those four seasons before coming to Philadelphia to anchor the staff that made the World Series in 1993. If Schill averaged even just 10 wins in those four seasons, that would be another 40 wins tacked on to his career totals. The 216 wins is also a bit less detrimental in my eyes when you recall that Schill was injured in 1994 and 1995, appearing in a total of just 30 games total through those two years, and another four seasons where he appeared in roughly 25 games, again a good 5-10 fewer than most regular starting pitchers would make in a season. Now I don't mean to excuse the guy by any means for being a little brittle, but that 216 wins does not hold him back all that much in my eyes from making the Hall of Fame if he is otherwise deserving. If you figure on an average of 12 wins over these six seasons where Schill was not a regular, healthy starter in the majors, that would be another 60 career wins, getting him much closer to that magical 300 number without even needing him to pitch all that great during those down years.

And on most other counts, Schill's career numbers stack up very favorably against some of the great pitchers of his era (and all eras, in some cases). His 3116 strikeouts rank him 15th all time, and his 711 walks and 2998 hits given up in 3261 career innings pitched gives Schill a WHIP of 1.13, which is 45th on the all-time list. And those 3116 strikeouts vs. just 711 walks in his career leave Schill right at the top of the all-time list of strikeout-to-walk ratios at 4.38, second all-time behind some dude named Tommy Bond. Schilling also was a workhorse, completing 83 games over his 20-year career -- 20 of them shutouts -- which is 25 more than his nearest adversary, Greg Maddux, during Schill's career as a starter beginning in 1992. So it is clear that in addition to amassing some very lofty career numbers, Schill pitched more and deeper into games than anyone of his era. Now if that ain't a power pitcher over an entire 20-year career, then I don't know what is.

Take a more season-by-season look at Curt Schilling's numbers, he won 20 games three separate times, and won at least 15 games 8 different times across his career. And this while spending a good half of his career on subpar Philadelphia teams that also hampered his ability to consistently win large amounts of games. Moreover, when you look at those seasons where Schill got in at least 30 starts, representing the years when he was healthy all the way through the season, his record
in those years is an impressive 151-75. Schilling averaged more than 10 strikeouts per 9 innings in 1997, 1998 with Philly and from 2001-2003 with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

And perhaps the greatest aspect of the case for Curt Schilling belonging in the Hall of Fame are Schill's amazing post-season numbers. The man has made 19 career post-season starts, going 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA, making him the fourth-most winningest post-season pitcher of all time, and giving him a better win percentage than most of those ahead of him in career post-season wins. Schill was the anchor on three separate World Series-appearing teams, starting with serving as the only ace on the staff of the upstart 1993 Phillies. Although Schill got the loss in the first game of the 1993 World Series after his bullpen could not hold a late lead, in his second start -- a game I personally attended -- Schill was the stuff of legends. In pitching a complete game 2-0 shutout of the Blue Jays, you could just tell Schill was running out of gas by the 6th or 7th inning. But he persisted, going back out again and again, and by the end pitching on all heart in front of 55,000 crazed Philadelphians to keep his team's chances alive in the Series. Then Curt went 4-0 in the 2001 playoff and World Series run for the Arizona Diamondbacks, following that up with a 3-1 record for the 2004 Red Sox and playing an integral part in their World Championship as well. If there was ever that guy that you wanted to give the ball to in a crucial must-win post-season spot, that guy was definitely Curt Schilling. Not to say that a strong post-season record could make up for poor career numbers to merit making it into the HOF, but when a guy's career numbers fall just short due to injuries and some bad teams early in his career, having perhaps the best overall post-season pitching record of all time has gotta help with the case.

On the con side, Schilling's lifetime 3.46 ERA combines with the fact that he never won a Cy Young award (he finished in the top four 4 times) to paint a picture of a guy who only won 216 games, gave up more earned runs than many of his peers and never was adjudged to be the best pitcher in his league even one time in a 20-year career. For those who judge Hall of Fame entry by whether a player was the "best of his era", this presents some interesting comparisons. As I mentioned above, Schilling blew away all comers in the number of complete games pitched during his career as a starting pitcher, pitching some 30% more complete games than his closest peer, Greg Maddux between 1992 and 2008. During that same period, only Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez struck out more batters than did Schill, and only Martinez posted a better strikeouts-per-inning number than Schill's career 8.59Ks per 9 innings. That 1.13 WHIP I mentioned above for Schill is behind only Pedro and Greg Maddux over his careers, with again Schill's strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.38 rating as not only the best during his era, but the best of all time. If anything, I personally believe that the most damning stat for Curt Schilling is not his lifetime win or ERA totals, but the fact that his clear three best seasons -- 22-6, 2.98 in 2001, 23-7, 3.23 in 2002 and 21-6, 3.26 in 2004 -- all started the year he turned 35, and also just happened to occur in the exact same time frame that we now know Alex Rodriguez was on the juice down in Texas. Whether or not people say it out loud -- since there is absolutely no evidence I have ever heard of to suggest that Schilling specifically took any performance-enhancing substances -- I know that this weighs on the minds of many voters out there for the Hall of Fame. Anytime you see a guy who played during the 1990-2004 era (in Schill's case, almost his entire career was during the Steroid Era) and who started making season highs after the age of 35, I think it is right to suspect them. Sad, but true, and I think that probably hurts Schill's chances more than any single other facet of his career as one of the best pitchers in the game for nearly two decades.

Sure, Curt Schilling was not the most consistent pitcher who's ever laced on some spikes, he played for some bad teams early, and his career numbers paint more of a picture of a power pitcher than a "best in the league" type. But Schilling's career statistics also show a guy with incredible placement and control, to go along with some of the best strikeout efficiency numbers ever put up, by anyone in the sport. When I look at the comparisons of his numbers to the other great pitchers of his era, I think about what Schilling meant to the 1993 Phils, the 2001 Diamondbacks and the 2004 Boston Red Sox, and add in Schill's incredible post-season success as compared to a guy like Maddux, Martinez or Clemens, I can't help but think that Schilling deserves a serious look for entry into the Hall of Fame.

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Blogger Mondogarage said...

Curt Schilling is absolutely a Hall of Famer. He dominated his era, was automatic in the post-season, and as you point out, aside from total wins, his numbers are right there at HoF level.

2:39 AM  
Blogger jjok said...

I wouldn't even flinch in giving him my vote......esp because of the postseason successes. You make a good case for someone that I consider a no-brainer...

4:28 AM  
Blogger spritpot said...

I think he's a lock to get in eventually, too. He might have to wait a couple of years since he did piss off significant numbers of sportswriters during his career, but he'll be there.

5:07 AM  
Blogger Riggstad said...

It's a joke we even have to debate this...

5:24 AM  
Blogger MHG said...

Add to all this the fact that he played Everquest, the grandfather of World of Warcraft, and he is a lock.

6:43 AM  
Blogger Shrike said...

Easy HoFer. To my mind, there has been a bonanza of starting pitchers of Schilling's generation that richly deserve the honour. Schilling's total career value, as measured by the numbers, might fall a bit short of theirs, but he is a very qualified HoF candidate nonetheless.


7:46 AM  
Blogger 4dbirds said...

Eff Curt Shilling. He's just not that memorable.

12:21 AM  

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