You Said It

Well, I asked for it.

Due to some personal issues that demanded my attention this week, I was unable to answer the flood of e-mails I received on the Schilling vs. Smoltz column, so I decided to give my readers (I have so many! Who knew so many intelligent people actually read my stuff?) this week’s column space. Sadly, I cannot post them all, so my apologies if you don’t see yours here. They all were read appreciatively.

Here are the ones I found particularly interesting:

Given how close they are, I would give it to Schilling based on one game each.

For Schilling, the bloody sock game was about as clutch (HA!) as you can get. Winning a game like that and leading the Boston freakin’ Red Sox to the championship with all that pressure carries a lot of weight. I will contrast that with Smoltz’ Jack Morris game. In game 7, Smoltz pitched incredibly, but was the one who wore out first and had less to give. If he had pulled the Jack Morris, gone out for the 10th and won the game, my vote would go to him.

I don’t think this is punishing Smoltz. I don’t hold his performance against him—he pitched remarkably well and deserves a lot of credit (and he’d get my vote next year). But for a competition that close, I feel no guilt giving the tie-breaker to the player with the bigger, better defining moment.

Mike Kantro

I do agree that such a high-profile, big-time-pressure legacy game such as that will be what puts Schilling in the Hall with a higher vote total than Smoltz.

Smoltz has 100 OPS points on Schilling at the plate. That’s got to be worth something like 50 runs over the career, which levels the RSAA and ERA races somewhat. Smoltz also has an edge in fielding.

— Archit (Archit Shah)

That certainly adds weight to overall career value, but it won’t be a large factor in the minds of the voters.

I do not know if Hall of Fame voting considers at all the quality of the team that a pitcher is on. As you point out, Smoltz was part of the Braves’ dynasty, very strong teams. Schilling, while playing on some good teams, also toiled for some very poor teams. If one were to examine each pitcher’s impact as a percent of their team’s overall wins, my guess is that Schilling would look better. Does the Hall consider that? Obviously, Steve Carlton was HOF without any consideration beyond his numbers, but when one looks at those numbers relative to the awful teams he pitched for, it is phenomenal. Your thoughts?

Michael McLaughlin

All those things are taken into consideration, but each voter will give it different weight. I feel strongly that it isn’t the “Hall Of Statistical Achievement” but the Hall of Fame. You cannot penalize some players for the quality of the teams for which they played—especially before free agency—and sometimes the numbers are all you have to go on.

However, when you consider a player with (on the cusp of) HOF stats who was part of a great team, then you have to look at his contributions to those clubs’ success. Bill James micro-analyzed Don Drysdale’s career and found that his record in big games made him less Hall-worthy.

Cute article on Hall of Fame debate, but you missed a few important factors on Schilling. He’s been a sub-.500 pitcher in almost half his seasons. His win total is very low for a 19-year pitcher. No Cy Young, but only received Cy votes four times. Never led the league in ERA.

We both agree he’s not in the Maddux-Clemens group. But is he better than Jack Morris, Tommy John, Jim Kaat and Bert Byleven? No—and none are HOFers. Smoltz, Glavine, Mussina are all above him as contemporaries.

Other than playing for the Red Sox, how is he a better pitcher than Kevin Brown, David Cone, David Wells, Kenny Rogers, Bob Welch, Jamie Moyer, Orel Hershiser? More or less, this is the group of players he fits in with. His career hasn’t substantially raised him above this group of good, solid pitchers but not HOFers. He certainly isn’t in the almost-HOF class of Kaat, Morris and John (assuming Byleven gets in eventually—he’s a tier up in any event).

