Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Zen Dayley: Schilling was one Hall of a pitcher

History will probably be kind to Curt Schilling, who was often kind to history.

No doubt some of the hagiography for Schilling, who announced his retirement this morning on 38 Pitches, will note he was always grateful to those who came before him. He had the good sense to at least position himself as someone who still evoked what it was like to be a fan (use Alex Rodriguez as a straw man right here).

He named one of his children after Lou Gehrig. he once proudly owned a Brooklyn Dodgers jersey of his pitching coach, Johnny Podres. He also tried to bridge the jocks vs. nerd divide through his involvement in the Seamheads Historical League. There was also his stand, which might have been a bit preachy, that Roger Clemens should have had to prove his innocence when he said he didn't use steroids. He also campaigned for George W. Bush (win some, lose some), but a lot of people would like to take that one back.

The question becomes if a pitcher with just 216 career wins, who received Cy Young Award votes in only four seasons, will find favour with Baseball Hall of Fame voters. There might be a halo effect if he's perceived as someone who pitched during the Steroids Era and came out clean as a bean. Having played in Boston and having been on playoff teams in six of his last eight seasons won't hurt, either. Give us a hour, and we'll run a Keltner test.

Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in baseball?


Was he the best player on his team?

He was probably the best player on the 1997 Phillies, because someone had to be (they finished 68-94). He was on the same staff as Randy Johnson in Arizona, which answers that question.

Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?

No. Schilling was runner-up for the Cy Young Award three times, in '01-02 behind Johnson and in 2004 to Johan Santana in the American League. He only received five first-place votes in his career. He won his only ERA title in 1992 with the Phillies.

Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?

He was on seven playoff teams ('93 Phillies, 2000-02 D-Backs and '04-'05-'07 Red Sox). He was exceptional during the stretch drive in '93. Schilling went 7-1 with 3.71 ERA after August 1, and the Phillies won 12 of his last 15 starts as they hung on to finish three games ahead of Montreal.

Schilling was only so-so in 2000 after going to Arizona in a deadline deal. In '01, when Arizona won the NL West by two games, from Aug. 1 on he won seven of his last eight decisions, posting a 2.74 ERA with 101 strikeouts (and just 11 walks) in 82 innings.

In '02, the Diamondbacks won the division by 2½ games over the Barry Bonds San Francisco Giants. Schilling won six starts in a row during a stretch in June and July. He also beat San Fran three times out of four that season, including a game in early September which gave Arizona an 8½-game lead with just 23 remaining.

Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime?

Yes. He pitched effectively (15-7, 3.97 ERA, 1.216 WHIP) as a 39-year-old for the Red Sox in 2006, working more than 200 innings. At age 40, he was half-decent in 2007 (9-8, 3.87, 1.245) and helped win an elimination game in the league playoffs against Cleveland.

Is he the very best player in baseball history who is not in the Hall of Fame?

No. Among eligible players, Tim Raines is ahead of him.

Are most players who have comparable career statistics in the Hall of Fame?

Yes, with a but. Only three of his 10 comparables are in the Hall of Fame, and it took some intense lobbying to get two of them, Don Drysdale and Catfish Hunter, inducted. The most comparable player to Schilling is actually Kevin Brown, who's probably not electable.

Schilling pitched 3,261 innings and ERA-plused 127 (i.e., his earned-run average was 27% above league average over his entire career). Brown pitched 3,256 1/3 innings with the same ERA-plus, and he won't get within a hundred miles of being elected when he goes on the ballot in 2011. He wasn't exactly Mr. Congeniality.

However, first-ballot Hall of Famers Bob Gibson and Tom Seaver each ERA-plused 127, the same as Schilling did in a higher-scoring era. Schilling outperformed the league average by more than his contemporaries Mike Mussina (123) and Tom Glavine (118), whom he'll be measured against when he appears on the Hall of Fame ballot. He's tied with John Smoltz, whose ERA probably benefited from the four seasons he spent as a one-inning reliever.

It is odd how Schilling and Mussina's career arcs dovetail. Schilling had 216 career wins but had three 20-win seasons. Mussina, who got an earlier start and avoided injuries, had 270 wins, but won 20 only once.

Do the player's numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?

Yes, but it's complicated. Schilling toes the line on three of the four Jamesian tests, but kills it on the HOF Monitor, scoring 171 (100 means the player is a worthy candidate and 130 says he's a lock).

Voters will also be asked to consider that Schilling is one of only two pitchers to amass more than 3,000 strikeouts with fewer than 1,000 bases on balls, the other being Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins. Schilling's strikeout-to-walk ratio, 4.38, is the highest for anyone who pitched after 1900. Wins are a

Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?

This is a chance to swing the question around to his post-season performance, though we need not mention the Bloody Sock. Schilling deserved the reputation Jack Morris had a post-season performer more than Jack Morris. He was 10-2 with a 2.23 ERA in 19 post-season starts, striking out 120 and walking just 25 in 133 1/3 innings. He was MVP of the National League playoffs in 1993 (Mitch Williams blew the save in both of his starts, but the Phillies won both games) and co-World Series MVP with Johnson in 2001.

As Baseball Digest Daily noted, Schilling's teams never lost when he started in a game where faced elimination. He pitched 39 1/3 innings when his team had to win to keep its season going and posted a 1.37 ERA, just four bases on balls and 33 strikeouts.

BDD's Craig Brown, did the initial number-crunching but omitted Oct. 21, 1993, when Schilling shut out the Blue Jays 2-0 in Game 5 of the World Series, buying Philly another 48 hours' life before "touch 'em all, Joe." Schilling scattered five singles and three walks over nine innings. This came against a team which hit .335/.405/.568 in the series' other five games, and he shut them out.

Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame but not in?

The temptation is to go with Blyleven.

How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?

Not, he didn't; he's a pitcher. He was 14th in the NL balloting in 1997, 10th in both 2001 and 2002 and 12th in the American League voting in 2004. Please keep in mind that since the wild-card era began in 1994, only one starting pitcher (Pedro Martinez in '99) has had a top-three finish in MVP voting.

How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the other players who played in this many go to the Hall of Fame?

He had seven such seasons — 1992, when he won the NL ERA title but was overlooked despite a 2.75 ERA at mid-seasoned. He was picked from from 1997-99 and again in 2001-02 and '04.

A gut instinct says that's a bit low. It Is About The Money, Stupid noted Mike Mussina was selected to only five all-star teams. John Smoltz is looked at a legit HOF candidate and has been selected for eight All-Star Games. Pedro Martínez has been selected for eight.

If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?

Not likely, although he and The Big Unit were the best the 2001 Diamondbacks had when they won the World Series.

What impact did the player have on baseball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way?

Well, he was an early adaptor when it came to interacting with fans.

Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?

By all accounts, yes. Major League Baseball has three awards for, loosely paraphrasing, players who combine on-field performance with strong work in the community: The Hutch Award, the Roberto Clemente Award and and Lou Gehrig Memorial Award. Schilling has received all three. That probably will work in his favour.


eyebleaf said...

Schilling finally retiring means this is a great freakin' day.

Let's pray he doesn't become a full-time blogger.

Dennis Prouse said...

Schilling's potential entry to Cooperstown will be REALLY interesting to watch. The guy has intangibles coming out the yingyang, and tremendous post-season success. If quality of victories counts for something, he is in good shape.

If Schilling gets in with 216 career wins, though, and no Cy Youngs, the screaming from supporters of Blyleven, Jack Morris, Jim Kaat, and Tommy John will be deafening.

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