By NICK LECO
June 25, 2008
Last week, Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling announced on Boston sports talk radio station WEEI that he was having season-ending shoulder surgery. For Schilling, who has been on the Disabled List all season, it may mean not only the end of his season, but the end of his career. At the age of 41, coming back from major shoulder surgery is an arduous task - one that will most likely force Schilling into retirement.
In light of this recent news, many baseball analysts have tried to put Schilling’s career in perspective and determine his place in baseball history. Never willing to shy away from a good baseball debate, National Pastime takes a closer look at Schilling’s Hall of Fame resume:
CURT SCHILLING -
Games Started: 436
Complete Games: 83
Teams: Orioles (1988-1990), Astros (1991), Phillies (1992-2000), Diamondbacks (2000-2003), Red Sox (2004-present)
Schilling, along with John Smoltz, may be the most notorious big-game pitcher of his era - an era that also includes greats like Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux. Schilling is the proud owner of three World Series rings, earning one with the Diamondbacks in 2001, and two with the Red Sox in 2004 and 2007. Overall, he has gone 11-2 in the postseason with a 2.23 ERA. In the World Series, Schilling has gone 4-1 and, along with Johnson, was named co-MVP of the 2001 World Series. He was also named MVP of the 1993 NLCS as the Phillies advanced to play the Blue Jays in the World Series. And of course, no one will ever forget the famous “Bloody sock” game, in which Schilling beat the Yankees in Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS on a surgically stapled torn tendon sheath that opened during the game for a dramatic visual effect.
Overall, Schilling has been a six-time All-Star and started the 2002 All-Star game. He led the league in wins in 2001 and 2004 and was second in Cy Young voting three times. A dominant strikeout pitcher with amazing control, Schilling has struck out more than 300 batters three times and hit 290 on another occasion. For his career, Schilling has averaged almost a strikeout per inning, with 3,116 K’s in 3,261 frames. As of this writing, he is 14th all-time in career strikeouts. His career WHIP stands at an amazing 1.13 because he walks so few batters and consistently led the league in K-to-walk ratio. In fact, Schilling has the best overall K-to-walk ratio of any pitcher since 1950. When healthy, he has been a workhorse, continually working into the sixth and seventh innings in an era of short outings by starters and specialized relief pitching. Schilling, who spent some time during his 20-year career as a reliever, has tossed more than 200 innings in a season nine times. His 3.46 career ERA is almost a run better than the league average during his peak years.
Schilling has to be counted among the top five right-handed starters of his era (1992-2007, taking out the years when he was primarily a reliever). Only Clemens, Smoltz, Maddux and Martinez can claim to have been better than Schilling during that time. Of the five, Schilling ranks first in complete games, third in stikeouts and WHIP and second in strikeouts per nine innings.
If you use Bill James sabermetrics to determine a player’s worthiness of Hall of Fame enshrinement, Curt Schilling passes three of the four tests. In “Black Ink,” which measures how frequently a player led his league in any of a variety of important statistical categories, Schilling scores a 42, while the average Hall of Famer scores a 40. “Grey Ink,” which quantifies the frequency of a player’s appearances in the top ten of his league’s noteworthy statistical categories, scores Schilling at 205, with the average Hall of Famer at 185. Finally, “HOF Monitor,” a player’s likeliness to be enshrined in Cooperstown, rates Schilling at 171 - far higher than the average Hall of Famer’s score of 100.
One of the biggest knocks against Schilling’s case for Hall of Fame enshrinement is that his numbers - in particular, his number of wins - don’t measure up to those of other Hall of Fame pitchers. However, injuries, as well as the fact that Schilling pitched primarily in relief over the first four years of his career, played a major role in any perceived statistical inferiority to other Hall of Fame pitchers. His current win total - 216 - ranks him 79th all-time. Pitchers who have thus far failed to earn induction to the Hall of Fame with more victories than Schilling include Tommy John (288), Bert Blyleven (287) and Jack Morris (254).
While Schilling did play for some bad teams early on, the relatively low win total will be one of the biggest black marks on his career when he comes up for consideration. Schilling’s relative lack durability and history as a reliever will also hamper his chances. He failed to make 30 starts in 10 of his 20 big league seasons and also won 11 games or fewer in half the seasons he played. While Smoltz may be the easiest comparison in terms of games started vs. games pitched out of the bullpen, Smoltz did most of his relief work in the higher-profile closer’s role, amassing more than 150 saves, whereas Schilling’s work out of the bullpen was mostly in middle relief.
Schilling also never won a Cy Young or MVP Award and never led the league in ERA. He was never considered the most dominant pitcher in the game at any time during his career, continually playing second fiddle to some of the game’s elite pitchers - a view affirmed by his three second-place Cy Young finishes. In 2001 and 2002 he was edged out by his teammate, Johnson, and in 2004, he was runner-up to Minnesota’s Johan Santana - a unanimous selection - despite leading the American League in wins.
What Schilling lacks in wins, he makes up for in postseason dominance. He may go down not only as one of the best big-game pitchers of his era, but also of all-time. Clearly postseason heroics have helped get many a Yankee get into the Hall of Fame over the years. It can also be said that when healthy, Schilling was one of the best pitchers of his era. His combination of strikeout ability and impeccable control has rarely been seen in the game’s history. Take all those factors into consideration, and you have the makings of not just a good pitcher, but a pitcher who was truly great. Ask yourself this question: In a big game, who would you want pitching for your team? Even when compared to the best hurlers of the past 20 years, Schilling is the clear choice, and that’s what being a Hall of Famer is all about.
Nick Leco’s Cooperstown Bound? column appears every Wednesday here on National Pastime.
Photo by The Associated Press