Under The Radar

Well, not enough of the season has transpired for me to comment extensively on it. So I thought it might be fun to look at a player’s potential Hall of Fame resume. We’re blessed with seeing some hurlers who will go down in history as among baseball’s all-time greats: Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and Greg Maddux. Among these four superstars are 19 Cy Young Awards. There is one hurler who has flown just under the radar of our fab four that has quietly put together a potential Hall of Fame career. What’s fascinating about this is that at age 30, this pitcher didn’t look even remotely as a Cooperstown candidate–after all, he was just a .500 hurler (52-52) and was coming off a 9-10, 3.19 ERA season.

Hardly jumps out at you, does it? His resume just screamed “journeyman.”

Since he turned 30 is another story. All he’s done is go 132-71, 3.24 ERA (lg. ERA: 4.37), struck out 1945 hitters (while walking just 347!), pitched two teams — one in each league — to a World Series Championship (and won a World Series co-MVP), enjoyed three 20-win seasons, was a Cy Young Award runner-up three times in four years, was a back-to-back The Sporting News Pitcher of the Year winner in 2001-02, and will be forever remembered as the man who helped end the Boston Red Sox World Series drought while basically pitching on one leg.

Of course we’re discussing Curt Schilling.

In his book The Politics of Glory, Bill James introduced another way of looking at a player’s Hall of Fame case: “The Ken Keltner List.” It’s a series of subjective questions about a player’s accomplishments and recognition during his career. The questions are as follows, with answers as they pertain to Schilling:

  • Was he ever regarded as the best pitcher in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best pitcher in baseball?
  • No, although it should be noted that his contemporaries will go down in history as among the best ever (Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux). It should be noted however that he was The Sporting News Pitcher of the Year in 2001 and 2002.

  • Was he the best pitcher on his team?
  • Yes. The 1993 Philadelphia Phillies and possibly the 2004 Red Sox being the most notable.

  • Was he the best pitcher in his league?
  • No, but from 2001-2004 he was runner-up for the Cy Young Award three times.

  • Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?
  • Yes: 1993, 2001, 2002 and 2004.

  • Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime?
  • He’s 132-71, 3.24 ERA (lg. ERA: 4.37) with almost 2000 (1945) K since the year he turned 30 — so yes.

  • If he retired today, would he be the best pitcher in baseball not in the Hall of Fame?
  • No. I’d give that nod to Bert Blyleven. He’d be neck and neck for second with Tommy Bridges.

  • Are most of the players who have comparable triple-crown stats in the Hall of Fame?
  • No, but he has a few years to get there.

  • Are the player’s totals of career approximate value and offensive wins and losses similar to those of other Hall of
    Famers?
  • Sandy Koufax and Dizzy Dean — so yes

  • Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his
    statistics?
  • He’d probably have more wins had he played on some better teams. In 1992 he pitched 226.1 IP with an ERA+ of 150 and was 14-11. In 1996, Schilling threw 183.1 IP with an ERA+ of 138 and was 9-10. In 1998 he tossed 268.2 IP with an ERA+ of 134 and finished 15-14. In 2000, Schilling pitched 210.1 IP with an ERA+ of 124 and ended up 11-12, and in 2003 he threw 168 IP and posted an ERA+ of 159 and finished the year 8-9. That’s five seasons with ERA+’s of 150, 138, 134, 124, and 159 and a won-loss record of just 57-56.

  • How many Cy Young-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win a Cy Young Award? If not, how many times was he close?
  • Four top five finishes, three of which was a runner-up (2001, 2002 and 2004).

  • How many All-Star type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most other players at his position who made he Hall of Fame play in a comparable amount of games or have a comparable amount of All-Star seasons?
  • He’s been named to six All-Star teams, a good total for a pitcher.

  • If this man was the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?
  • Yes.

Schilling does well on various HOF tests (thanks to the good folks at Baseball Reference):

Black Ink: Pitching – 40 (Average HOFer ~ 40)

Grey Ink: Pitching – 192 (Average HOFer ~ 185)

HOF Standards: Pitching – 42.0 (Average HOFer ~ 50)

HOF Monitor: Pitching – 151.0 (Likely HOFer > 100)

Interestingly, despite doing well on these tests, he totally tanks when you compare his career to his top 10 most similar pitchers….

1. Jimmy Key (914) 
2. David Cone (912) 
3. John Candelaria (910) 
4. Dave McNally (904) 
5. Bret Saberhagen (903) 
6. Mike Cuellar (902) 
7. Mike Mussina (902) 
8. Dazzy Vance (899) * 
9. Art Nehf (898) 
10. Dwight Gooden (897) 

Only one Hall-of-Famer in the bunch — Dazzy Vance. Of course, the comparison in stats doesn’t adjust for parks or era, so we’ll toss Schilling in with the nine non-HOFers and see how he stacks up using two measurements that do–adj ERA+ and RSAA.

Player              adj ERA+   RSAA
1. Curt Schilling       131     327
2. Jimmy Key            122     210
3. David Cone           120     228
4. John Candelaria      114     134
5. Dave McNally         106      63
6. Bret Saberhagen      126     241
7. Mike Cuellar         109      92
8. Mike Mussina         127     291
9. Art Nehf             105      42
10. Dwight Gooden       110     105

We see that Schilling is clearly the best of the lot. The closest is probably Mussina who is building a Hall of Fame resume of his own. Schilling has several clear advantages over Mussina above and beyond his numbers. Schilling has had three 20-win seasons, Mussina has yet to win 20. Schilling has the high profile October heroics including the distinction of ending the Red Sox eight plus decades of futility.

Other factors in Schilling’s favor include the second best K/BB ratio in baseball history (qualifier: minimum 2000 innings pitched) just behind Pedro Martinez (4.31 to 4.30) and is sixth all-time for K/9 IP (qualifier: minimum 2000 innings pitched). Another entry on his docket is a trio of 300 K seasons. The only other 20-21st century pitchers to accomplish this are Randy Johnson (six), Nolan Ryan (six), and Sandy Koufax (three).

One thing that jumped out at me while going over this was when I checked RSAA among pitchers since expansion is that seven of the top ten in this category are still active; Mike Mussina checked in at eleventh. It should give you some idea of what we’ve been privileged to witness since the 1980′s.

The top 10:

1.  Roger Clemens    645       
2.  Greg Maddux      553       
3.  Randy Johnson    511      
4.  Pedro Martinez   477       
5.  Tom Seaver       361          
6.  Bert Blyleven    344          
7.  Curt Schilling   327          
8.  Kevin Brown      321         
9.  Jim Palmer       316           
10. Tom Glavine      294 

Personally, I feel Schilling is already there and would feel comfortable with him in the Hall of Fame. The only number where he might be lacking in the minds of voters is career wins. Schilling is at 184. He’ll be 38 this year so unless he’s victimized by a career ending injury, Schilling should reach 200 (not to mention 3000 K). The Red Sox ace also has the Hall-of-Fame “intangibles” (read: fame) due to his performance in the 2004 ALCS and World Series.

I wonder which cap he’d have on his plaque?

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