This article is the fifth in a series that looks at the hall of fame credentials of several current and recently retired stars. The series focuses on players who are borderline candidates or at least not sure-fire inductees – we won’t be looking at guys like Roger Clemens, Rickey Henderson, and Greg Maddux. We’ll focus on the guys who don’t quite have the “magic” numbers, but who will get some serious consideration when their time comes.
If you are not already familiar with the Black Ink, Gray Ink, HOF Standards, and HOF Monitor metrics created by Bill James, you might want to read up on them (I’ve linked to the excellent Baseball-Reference.com definitions). These are a few of the many statistics we’ll look at when considering a players Hall of Fame worthiness.
The candidate we will look at today is our first pitcher, Curt Schilling. Schilling began his career in 1988 with the Baltimore Orioles, and has also played for the Philadelphia Phillies, Arizona Diamondbacks, and currently, the Boston Red Sox during his nineteen year career. Schilling helped lead the Red Sox to a World Championship in 2004, but the 2005 season was a disaster, (32 games, 11 starts, 8-8 record, 9 saves and a 5.69 ERA), shortened by injury and featuring a stay in the bullpen to try to help fill a hole on the team.
Schilling, despite starting the season at 39 years old, appears to be proving he still has something left in the tank. He started the 2006 season with a record of 5-1 in 7 starts with a 3.02 ERA. Will this apparent return to form hold up for the rest of the season and beyond? Will it be enough to garner Schilling a place in the Hall of Fame after his career is over?
To start to draw conclusions about Schilling’s HOF chances, first let’s look at his career statistics going into the 2006 season:
Schilling’s career has taken a non-traditional path…for example, he has been traded five times in his career, a high number for a player who has put up numbers that consider Hall of Fame consideration. At age 30, his career record sat at only 52-52. He has made most of his case for Hall of Fame consideration in the years since his 30th birthday. During those years, he has put up a record of 125-68, a .648 winning percentage.
Another interesting tidbit about Schilling (although it has no bearing on his Hall of Fame case) is that he is one of only nine major league ballplayers to be born in the state of Alaska. He is the all time win leader for the state, and has appeared in more major league games than any other Alaska native. Surprisingly, 5 of the 9 major leaguers EVER from the state of Alaska were active in 2005 – pitchers Schilling, Chad Bentz, Shawn Chacon, Dave Williams, and DH Josh Phelps.
Heading into the 2006 season, Schilling sported a career record of 192-131 (.594 winning percentage) with a 3.40 ERA. That ERA is an impressive 0.94 below the league ERA for Schilling’s career. A three time 20 game winner, Schilling has twice led his league in that category. With 2,832 career strikeouts, good for 16th all time, it appears that if Schilling can stay healthy in 2006, he could pass 3,000 for his career by years end. Schilling has twice led his league in strikeouts. He has 3 seasons of 300 or more strikeouts, and has finished in the top 5 in his league a total of seven times.
When healthy, Schilling has been a workhorse. He had led the league in games started three times (and finished second once more), innings pitched twice (and top 3 three other times), and complete games four times (and top five six other times).
Schilling has been an all star six times, and while never winning a Cy Young award, he finished second 3 times, and fourth once. He has never led the league in ERA, but has finished second twice.
Schilling has led the league in strikeout to walk ratio four straight seasons (and finished in the top five four other times). At 4.29 to 1, his K/BB ratio ranks 3rd all time for pitchers with over 1,000 innings pitched, behind only Pedro Martinez and 19th century pitcher Tommy Bond. Schilling has finished in the top five in strikeouts per nine innings pitched six times. His career 8.77 K/9 IP ranks 7th all time for pitchers with over 1,000 starting pitchers. Schilling has finished in the top five in his league in shutouts seven times.
As great as Schilling has been in the regular season, he has saved his best work for the playoffs. Schilling, who has played for three World Series teams (two World Champions), has started 15 total playoff games in his career. In those 15 games, he sports an impressive 8-2 record and a 2.06 ERA. With 104 strikeouts and only 22 walks in 109.3 innings pitched and an average of over 7 IP per start, Schilling really brought his “A” game when it counted most. If you subtract Schilling’s start in Game 1 of the ALCS in 2004, in which he went three innings and allowed 6 runs, his career postseason numbers get even more impressive.
