Is Curt Schilling a Hall of Famer?
Well, we've learned over the last year that he is, ironically, a better candidate for the Liberal Hall of Fame than the Conservative Hall of Fame, as the former champion of small government sprinted to Rhode Island for a handout from the state. Combine that with some inconsistencies in the past and he's got a swell case as a first-ballot Fraud Hall of Famer.
But this is a Cooperstown discussion. Curtis Montague Schilling is on the ballot for the first time and will learn his fate on January 9. He's been under the radar with all the talk about Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds but he's a fascinating case, one that deserves a serious discussion.
Wikipedia defines the Keltner List as "a systematic but non-numerical method for considering whether a baseball player is deserving of election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York." I define it as "something Bill James created for lazy columnists looking for ideas around the holidays."
So, with the help of the Keltner List (with just a little tweaking), let's take a look at the candidacy of Curt Schilling.
1. Was he ever regarded as the best pitcher in baseball?
Well, no. But that's a tough standard, obviously the Hall of Fame is stuffed with guys who were never close to the best pitcher or player in baseball during their careers. Schilling's first really good season was in 1992 and his last good season was in 2006 (15-7, 3.97 led the American League in BB/9 and K/BB ratio at age 39 for the Red Sox). The title of Best Pitcher in Baseball over that span of nearly a decade and a half was held -- at one time or another -- by Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson and Johan Santana. I think it's fair to suggest he was the second-best pitcher in baseball from 2001-04 -- three second-place Cy Young finishes, led the league in K/BB in all four seasons -- but Randy Johnson won two Cy Young Awards and led the National League in ERA+ in three of those four seasons.
2. Was he the best player on his team?
It's difficult to compare the value of an everyday player vs. a pitcher, of course, but there were absolutely years with the Phillies where Schilling was the most valuable player on the team. He led the National League with a .990 WHIP and won 14 games for a 70-win team in 1992, went 17-11 with 319 strikeouts and a 2.97 ERA for a 68-94 team in 1997 and won 15 games with 300 strikeouts and a league-leading 15 complete games for a 75-87 team the next season. Basically what Schilling did for the better part of a decade in Philadelphia was the baseball equivalent of giving a series of Oscar-worthy performances in straight to DVD films starring Eric Roberts and Robert Loggia. Schilling wasn't the best player in Arizona, as we've covered, but a case could be made that he was the single most important player on the 2004 Red Sox (21-6, 3.26, 1.06 WHIP), though an equally convincing case could be made for Manny Ramirez.
3. Did he have an impact on a number of postseasons?
If Schilling isn't the greatest playoff starting pitcher in history he's in the top three. He leads all postseason starters in career ERA and winning percentage (minimum 15 starts). And Schilling might have the best record of any pitcher in World Series history, a 4-1 record with a 2.06 ERA and a WHIP of .896. Sure, Schilling was terrific for the Phillies in the 1993 postseason but he didn't throw another playoff pitch until eight years later, teaming with Johnson to carry the Diamondbacks to the World Series (Schilling was 4-0 with a 1.12 ERA in 38.1 innings in the 2001 playoffs). So one of the great playoff resumes was almost entirely constructed between the ages of 34 and 40, with three World Series titles and a leading role in the End of the Curse.
4. Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime?
Three second-place Cy Young finishes and three World Series after turing 34 is good enough for me.
5. Is he the very best eligible pitcher in baseball history who is not in the Hall of Fame?
There was no way I was going to make it through this without a Pitcher A vs. Pitcher B comparison, so here we go:
Pitcher A: 3,261 IP, 1.14 WHIP, 3.46 ERA, 127 ERA+
Pitcher B: 2,562.2 IP, 1.14 WHIP, 3.34 ERA, 126 ERA+
Pitcher A is Schilling, who will not be voted into Cooperstown this year but I think will finish around 50 percent in the balloting and will eventually get to 75 percent. Pitcher B? Bret Saberhagen, who won two Cy Young Awards, a World Series MVP and received exactly seven votes in his only year on the ballot in 2007. Now, I'll take Schilling's career over Saberhagen's -- the difference of 700 innings is not insignificant, and Saberhagen was a putrid playoff pitcher after 1985, he put up Rudy Stein numbers against the Indians for the Red Sox in the 1999 ALDS -- but not by enough to reflect what the spread will be in Hall of Fame support.
Is Schilling the best pitcher (currently eligible) not in the Hall of Fame? Put it this way: No one is unquestionably better. Luis Tiant, David Cone, Kevin Brown (yup, look at the numbers: Same career ERA+ as Schilling, led the league a bunch of stuff in different seasons and was a truly dominant pitcher from 1996-2000 but only received 2.1 percent on his only year on the ballot as we say hello to Kirk Radomski for the first time), Saberhagen and Jack Morris (more on him later) are all somewhere in Schiling's class and none are in the Hall of Fame. Roger Clemens had twice the career Schilling had, essentially, and will not elected to the Hall of Fame this year, as we say hello to Brian McNamee for the first time. So there's the one eligible pitcher better than Schilling, but in the post-Balco world it's more complicated than just looking at numbers.