Ian

A couple of things. One: “Only received Cy votes four times” doesn’t really paint a complete picture since he finished second three times in four seasons. While he never led the league in ERA, he does have 42 points of black ink. As to your other points:

Pitcher          W   L   PCT  ERA+ RSAA  IP   BB   K   WHIP
Curt Schilling  207 138 .600  127   329 3110  688 3015 1.13
Jack Morris     254 186 .577  105    78 3824 1390 2478 1.30 
Tommy John      288 231 .555  111   173 4710 1259 2245 1.28
Jim Kaat        283 237 .544  107   144 4530 1083 2461 1.26
Bert Blyleven   287 250 .534  118   344 4970 1322 3701 1.20

Unless you’re going by raw wins, I think the only one who can make a legitimate case as better than Schilling is Blyleven. We’ll have to wait and see how many innings pitched Schilling ends up with and how they affect his rate stats.

Pitcher          W   L   PCT  ERA+ RSAA  IP    BB   K   WHIP
Curt Schilling  207 138 .600  127   329 3110  688 3015  1.13
Kevin Brown     211 144 .594  127   304 3256  901 2379  1.22
David Cone      194 126 .606  120   228 2899 1137 2668  1.26
David Wells     230 148 .608  109   131 3282  677 2119  1.25
Kenny Rogers    207 138 .598  110   136 3066 1079 1850  1.39    
Bob Welch       211 146 .591  106    56 3092 1034 1969  1.27
Jamie Moyer     216 166 .565  106    92 3351  946 1922  1.31
Orel Hershiser  204 150 .576  112   124 3130 1007 2014  1.26 

The only one remotely close to Schilling here is Brown. I agree that Glavine and Smoltz are better than Schilling, but I’m going to have to look at Mussina’s numbers more closely before I decide who is better between Moose and Schilling.

Finally you wrote: “He’s been a sub-.500 pitcher in almost half his seasons,” but you have to look at those seasons:

Year  W  L ERA+
1996  9 10 138
2000 11 12 124
2003  8  9 159

There are three seasons of ace-quality pitching that resulted in a 28-31 record.

I readily admit that I’m a Red Sox fan and, as a result, cannot argue this point without clear bias. I will vote for the man who helped us finally win a World Series. However, I do believe that Curt’s 2004 postseason is among the most incredible feats of athleticism I’ve ever seen. We all remember Schilling’s bloody sock. Certainly when considering who gets to go to the HOF, stats alone won’t do. Since the two of them are so close in stats, I’d give the edge to Schilling and his bloody sock. It gives me chills just thinking about it.

James Cole

Spoken like a true fan. I’m not even a Red Sox fan and it gave me chills.

I’m not sure who I would pick, but at the end of your article, you post their “stretch run” numbers, then say that Smoltz has a better BB/9 and K/9 during that run. It sounds like you are saying Smoltz has better rates than Schilling, but based on the numbers you posted, Schilling has far better BB/9 and K/9 rates from Aug. 1 onwards. I assume, then, you mean to compare those numbers to their pre-Aug. 1 numbers, but it is hard to tell, since those aren’t posted.

Finally, you give a little extra weight to Smoltz for “amping it up” during the stretch run, but when he amps it up, those BB and K rates are still nowhere near as good as Schilling’s, even when Schilling is just his normal self or even “a bit worse.” Based on the numbers you posted, I’d take Schilling during the stretch run over Smoltz every time—it seems Schilling, when pitching at his normal rates or even a “bit worse,” is still better than Smoltz.

David Harris

Well, the “pre” numbers would be better/worse since they were taken from the final totals. If a player’s rate numbers from Aug. 1-end of season were better than his overall numbers, it stands to reason that the numbers from Opening Day-July 31 would be worse. For what it’s worth, I’d take ‘em both as my 1-2 punch.

I was going to write up a long and well-thought out e-mail to you about the Schilling vs. Smoltz article, but then it occurred to me that I should just write it out on my blog instead. I think that the two pitchers are very close, but I have to give the edge to Curt Schilling. As an A’s fan, it pains me to say that about the Red Sox pitcher, but I think I can back it up.

Here’s a link to my thoughts.