Schilling was the MVP of the NLCS in 1993, and co-MVP of the 2001 World Series (with Randy Johnson). In 2004, after an unusually short start in game one vs. the Yankees, Schilling famously had a tendon in his injured ankle surgically re-attached to allow him to pitch in game six, with Boston facing elimination. With blood soaking through his sock, Schilling threw 7 innings, allowing only one run and getting the win. He had the tendon re-attached again before his World Series start in game 2. He went out and won again, going six innings and allowing only one run. The risky surgery probably cost Schilling a healthy 2005 season, but his gutsy performance in the 2004 postseason cemented his reputation as a big game pitcher. That kind of performance on such a big stage will not be soon forgotten by fans and hall of fame voters.
What are the knocks against Schilling as a potential Hall of Fame inductee? The first is durability. Despite being in his 19th season, Schilling has only made 30 or more starts in a single season six times (plus one season of 29), all but once after his 30th birthday. He has surpassed 200 innings pitched in a total of eight seasons.
A slow start to his career…he threw a total of less than 25 innings combined in his first two seasons and didn’t become a starter until part way through his 5th season…have hurt Schilling’s career totals somewhat. He has less than 200 wins, although he should surpass that number this season barring a major injury. Despite an impressive career W-L percentage (.594), he has only had 8 seasons in his 18 in which he accumulated a winning record.
How do these knocks affect Schilling’s candidacy? To determine this, we’ll next do a comparison of his career vs. those of pitchers already inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Hall of Fame Comparison
There are currently sixty three pitchers in baseball’s Hall of Fame. For the purpose of this comparison, I removed three of them from consideration – Babe Ruth (who compiled 94 wins with a 2.28 ERA, but is obviously known more for his hitting), Satchel Paige (28-31 for his MLB career with a 3.29 ERA, but in for his Negro League exploits), and Bobby Wallace (a turn of the century pitcher, hitter, manager, umpire, and scout in for his overall contributions).
As of this writing, Schilling has 197 career wins (including 5 so far in 2006). He has said that he’d like to pitch through 2007, so for some statistics, I have given both an “actual” rank, and a “projected” final ranking. So, let’s take a look at where Schilling’s career numbers would rank among those sixty pitchers.
Schilling currently has 197 wins, and if he wins 12 games in each 2006 and 2007 (a fairly conservative estimate), his final total could be 221. The 197 wins rank ahead of nine current members of the Hall of Fame, and ties with Dennis Eckersley and Dazzy Vance. Eckersley is in for his combined career as a starter and closer, and Vance is a decent comparison for Schilling at this point.
Vance is actually number two on Schilling’s “most similar pitchers”, with a respectable score of 906. Vance, who played in a total of sixteen seasons from the late teens to the mid thirties, compiled a career record of 197-140 (.585 winning percentage) with an ERA of 3.24, and an ERA+ of 125. Schilling is currently 197-132 (.599 winning percentage) with an ERA of 3.40 and an ERA+ of 128. We’ll look a bit closer at this comparison when we talk about the Jamesian metrics.
Assuming Schilling wins those two dozen additional games before he hangs ’em up, and finishes with 221 wins, he’d pass eight more to rank ahead of a total of seventeen Hall of Fame pitchers. That would place him three wins behind the likes of Jim Bunning and Catfish Hunter.
So, while Schilling’s career win totals aren’t gaudy due to his slow start, they are well within acceptable range for a Hall of Fame inductee.
Schilling’s winning percentage is currently .599, which would rank him in the middle of the pack for Hall of Fame starters, behind 27 pitchers. Walter Johnson finished with a .599 winning percentage, and above him on the list are Stan Coveleski (.602), Tom Seaver (.603), and Tim Keefe (19th century, .603). For reference, Whitey Ford has the highest career winning percentage among pitchers in the hall, with .690. Also, for reference, current pitcher (and very probable future hall inductee) Tom Glavine currently has a winning percentage of an even. 600.
So, Schilling’s career winning percentage is certainly impressive, better than more than half of the pitchers already in the Hall of Fame.
