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Friday, September 17, 2004

How Many More "Good" Seasons Does He Need . . .

to make the Hall of Fame?

After this year, probably three.

Curt Schilling won his 20th game the other night, and he's won 20 in 3 of his last 4 seasons. ESPN published a stat recently which indicated that Juan Marichal holds the dubious record of having the most 20-win seasons without having won a Cy Young Award. His problems: Sandy Koufax was always the pitcher to whom he was compared, and he hit Johnny Roseboro over the head with a baseball bat in a game against the Dodgers. Ultimately, his prowess on the mound earned him his rightful place in the Hall of Fame.

This year, Schilling's fate is no different from seasons past. He's having an excellent season, but Buster Olney wrote in today's that he believes the Cy is Johan Santana's to lose. Which would mean that for as good as he is, Schilling could be a runner up. Again.

Which leads to a different question. Is he a Hall of Famer now?


His career record is 183-123, he's 37 years old, and he has good stats, that's for sure. But he definitely needs to top 225 wins. And it wouldn't hurt if the BoSox have a post-season that gives him the chance for the limelight. Especially if it means winning several key games in the post-season, including, perhaps, the World Series clincher. Sure, that's a bit old hat for him, as he did the same in Arizona, but taking the title of Baseball's Number One Curse Breaker? The King of New England? That and about 42 more career wins just might do it, especially with his winning percentage.

There are only 66 pitchers in the Hall of Fame. That's a very small number. Some have unbelievable numbers, but many others had career numbers not that different from what Schilling's could be when he decides to hang them up.

So let's compare a few of them. In doing so, I'm not going to compare Curt Schilling with some of the best of all time, such as Cy Young, Lefty Grove (whose numbers are so great but who gets overlooked when people talk about the 5 greatest pitchers of all time), Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson and Steve Carlton.

I'll start at a different level of the Hall of Fame. Because there are levels within this pantheon, as not all Hall of Fame pitchers are as Hall-of-Fame-like as others. So here goes:

Remember Herb Pennock? Of course you do, if you played Strat-o-Matic or APBA, and the old-timers versions at that. "The Squire of Kennett Square" (Pennsylvania), Pennock pitched for both the '27 Yankees and the great Philadelphia A's teams of his generation. Pitched in 22 Major League seasons. Career record? 241-162, for a .598 winning percentage. Career ERA: 3.59. Won 20 games twice in his career. Pitched for better teams than Curt Schilling. Much better.

How about Eppa Rixey? Pitched for the Phillies and the Reds, with a career record of 266-251, with a 3.15 career ERA. Rixey didn't pitch for great teams (the '15 Phillies got to the World Series), and he did win 20 games in a season 4 times in his career. Good pitcher? Yes. Great? Hard to tell. Will Schilling be at his level if he has 3 or 4 more good seasons? Probably. Maybe even higher.

Jim Bunning? I'm still not convinced that Bunning made it in solely on his career record and that his being a United States Senator (and perhaps an early stalwart in the players' union) didn't have something to do with it. Bunning was the best of the second-tier pitchers of his generation. He wasn't Gibson, he wasn't Tom Seaver, Juan Marichal, Sandy Koufax or Fergie Jenkins. Good? You bet. A Hall of Famer? You decide. A career record of 224-184, for a .549 winning percentage. A career ERA of 3.27 in an ERA when parks were more spacious and the average batting averages were lower than they are now. Much lower.

And how about the Robin to Koufax's Batman, Don Drysdale? Career record of 209-166, for a winning percentage of .557. Career ERA of 2.95, but remember, if you had an ERA of 3.50 back in the late 1950's and 1960's you were a candidate for banishment to the buses of the bush leagues. Drysdale won 20 games only twice, and the Dodgers usually were in the first division if not first place when Drysdale played. He was a fierce pitcher at times, loved to throw inside (the writers, so many of them, wrote that if Koufax only threw inside the way Drysdale did, he wouldn't have lost a game) but he just might have made the Hall because the Dodgers back then didn't have much offense, and the voters must have figured that there was a great player other than Sandy Koufax who helped drive the bus. There wasn't. Good, yes (like Bunning)? Hall of Famer? You make the call. That said, he's in the Hall, and, therefore, should be used as a measuring stick of sorts for future candidates. (I can hear Bill James howling now that there has to be a more serious measuring stick for Hall admission than Don Drysdale).

Catfish Hunter was one of the best pitchers of the 1970's. I don't want you to get the impression that I'm knocking these Hall of Fame pitchers excessively; I'm not making any arguments that have not been made before. And I do believe that Hunter belongs in the Hall of Fame. He was one of the most dominating pitchers in the 1970's, and he got it done without much fuss for some championship teams in Oakland and New York. Career record: 224-166, for a .574 winning percentage and a career ERA of 3.26. Won 20 games or more 5 years in a row. Outstanding career on great teams.