Ryan Armbrust

I highly recommend my readers click the above link—well worth your time. Glad I inspired a column—I love it when that happens with me. I couldn’t print Toby Stern’s excellent e-mail due to length, but it certainly deserves acknowledgement. Expect a discussion regarding Mussina in the very near future, Toby. You’re just going to have to trust me on Mr. Stern’s e-mail—it was a beaut.

Both will be HOFers, but Schil has the better stats—and the more heroic World Series triumphs that stand out and people won’t forget. He is the real $$ pitcher, and if he were ever to face Smoltz in a World Series matchup, he’d win the game… and cop the ring. Just my opinion.

QuickComet

Which you’re entitled to. I, for one, would love to watch that match-up.

You didn’t post the home run numbers nor did you post ERA+ for your last tally, since Schilling did have to pitch in the AL while Smoltz is in the NL. But the fact that Schilling has a) had 78 less walks, b) 68 more Ks in 10 less innings AND has done it solely as a starter while Smoltz had time in there as a reliever makes the vote go right towards Schill. ERA difference is probably due to Boston and Arizona’s stadiums and that he is in the AL. And wins means nothing at all.

Jonathan Kaplow

Well, that’s what the math whizzes here do. I’m just the token Canadian.

Talk about an impossible decision choosing between Schilling and Smoltz.

I would like to see two things before making a final decision.

What is the record of the teams they pitched for in games they did not pitch?

What are their lifetime FIP numbers?

I guess my impression is that Schilling pitched for some lousy Philly teams in the mid-90s, and overall, the Braves were a much better team than the accumulative teams that Schilling pitched on.

And then…

Following up my previous e-mail:

Smoltz career FIP 3.44, career postseason FIP 3.41.
Schilling career FIP 3.34, career postseason FIP 3.03.

Smoltz FIP-ERA= 0.17 regular season, 0.75 postseason.
Schilling FIP-ERA= -0.10 regular season, 0.97 postseason.

This would seem to support the theory that Smoltz played in front of better defenses over the course of his career.

The gap of 0.27 in FIP-ERA for regular season seems significant to me.

Shoewizard

C’mon, Shoe, you know I ain’t that smart. Get our fellow Primates to work on that. Drop a line to Chris Dial.

Personally I reckon both are HOFers, but hey, what do I know? I can tell you what the people who vote for the Hall will think, though, if they had to make this choice today.

Schilling. Why? Two hundred-plus wins, 3,000-plus strikeouts. No Cy, but second on three occasions. KNOWN as big game pitcher, great promoter of himself, very high visibility in Boston, and, of course, helped bring the title to the Sox. And let’s not forget the bloody sock!

Keith Fiertl

Pretty much my opinion.

Great article! My friend and I had a similar debate a week ago, but we threw Mike Mussina in the mix as well. I don’t see how all three will get in, even though all of them are better than a number of current Hall of Famers (Catfish Hunter, Jim Bunning, et al.).

Matt Aufman

As mentioned above, expect more on the Mussina front.

Schilling all the way.

1. Games before Aug. 1 count the same as those played after. Saying one player is better than another for peaking in the second half as opposed to the first half seems silly.

Strictly speaking, that’s true. But the pressures are different depending on whether you’re pitching for a postseason slot or an amateur draft slot.

2. ERA isn’t perfect. I’d like to see DIPS or equivalent numbers, because ~1,000 innings is still prone to fluctuations. That in the post-Aug. 1 numbers Schilling has better K and BB and a slightly higher ERA could very well be that Schilling was more unlucky than Smoltz in that selective sample size.

Possibly.

3. Schilling pitched in Veterans Stadium, the BOB and Fenway. Smoltz pitched throughout in Turner Field. Schilling has pitched in tougher ballparks, so I’d like to see the translated comparisons.

Ditto.

4. Schilling was a key player on two championship teams, and one could argue that his 2005 stats shouldn’t even be counted, as he never would have risked to have that unprecedented procedure on his ankle in October 2004 if the Sox weren’t so close.