ERA and ERA+
Schilling’s career ERA is 3.40, a bit high for a Hall of Fame pitcher, indeed ranking ahead of only eight current inductees. ERA doesn’t tell the whole story here, though, as the era a pitcher plays in effects his ERA quite a bit. ERA+ is a statistic that compares a pitcher’s ERA to the league average for the years in which they played. An “average” pitcher would have an ERA+ of 100. Schilling’s career ERA plus going into 2006 was 128. That would rank behind only eighteen Hall of Fame starters for best of all time, and only seven pitchers in the hall have an ERA+ of over 135. The highest ERA+ for a current Hall of Famer is 148, by Lefty Grove. Pedro Martinez, who is active but a definite future inductee, is the all time leader, with an amazing ERA+ of 166.
As mentioned earlier, Schilling’s 2832 strikeouts entering 2006 ranked him 16th of all time. Through his first seven starts in 2006, he has struck out 45, giving him a total of 2,877, which is behind only nine current hall of fame pitcher’s career totals.
It is worth noting that four active pitchers (Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, and Pedro Martinez) rank ahead of Schilling in career strikeouts.
Noted baseball writer Bill James has developed a number of systematic approaches to help determine if a player is a likely or deserving of Hall of Fame induction. Let’s take a look at what they say about Schilling’s candidacy.
Black Ink is a measure of how often a player has led his league in a statistical major category. It is weighted so that the more important categories are worth more points. Schilling’s score is 40, which is actually the average for a Hall of Fame pitcher. This ties him for 35th place all time. Considering that Schilling is pitching in the post-expansion era, where there are more players and teams, a Black Ink score that high is especially impressive. The score ranks him 5th among active pitchers, behind the same four he trails in career strikeouts.
Gray Ink is a measure of how often a player ranks in the top ten leaders in his league in major categories. It is basically the Black Ink score extended to include times that the player finished 2nd through 10th on the leader boards. Schilling’s score here is 195, tied for 42nd all time. An average Hall of Fame pitcher has a score of 185. Schilling is 6th among active pitchers in this category, behind the big four from above, plus Mike Mussina.
HOF Standards attempt to measure the overall value of a player’s career, not just the peak value. Schilling scores a 43.0 here, his only metric below that of an average Hall of Fame pitcher, who turns in a score of 50. The score is still good for a tie for 57th place all time, and seventh among current pitchers.
HOF Standards attempts to determine how likely (not how deserving) a player is to be elected to the Hall of Fame. A score of 100 is a player who will get strong consideration, with a score of 130 or over denoting a strong candidate. Schilling’s score of 151.0 puts him well within the range of a probable Hall of Fame inductee. The score is good for a tie for 41st all time, and 7th among active pitchers.
Impressively, three of the four James metrics suggest that Schilling is a deserving and likely Hall of Fame inductee. The third is close enough to that of an average Hall of Fame pitcher to suggest he belongs, as well.
We have seen how Schilling compares to players already in the Hall of Fame, and to James’ objective metrics. How does he compare to his peers, those pitchers still playing today? There are several pitchers currently active who I would consider to be sure-fire future Hall of Fame inductees. Amazingly, while all currently active, they also make up probably the only starting pitchers whose careers began after 1980 that are definite Hall of Fame material. This elite group, in my opinion contains Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and Tom Glavine.
At this point, you’re probably asking “If there are five active pitchers who are better Hall of Fame candidates than Schilling, why are we even considering him?” I’ll admit five active pitchers who are “better cases” seem like a lot. But when you take into consideration that these are the “best cases” for the last 25 years (1980-2005) and likely the only starting pitchers from that era with a better chance of induction, it changes things. Schillings being the 6th best starting pitching candidate in the last quarter century makes him still very much someone we should consider.
Now, is Schilling the best candidate after the “big five”? Let’s look at some similar pitchers who were contemporaries to Schilling, some still active and some recently retired, to find out.