6. Are most players who have comparable career statistics in the Hall of Fame?
According to the similarity score on baseball-reference (eight words that have never landed one into the arms of a knowing woman), the most similar pitcher in history to Schilling is Kevin Brown, who would probably be a legitimate Hall of Fame candidate without the stink of steroids. Among the 10 most similar pitchers, there are two Hall of Famers (Dazzy Vance, Don Drysdale) and two future Hall of Famers (Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz). If you care about wins for a starting pitcher -- it's not real high on my list -- 216 is on the low end for Hall of Famers. I'm not sure WAR is a perfect statistic, either, but here's the top 10 career leaders in wins over replacement:
Pretty fair, right? Forgetting steroids and all the other stuff for a moment, that's a perfectly representable group. You might want to swap in Ted Williams (13th), Stan Musial (12th) or Lou Gehrig (18th), but you could do a lot worse. Anyway, Schilling is 63rd in career WAR. With the exception of Jeff Bagwell and Pete Rose, every eligible player above him on that list is in the Hall of Fame.
7. Do the player's numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?
Sure. Again, 216 wins is low. The average Hall of Fame starting pitcher has 251 wins, which is bloated a touch when you consider 19th century-early 20th century guys who started 65, 70 games a year. But even among recent inductees, 216 wins would be among the lowest totals. But Drysdale won less, so did Dizzy Dean, Sandy Koufax, Bob Lemon, Lefty Gomez. There are 70 pitchers in the Hall of Fame (counting Babe Ruth) -- if elected Schilling would be 45th in wins. But he would rank 21st in WAR -- ahead of Jim Palmer, Bob Feller, Juan Marichal and Whitey Ford, among others.
8. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?
The reality is that if Schilling had pitched for great (or very good) teams his whole career he'd have around 250-260 wins and this wouldn't even be a conversation. There's this idea that Jack Morris knew how to win games, that he has a high ERA (3.90, the league ERA was 4.08 during his career) because he knew how to pitch with a lead. There is of course no way to prove or disprove this, so all we have are the numbers. Morris -- often pitching for very good teams, the Tigers had a winning record in 11 of 12 of his seasons in Detroit and he won World Series in Minnesota and Toronto -- finished with 254 wins and a .577 winning percentage. Schilling -- stuck with some hideous teams in Philadelphia before moving on to winners in Arizona and Boston -- finished with 216 wins and a .597 winning percentage.
Morris led the American League in wins twice, starts twice, complete games once, innings pitched once and strikeouts once. That's his Black Ink. Schilling led in wins twice, winning percentage once, games started three times, complete games four times, innings pitched twice, strikeouts twice, WHIP twice and K/BB ratio four times. That's a 20-7 edge in Black Ink for Schilling.
Schilling was in the top 10 in WHIP and ERA a combined 20 times during his career, Morris a total of 11 times. And, yes, Morris pitched the greatest World Series game of his generation, not even close. And his postseason numbers are solid -- 7-4, 3.80 ERA in 13 starts -- but are not even close to Schilling's.
Look, if wins are your measuring stick, Morris is the guy. But if you take wins out of the equation -- or at least lessen the value -- there is no piece of statistical evidence to suggest Morris is in Schilling's class as a pitcher. But I bet Morris gets 150 more vote than Schilling this year.
9. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?
Sorry, should change that to Cy Young. Schilling, as we've noted, finished second three times in Cy Young voting -- Bad luck, really, both his 2001 and 2002 seasons would have won the Cy Young more often than not. Randy Johnson was the correct choice both seasons -- and was fourth in 1997. He did finish 10th in MVP voting in both 2001 and 2002 and was 11th in 2004.
10. 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?
Schilling was a six-time All-Star, started twice (in 1999 -- opposing Pedro -- and 2002). This seems to be right in the middle of All-Star appearances for a Hall of Famer, 35 pitchers have appeared in seven or more.
11. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?
No question that Schilling at his best could be the top player on a World Series team.
12. 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?
No to all.
13. Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?
Sure. I mean, he was all over the problems of steroids in baseball early on, but he contradicted his previous stance while testifying (also pronounced "turtling") in front of Congress in 2005, saying he believed there was little steroid use in baseball. Of course since he has flip-flopped again, going back to his pre-Congress stance. And there is the matter of his very large role in costing the state of Rhode Island $112 million bucks, but that has nothing to do with his Hall of Fame candidacy.
Curt Schilling is not an immortal. He's not Cy Young, Walter Johnson, Steve Carlton or Tom Seaver. But that's not the established standard in Cooperstown, if it was it would take about 90 seconds to get though the room with all the plaques. For every Christy Mathewson there are at least a half dozen in the Red Ruffing, Don Sutton, Rube Waddell group. Schilling's numbers are as good if not better than most starting pitchers in the Hall of Fame. If he had never pitched a postseason game I think he'd be a borderline candidate. Throw in the playoff record and you've got a Hall of Famer.