And Smoltz was a key player on a team that won 14 division titles in 15 years. Make no mistake: October 2004 will be talked about long after 14 NL West/East titles are a footnote in baseball history, but Smoltz’ October heroics are amazing and spread over a decade and a half.

Taka Tanaka

This is an absolutely awesome name.

Let me start by saying that I am a Red Sox fan and that could be severely biasing my decisions. Now that the issue of full disclosure is dealt with, I think the comparison is a slam dunk for Schilling over Smoltz.

It should be clear that Schilling is a very slightly better regular season pitcher than Smoltz. But I’m willing to call the regular season a draw. However, I strongly disagree with your analysis of their postseason results. Schilling should not be punished for having fewer postseason opportunities, and the fact is, he has done better in the opportunities he has had. He has a superior ERA, BB/9 and K/9 in the postseason. If you discount his first ALCS start in 2004 because he was pitching while hobbled, that difference becomes pretty large.

So, all things considered, I think that a slight edge goes to Schilling in terms of performance, since I don’t think it is fair to punish a player for not having Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine on the same team for most of his career.

But, the real reason that Schilling should get the nod over Smoltz is that the Hall of Fame, as much as it is about collecting the greatest players in the history of the game, is also about great stories. Smoltz was part of the Braves dynasty, but after that there is not anything all that compelling to say about him other than that he was really good. Schilling was involved in one of the most dramatic postseason stories in the history of the game: Setting aside the Curse, etc.

Schilling was a major factor in the greatest postseason comeback in the history of the sport. Not only that, he received experimental medical treatment to allow him to play when almost any other player would have given up. In my opinion, the bloody sock is the tie-breaker between these two pitchers. Both will go down in history as great pitchers and both are Hall-worthy. But only one of them well rise to legendary status and still have people telling stories about his postseason heroics for the next 100 years or so, at least. So, let’s call the stats a wash and give the vote to Schilling because of the story.

As another aside, I am normally a stat person, but the game is about more than numbers and so is the Hall of Fame. Every once in a while a player does something that transcends the game and I firmly believe that Schilling’s 2004 postseason was one of those transcendent moments. I am not arguing against Smoltz in any way, but I cannot recall any moment during the Braves’ dynasty where Smoltz did anything that compared to that year, or even to Schilling’s performance in the World Series with the D-Backs, which was almost as gutsy.

If you step outside of the numbers for a second, I really do not believe there is any question that Schilling is the better qualified of two pitchers who both should end up in the HOF.

Jake Rae

I generally agree with what you’re saying, especially in light of what the Hall of Fame is supposed to celebrate. Having said that, I think each postseason has equal weight.

To illustrate: Jack Morris pitched a complete-game, 10-inning shutout in Game Seven of the 1991 World Series. Josh Beckett pitched a complete-game, nine-inning shutout in Game Six of the World Series. For all intents and purposes both starts accomplished the same thing—they both were clinching games that gave their teams a World Series Championship. Schilling’s bloody sock game was worth a Game Two World Series win for the Red Sox. While it was a performance for the ages, the bloody sock didn’t give the Red Sox an extra game credit in the Fall Classic. Naturally, it will weigh heavily on the minds of the voters, but it didn’t give Boston anything more than a win.

Smoltz’ career gave much more overall postseason value to his team than Curt Schilling’s. Both are deserving, but if I wrote that, there wouldn’t be much fun in writing a column and getting feedback from it.

I agree with you on Smoltz, but with the 2004 postseason performance and Willis Reed/bloody sock performance from Schilling added to the mix, I would have to say that the ending of an 86-year-old curse trumps anything Smoltz may have done.

This comes from a 35-year-old diehard Yankees fan who has been rooting for the Yankees basically from conception!

Suffice to say there is no incentive for me whatsoever to tout Schilling!

Chris Muscolino

Gotta give ya points for class, Chris.

Close call that could go either way, as your article suggests. However, I’d take Schilling. I think you overreach to find reasons to ignore Schilling’s better overall career numbers—a career, by the way, that includes nearly 600 innings pitching against DHs in the AL.