Using similarity scores, David Cone is listed as Schilling’s “most similar” pitcher, with a score of 914. Going into 2006, Cone is a good comparison for Schilling. He has 194 wins and a slightly better winning percentage than Schilling. His 3.46 ERA and 120 ERA+ scores are also fairly close to Schilling’s career numbers. Schilling had more strikeouts, but both have excellent strikeout/9 ratios. Unlike Schilling, Cone won a Cy Young award, in 1994, and he won 20 games twice to Schilling’s three times.
At first glance, his career does look like an excellent comparison for Schilling’s. Two things separate the two careers, however. Schilling’s career is ongoing, meaning he should and will add to his career totals, while Cone retired after the 2003 season. Schilling’s ability to reach and exceed 200 wins and 3,000 strikeouts are very important to his hall of fame chances.
Additionally, when one looks at their Jamesian metrics, it becomes clear that Schilling is the stronger candidate. Schilling’s and Cone’s scores, respectively, are: Black Ink: 40-19, Gray Ink: 195-165, HOF Standards: 43-39, HOF Monitor: 151-103. Schilling beats Cone across the board, at times by a large margin.
Cone would not be the worst pitcher in the Hall of Fame if elected, and he will probably get some consideration, especially from the Veterans Committee if not many starters from this era get inducted, but it is clear that Schilling is the stronger of the two candidates.
Schilling’s number two “most similar” pitcher by similarity scores is Dazzy Vance (906), who as we discussed earlier is a Hall of Famer. Number three on the list is Dwight Gooden (902). Gooden’s story is a sad and interesting one. His first 5 seasons or so are among the best you’ll find for a young pitcher. His 1985 season still stands as one of the best ever. Unfortunately, drugs and other issues took their toll on Gooden, and his once promising career was derailed. His career line of 194-112 with a 3.51 ERA (110 ERA+) don’t tell the story of how good his early years were, or how sad his later years were. Since retiring, Gooden has been in repeated trouble with the law. He won’t be in the Hall of Fame, but is an interesting story and a warning about the dangers of drug use.
With a score of 897, Kevin Brown is tied for 4th on Schilling’s “most similar” pitchers list. He’s a good comparision for Schilling, since they’re careers covered almost exactly the same time period. Brown, who retired after the 2005 season, posted a 211-144 record and a career 3.28 ERA (128 ERA+). Brown had one 20-win season, was a six-time all-star, and led his league in ERA twice, wins once, and shutouts once. He had a nice peak, not one with high win totals, but with nice ERA numbers. His winning percentage, win totals, and ERA+ are all similar to Schilling’s career numbers.
So, is he as good or better a candidate than Schilling? Probably not, although he may get some consideration when he becomes eligible. His career postseason numbers (5-5, 4.30 ERA in 14 starts) are mediocre when compared to Schilling’s. He didn’t have many big win seasons, winning 20 once, and 18 twice. He signed a huge contract with the Dodgers in 1998 and had some injury issues that stuck with him through the end of his career. Schilling bests him in all the Jamesian metrics: Black Ink: 40-19, Gray Ink 195-166, HOF Standards 43-41, and HOF Monitor 151.0-93.0.
I’d rank Schilling slightly ahead of Brown as far as how deserving they are for the Hall of Fame. Brown will get some consideration, but I think Schilling will go in first.
Tied with Brown as Schilling’s 4th “most similar” pitcher is Jimmy Key. Key’s career spanned from 1984 to 1998, so he had enough years in common with Schilling to be worth a look. Key had a career record of 186-117 for an impressive .614 winning percentage to go along with a 3.51 ERA (122 ERA+). Key, a four time all star, twice finished second in the Cy Young voting. He led his league in ERA once and wins once. Key never won 20 games in any season, however, topping out at 18 (once) and seventeen (twice). His career playoff line is a solid 5-3 in 14 games (11 starts), with a 3.15 ERA, but he can’t match Schilling on the “playoff heroics”.
Taking a look at his Jamesian metrics, it’s clear that while Key was a nice pitcher, he’s nowhere close to Schilling territory, or to the Hall of Fame. Schilling beats him handily in all four metrics: Black Ink 40-15, Gray Ink 195-96, HOF Standards 43-33, and HOF Monitor 151- 66.
Key had neither the peak nor the longevity to turn a nice career into a Hall of Fame one, and Schilling obviously is a stronger Hall of Fame candidate than Key.