There are others with comparable numbers, or at least numbers that will be comparable to Curt Schilling's if Schilling can put together a few more good seasons. My point is that the Hall of Fame most definitely is within Curt Schilling's reach. He's had a flaky career in terms of how his stats fall. It took him many years of professional baseball (and a wakeup lecture by Roger Clemens) to jump start his career (with a silver lining that he probably didn't throw too many pitchers before he was 25, meaning that his arm probably has more life in it at 37 than Doc Gooden's had in his at 30). And he's pitched for some bad teams and has missed some time owing to injury along the way (such as last season). And all that said, his career winning percentage is just about .600. His career ERA is 3.34. Not only did he pitch well in the post-season in 2001 with Arizona, he also was lights out with the Phillies against the Blue Jays in 1993.

I'll leave it to all of the websites, bloggers, actuaries and statisticians to tell me whether from a comparative decades' standpoing Schilling warrants inclusion in the Hall and whether his numbers stand up not only to existing Hall of Famers, but to his current peers. My bet is that they do.

If you play the game of "who would you rather have right now", who would you take over Schilling? Forget potential. Forget age. Let's talk about the here and now.

Greg Maddux? No, not now. He's a five-inning pitcher in 2004.

Tom Glavine? No, not now, and probably not over the course of a great career that should land Glavine in the Hall of Fame. The ultimate in crafty lefties? You bet. Today? Probably kicking himself that he left Atlanta for the steamship Titanic that is the New York Mets. Hitters don't fear Tom Glavine the way they do Curt Schilling.

Roger Clemens? Very close call. But, then again, Clemens well could be one of the five best pitchers of all time. Edge to Clemens, but, then again, with the exception of another lead-pipe cinch for the Hall of Fame, Randy Johnson, name another pitcher over whom, the way he has pitched this year, Roger Clemens doesn't have the edge? You can't.

Jason Schmidt? No, not now, because his performance has tailed off a bit since his injury earlier this season.

Kerry Wood? Mark Prior? They're not at full strength. Three years from now, pehaps. But not right this moment. And Prior is getting hit especially hard.

Mark Mulder? Tim Hudson? Mulder was up there for a while, but his ERA is much higher. And let's see the A's win a post-season series, while we're at it. (Yes, I'm being hypercritical, but when you're talking about the elite hurlers, it's harder to find distinguishing factors).

Johan Santana? Maybe. But he hasn't pitched in the clutch the way Schilling has. He hasn't had the opportunities, true, but Schilling has, and he's made the most of them.

Pedro Martinez? Close. Schilling's big-game record is better. (If you check out Hall of Famers' stats, check out Sandy Koufax's and Dizzy Dean's for careers that are similar to Pedro's). I'd take Schilling in the big game.

Randy Johnson? Let's give the edge to the Big Unit, who's pitched much better this season than his record otherwise would suggest and who is pitching now for one of the worst teams in baseball. A first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Mike Mussina? Orlando Hernandez (he is pitching great, is super-hot, but will he hold up)? Javier Vazquez? Fuhgeddaboutit. And Schilling, in the Bronx? He doesn't scare much.

And he's "only" 37 (he'll turn 38 in November). No pitcher prepares better for an opponent than Schilling. He needs to stay healthy (to his credit, he's in much better shape than he was last year), but let's say he pitches until he's 42, and let's say he goes 60-35 in that time frame, with an ERA of about 3.35. Let's say he has one or two more 20 win seasons during that time. That will give him a career record of 247-158, and that makes him a Hall of Famer.

At least in my book.

And perhaps that of everyone else.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that if Schilling performs as you speculate he might, he belongs in the Hall.

There are several guys in the Hall of Fame who probably don't belong there. Most of these (Eppa "Jeptha" Rixey, Travis Jackson, etc.)were voted in earlier years when there were fewer players from which to draw. I don't think that the standard for admission should be having a career better than the worst guy already in the Hall of Fame.

It's also tough to compare statistically across eras, as you note.

My view is that you need to be generally considered one of the top few players at your position for a decade or more (with allowances for times when there is a surplus at a position, like center fielders in the 1950s). Because 40%+ of a major league roster are pitchers, I would include a few more pitchers in that analysis.

That's why Bunning is on the edge. His other contributions to the game, including no-hitters in both leagues, are probably what put him over the top.

I think Schilling is one of the top several starters over the past ten years, behind Maddux, Glavine, Pedro, Johnson and Clemens and maybe Mussina. With another few seasons he may be solidly in that group.


9:40 AM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

I agree with TIGOBLUE that the standard should not be so long as you're better than the worst in the Hall at your position, you're in. Otherwise, think of all the shortstops who'd be in the Hall thanks to the admission of Rabbit Maranville and Joe Tinker. That said, Travis Jackson, I believe, was admitted by the Veterans Committee within the past 10 years or so (he did hit .295 for his career, I think). It used to be that the Veterans Committee members could get their buddies in; today, it doesn't look like they can get anyone in. Schilling is one of the top pitchers of his era, but it remains to be seen if he can put up the numbers for the Hall. And, it looks like this year Johan Santana will win the AL Cy Young Award, once more making Schilling a runner up.

7:59 PM  

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