Giving Smoltz credit for pitching for a “dynasty team” seems odd. Whereas Schilling was usually the ace of his teams, Smoltz had the luxury of pitching most of his career with two other HOFers on the staff. Moreover, when Cox was able to set his rotation, it seemed as though Smoltz typically was slotted third behind Maddux and Glavine. That eases the burden on a pitcher, knowing that there are others being counted on to win, to stop/avoid losing streaks, etc.

And as good as Smoltz has been in the postseason, Schilling’s been better, albeit in half the number of appearances. Your attempt to broaden the comparison to “pennant races” is suspect, too, I think. Aug. 1 is an arbitrary date, with possible meaning only in the context of actual seasons. Were the Braves 10 games up on Aug. 1 of a given year? Were the Phillies 12 games back? Without a more detailed teasing out of high leverage games data, that central part of your argument was unpersuasive.

But thanks for the article. I agree that this generation has witnessed some unbelievably good pitching.

Barnett (Bud) Rosenfield

Bud, I used Aug. 1 since Baseball Reference has a quick and easy monthly breakdown. One day I’ll be more motivated to micro-analyze the numbers on a year-by-year basis. As to your other points…well, that’s why I asked for feedback. It makes any follow-up columns on the subject that much easier (grin).

Despite being a Sox fan, I will take a simplistic view and say you have to pick Smoltz because of the saves and being a dominant closer, in addition to being part of the Braves’ dynasty.

Schill “creates” a lot of his legendary postseason drama, and is so much more self-promoting. Smoltzie is more of a true HOF-er, in my opinion.

Ronald Leveille

They both are.

While it may be more interesting to talk about how a pitcher does during the high stress times of August-October, it appears to me that you are looking for reasons to pick Smoltz. Schilling’s overall winning percentage is better than Smoltz’ and although Schilling has a poorer winning percentage in his post-August starts (.575 vs. Smoltz’ .609), his K/9 & BB/9 are better than Smoltz’s both overall and post-July 31.

My opinion is that if you don’t win between April and July 31, your team is out of the pennant race, the games are meaningless, and it doesn’t matter much how you pitch. Also, Smoltz had more to play for—I’m pretty sure Schilling’s teams didn’t win pennants 14 years in a row (although that shouldn’t matter).

Actually I was inclined to pick Schilling. That’s why I did the “Under The Radar” column in 2005. I noticed John Smoltz was a close comp for Schilling on Baseball Reference and thought it might be fun to see how Smoltz stacked up against Schilling. I was as surprised by the result as any one. Don’t forget the 1992 World Series and the Montreal Expos—I’m naturally hostile towards the Braves. (sly wink)

That being said, I’d vote for Smoltz, too. Up until he pitched for the D-Backs, I didn’t care two shakes for Schilling. In fact, while reading your article I was flabbergasted that his career numbers were so close to Smoltz’. Of course, Smoltz didn’t pitch at all in 2000 and he posted only 286 innings from 2001-2004. However, Smoltz’ closer years just about make up for the three-year head start he had before Schilling became a full-time starter in 1991. Either way, they are close and I don’t REALLY disagree with you, but thought I’d drop you a line anyway.

Chris Kruschke

And it was appreciated, too. If it wasn’t for all the great feedback I get I’d have a tough time finding starting points for various columns.

Don’t forget, Schilling has pitched more in the American League, with the DH, and lately, a much greater talent level overall. I know ERA+ is supposed to cover that difference, but I can’t help but feel Smoltz’ numbers the last three years would look a heck of a lot worse in the AL.

Plus, as far as the post-season goes, Schilling personally came up big in 2001 and 2004, leading his teams to victories, while Smoltz’ Braves have a legacy of disappointment year after year.

SB

True, but those disappointments could hardly be attributed to Smoltz.

Thanks to all for your e-mails. I wish I had more time to devote to them.

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