The next pitcher we’ll look at is Mike Mussina. He ties for 8th on Schilling’s “most similar pitchers” list, with a score of 888, but I wanted to look at him because he actually has more career wins than Schilling.
Mussina has a career record of 224-127 (.638 winning percentage) with a 3.64 career ERA (125 ERA+). A five time all star and six time gold glove winner, he has led the league in wins once, and finished two other times. He has never won 20 games in any season, although he has five seasons of 18 or more. His career record is a solid 7-7 in 21 games (20 starts) with a 3.30 ERA.
A look at the Jamesian metrics shows Schilling leading in Black Ink (40-14), trailing Mussina in Gray Ink (195-215), and HOF Standards (43-46), but leading in HOF Monitor (151-102). Mussina is off to a great start this year, and if he can keep it up, he’ll make a strong candidate. He’s hurt by not having a lot of “league leading” numbers, never having won 20 games, and not having any other major “big news” items. He’s had a steady, impressive career, however, and if he can win 250 games and keep his ERA around it’s current level, he stands a chance of getting elected.
Due to his more impressive peak, more times as a league leader, and postseason statistics, I think Schilling is currently a better candidate than Mussina, but that certainly can change in time.
The next tier of pitchers who could be considered peers of Schilling who had careers of similar length to Schilling put up some nice numbers, but probably aren’t quite Hall of Fame caliber. A few pitchers in this category include David Wells (227-143, .614 WP, but 4.06 ERA and only 1 20-win season), Kenny Rogers (190-131, .592 WP, but 4.21 ERA and only no 20 game winnings seasons), and Jamie Moyer (205-152, .574 WP, two 20-win seasons, but 4.15 ERA and Black Ink score of 3). While these pitchers are clearly below the minimum threshold for Hall of Fame induction (even though Wells and Rogers are still active), they are useful when looking at Schilling’s candidacy as they help define the line of “what makes a hall of famer” for the era in which Schilling pitched.
As is often the case with a player who is a borderline Hall of Fame candidate, the intangibles can make a big difference in whether someone is elected or not. What can we learn about Schilling from looking at the intangibles and what do they do for his candidacy?
Schilling has long been known as an outspoken player. He seems to always have a comment on what’s going on. In an era where most players feed the media only tired clichés, some people love a guy who speaks his mind. Others find it rather annoying, and accuse outspoken players of pandering to the media or just liking to see their name in print. Both sides made solid arguments and have a right to their opinion. So, depending on where you stand on the issue, this is either a slight plus or slight demerit for Schilling.
Schilling has won several impressive awards during his career, which can only help his case. He won the Lou Gehrig Memorial Award in 1995, which is given to “the Major League baseball player who both on and off the field best exemplifies the character of Lou Gehrig”. In 2001, the same year he shared in the World Series MVP award, he won the Hutch Award, given to “the Major League ballplayer that best exemplifies the fighting spirit and competitive desire of the late Fred Hutchinson”, and the Roberto Clemente Award, given to the player who “combines outstanding skills on the field with devoted work in the community”.
Schilling is very involved in a number of charitable endeavors. Curt’s Pitch for ALS, works to raise awareness and funds for the fight against ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The Shade Foundation works to fight melanoma (skin cancer) “through the education of children and the community in the prevention and detection of skin cancer and the promotion of sun safety.”
Few players are as outspoken or work as hard in charitable endeavors than Schilling, and while the outspokenness bothers some, it keeps Schilling’s name out there. It seems quite obvious that intangibles can only help Schilling’s Hall of Fame candidacy.
So, what can we determine from all this about Schilling’s chance of making the baseball Hall of Fame? If he retired today, he’d be a very strong candidate. He’s arguably the pitcher with the 6th strongest Hall of Fame argument in the last 25 years. If he can put up another solid year or two (he says he plans to retire after the 2007 season), he can only help his case for induction. In Schilling’s case, peak value, postseason dominance, and intangibles help make up for a slow start, in this writer’s opinion. Will Schilling go into the Hall in his first year of eligibility? A lot depends on who, if any, among his peers come eligible the same year. First year induction isn’t out of the question, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Schilling took a few years on the ballot to gain election.