Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Schill Out

Fitting for a guy who made a lot of noise, yesterday's retirement announcement by Curt Schilling has generated a lot of discussion about Schilling's place in baseball history. I have only read a few pieces today, and heard some radio chatter this morning, but I think the whole Hall of Fame debate is being viewed too narrowly. There are a lot more guys he needs to be compared to besides John Smoltz and Tom Glavine. I think Schilling's career numbers are very good, but if his candidacy is to be based on his career, then I think you have to ask: Is Kevin Brown a Hall of Famer? Is Orel Hersheiser a Hall of Famer? Is David Cone? Is Dwight Gooden? Chuck Finley? Bob Welch? Vida Blue? Not to mention another bunch of guys viewed as being light on the win totals (Jimmy Key, Frank Viola, Dave Stewart and Bret Saberhagen). And a bunch who are still going (Roy Oswalt, Roy Halladay, Tim Hudson, Johan Santana, Brandon Webb, Jake Peavy, CC Sabathia and Josh Beckett).

I'm not including Andy Pettitte because he's much closer to the end than the beginning relative to these other current guys, and I don't think he's got a shot (unless it's being administered by Brian McNamee).

And then compare Schilling to the guys you would say were more dominant #1 pitchers during the same era: Greg Maddux gets in before Schill. Pedro Martinez does too. Randy Johnson gets in before. Ditto John Smoltz, and he wasn't always a #1, courtesy of being teammates with Maddux and Glavine (nor always a starter, with his years of brilliance as a closer). Roger Clemens would have, but he's more likely at this point to be incarcerated than inducted. Mariano Rivera, elite closer, will also get in before Schilling. Glavine likely gets the nod with that group. So that's six, maybe seven, before Schilling. The Hall has 63 Major League pitchers (not including Satchel Paige, who is in with eight other Negro League pitchers), over 140 years of history. So that's roughly a new pitcher every 2.2 years, and there are six or seven that will go in very close to each other. Seems like a crowded field.

And the one that seems to keep getting overlooked in terms of comparison: Mike Mussina. Schilling, to me, was certainly not "better" than Mussina for the lengths of their careers. Schilling had more BOOM! TAKE THAT! moments than Moose, and he outshone him in areas like WHIP and Strikeout/Walk Ratio, but Moose still had excellent numbers in those categories. Moose clearly dominates in wins, 270 to 216. In general, I don't like basing pitching success on win totals because of the role that the offense plays in determining whether a pitcher has enough run support to win the game. But part of the reason why Moose has more wins than Schilling is because he was a great starter from day one. The first part of Schilling's career is filled with blech: he had a few years coming out of the bullpen and a bunch of single win years that seem to have been glossed over like the early topless roles of current A list Hollywood stars. So his total numbers, particulary when it comes to wins, are just not there, Hall-wise (though it makes his strikeout totals particularly impressive). And suffice it to say, when Schilling puts up supporting video on his website for his Hall candidacy, he will probably leave out his brief stint as Red Sox closer. Yeesh.

Now some may say, well Sandy Koufax had some stinkers for the first bunch of years, too, and is really a Hall of Famer because of his last four years. But oh, those four years were the best four consecutive years EVER for a pitcher, and they brought his otherwise non-extraordinary (though better than ordinary) career numbers the benefit of averaging down. And despite his late career success, no one would confuse Schilling for Koufax. Schill never even had one truly dominant, all-time great season, but he had a few really good ones.

Anyway, the Class of 2014 will have Maddux and Mussina eligible for the first time (oddly, though Schill got paid for last season without playing, he will be eligible in 2013, a year before two guys, Maddux and Mussina, who retired before he did). Maddux will likely challenge Tom Seaver's all-time voting percentage (98.84), perhaps getting in on 100% of ballots. The baseball writers may hold back votes on Mussina to give Maddux the day to himself, but Moose will get there. Also eligible in 2013 with Schilling? David Wells...a larger, less disciplined, lower strikeout version of Schilling. And Wells won't come anywhere close to getting in. And really, on the baseball greatness spectrum, is Schilling closer to Maddux or Wells?

Looked at 10 years from now, I think Schilling will be grouped with Dave Stewart and Jack Morris, two guys with fantastic postseason memories, but whose careers were shy of sustained greatness.


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