Laying out Curt Schilling's HOF credentials
January, 5, 2013
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com
Jay Drowns/Getty ImagesCurt Schilling went 11-2 in his postseason career, including this Game 2 win in the 2007 World Series.Maybe it was because I was spoiled by watching Pedro Martinez, the greatest pitcher I ever hope to see.
Maybe it was because I was distracted by the sideshows -- the bloody sock, the blogging, the braying.
Maybe it was because he arrived in Boston near the end of his career and the excellence he brought faded quickly, his sturdy right shoulder succumbing at last to age and two decades of punishment.
I always appreciated Curt Schilling as one of the finer practitioners of his craft. But it is only upon further review, triggered by Schilling's first appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot, that I now see him as something more -- a pitcher who is not merely a borderline candidate for the Hall but richly deserves his place in Cooperstown.
Chances are the current ESPN analyst won't be a first-ballot inductee -- too many voters will be put off by his modest victory total of 216, a number exceeded by 43 of the 59 starting pitchers already enshrined in the Hall. Only two pitchers who pitched beyond 1960 and had fewer wins, Dodgers teammates Sandy Koufax (165) and Don Drysdale (209), are Hall of Famers. Koufax went in on the first ballot; Drysdale received only 21 percent of the vote in his first year of eligibility and wasn't voted in until his 10th year on the ballot, in 1984.
But if we have learned anything in this era of more sophisticated statistical analysis, it is that a pitcher's victory total offers an incomplete, and occasionally misleading, barometer of his greatness. Schilling did his share of winning, with three seasons of 20 or more wins, including a 21-6 record in his first season in Boston, 2004.
Had he won the Cy Young Award as his league's best pitcher in any of those three seasons, his Hall case would be strengthened, but each time he finished runner-up, twice to Arizona teammate Randy Johnson, and to Johan Santana in 2004.
But consider his other achievements: He struck out 3,116 batters, which ranks 15th all time. He had five seasons of 200 or more strikeouts, including three with at least 300. Only Johnson and Nolan Ryan have had more seasons of 300-plus K's.
His control was exceptional. Only four pitchers have struck out batters 3,000 or more times and walked them fewer than 1,000 times: Greg Maddux, Fergie Jenkins and Martinez, plus Schilling, whose 711 walks is the lowest tally among the four. His strikeout-to-walk ratio, a category in which he led his league five times, is the best in post-1900 history: 4.383.
From 2001 to 2004, Schilling had a 74-28 record and a 3.11 ERA, which was 50 percent better than the league average in that span. He struck out 1,006 batters and walked just 139, a phenomenal ratio of 7.24 K's per walk. He averaged 9.9 K's per nine innings in that span while averaging 1.4 walks, and his WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) was 1.037. At the height of Koufax's career (1963-66), the great Dodgers left-hander averaged fewer K's (9.3) and more walks (2), and, although his ERA was a vastly superior 1.86, that was 72 percent better than the league average (adjusted for ballpark), coming as it did in an era of less prolific offenses.
Am I saying Schilling was Koufax? Of course not. But if the brilliance of Koufax's best years catapulted him into the Hall, so then should Schilling deserve a similar hearing. He finished in the top 10 in pitchers' WAR (wins above replacement) seven times, including back-to-back seasons of 8.5 in 2001 and 8.3 in 2002. His ERA-plus (adjusted to league average and ballpark) was 40 percent or better than the league average six times, and his career ERA-plus of 128 would rank him 18th among Hall of Fame starters, better than Seaver, Gibson, Palmer, Marichal and Feller, among others.
The clincher in Schilling's Hall-worthy career is his postseason record: 11-2 and a 2.23 ERA in 19 starts. He set a single postseason record with 56 strikeouts in 2001. Five times he pitched in games in which his team was facing playoff elimination; his team won all five times, including, yes, the bloody sock game; his record was 4-0 with a 1.37 ERA in those games.
As a longtime member of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, I have a Hall vote. Schilling's name was on my ballot. He deserves his day in Cooperstown.