Designated HitterJanuary 29, 2009
A Curt Look at a Hall of Fame Career
By Joe Lederer

"I'd like to think I did well. I'd like to think that, if I had a must-win game, the guys I played with would want me to have the ball. But no, I don't think I deserve to be in the Hall of Fame." – Curt Schilling, January 29 on WEEI AM 850's "The Big Show"

Last week, the always present and oft self-promoting Curt Schilling showed some rare humility over the Boston radio waves and downplayed his chances at one day ending up in baseball's Hall of Fame. Now some will believe that Schilling only understated his case in order for talking heads (and typing hands) to do what I'm doing right now: make a pitch on Schilling's behalf. Even so, because of his polarizing personality among teammates, fans and the baseball writers, Schilling — unfairly or not — may need all the help he can get.

Given the fact that he's fallen short of all those "important" Hall of Fame benchmarks (300 wins, a trophy case full of Cy Young Awards, a Baseball-Reference page listing dozens upon dozens of All-Star appearances, a Wikipedia page featuring quotes on how feared Schilling was on the mound, etc.), the forty-two year old righty looks like a marginal candidate to earn a bronze bust in Cooperstown. All that said, I'm going to state a strong case for Schilling's enshrinement. I mean, "hey man, even though I'm part of the 'younger people on the Internet,' I saw Schilling play his entire career and I always thought he was a Hall of Famer."

The easiest place to start is to look at Schilling's career performance compared to his peers:


The names listed above are arguably the top ten pitchers during Schilling's career, spanning from 1988 to 2007. There's no question the top five pitchers are no-brainer Hall of Famers (say what you will about the ongoing Roger Clemens saga, but The Rocket is as much an "inner-circle" Hall of Famer as he is a jerk.) After the first five Schilling contemporaries, the numbers start getting blurred but one thing that is clear is that Schilling was one of the best among the next group anyway you slice it. However, before we are so quick to label him "sixth or seventh or eighth best" during his career, let's look a little closer at Schilling's numbers versus the top tier.

Schilling became a full-time starter in 1992 after arriving in Philadelphia – how'd Jason Grimsley work out for ya, Houston? – and was a mainstay in the big league rotations until injuries hit in 2005, forcing him to make 20 appearances out of Boston's bullpen. Even so, he still started 66 games his last three seasons (2005-2007). If we take the top-tier hurlers from the chart above and look strictly at their numbers from 1992 to 2007, Schilling's case for the Hall becomes that much stronger:


During that stretch, Schilling was second in complete games, first in K:BB and third in K/9. Schilling betters the group's average in complete games, strikeouts, walks allowed, K:BB, K/9 and WHIP. By the way, if you didn't know, Schilling's K:BB ratio (4.38) ranks first all-time since 1900. Sure, it's just one stat off the back of a baseball card, but c'mon people…Schilling was a great pitcher, one of the very best in all of baseball for sixteen years — a period which includes at least five Hall of Famers.

One could also look at some Bill Jamesian Hall of Fame metrics, like the Black Ink test, the Gray Ink test, Hall of Fame Standards and Hall of Fame Monitor and Schilling once again stacks up favorably.


The lack of shiny hardware will be an easy thing for many to knock Schilling on, but he did have three second-place finishes in Cy Young Award voting — 2001 and 2002 in the NL and 2004 in the AL. Below are Schilling's three runner-up seasons…seasons good enough to win almost any other year:


I mean, really, is it fair to hold it against Schilling that Randy Johnson (2002) and Johan Santana (2004) were unanimous winners those years? And if awards are your bag, then don't overlook his NLCS MVP from 1993, his World Series co-MVP from 2001 and his back-to-back Pitcher of the Year awards by The Sporting News in 2001 and 2002. If feel-good stories are also your kind of thing, throw in his 1995 Lou Gehrig Memorial Award (best exemplifies character and integrity both on and off the field), his 2001 Roberto Clemente Award (selected for character and charitable contributions to his community) and his 2001 Hutch Award (best exemplifies the fighting spirit and competitive desire to win.) Fluff? Yes, but all part of the package, baby.

Finally, it'd be foolish not to touch on Schilling's postseason record. Everyone remembers Game 6 of the 2004 American League Championship Series, fewer people can recall how dominant he was in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, and unfortunately not enough people recall how important Schilling's Game 5 start in the 1993 World Series was to the Phillies. But three amazing postseason starts does a Hall of Fame career not make. To truly appreciate Schilling's big game dominance, you have to look at his entire playoff career totals:


Need I say more?

Hmm…let's review. Lots of strikeouts to go along with very solid numbers across the board, unfairly not enough All-Star appearances or Cy Young Awards to please the over-the-hill (or is it under-the-bridge?) Baseball Writers Association of America, an outstanding postseason record, possibly abrasive personality…Geez, does that at all sound familiar? (Oh, give me a break…I'm a Lederer for cryin' out loud!)

The case is pretty clear and the statistics don't lie. So Curt, the next time you want to go on record about your unworthy-for-the-Hall career, put a sock in it, bloody or otherwise.

Joe Lederer is the Assistant General Manager of Riverwalk Golf Club in San Diego. Besides working on his PGA Class A membership, Joe spends way too much time cooking and reading Nietzsche and not enough time working on his short game. Joe gets his baseball writing chops from his mother.


Second ballot.

To me, the biggest question about Schilling's candidacy is what hat to give him. He was phenomenal in that Arizona WS run but tends to get overshadowed by Johnson. His Boston years were memorable (the sock, etc.), but his time there was relatively short and on the decline phase of his career. So I guess you go with the Phillies, even though he didn't win either of his WS with them?

Tough call.

Get some thicker skin.

Everytime you talk about a potential HOFer, do you have to put something in there about "most feared" or the "younger generation"?

Get off the Jim Rice case already. Did he steal your wife or something? Who does it harm that he's in the Hall?

Grow a pair.

Al, that's Joe's second ever column at Baseball Analysts.

The other was for Father's Day 2005.

If you would like to explain YOUR attachment to Rice, however, by all means go ahead.

"If we take the top-tier hurlers from the chart above and look strictly at their numbers from 1992 to 2007, Schilling's case for the Hall becomes that much stronger: "

So it's settled: Schilling should definitely be elected to the "Baseball from 1992-2007 Hall of Fame."

Seriously, what kind of argument is this? We should be measuring players' entire careers. Of course Schilling is more comparable to Roger Clemens IF WE IGNORE EVERYTHING CLEMENS ACHIEVED BEFORE 1992 (124 wins, 3 Cy Youngs, an MVP).

Whose HoF candidacy wouldn't look stronger based on this kind of tendentious cherry-picking of stats?

Good argument, Joe. Well done. You have my vote...but I might be biased.

1) "We should be measuring players' entire careers." 1992-2007 is essentially Schilling's entire career.

2) BD, I don't think a sixteen-year span is really "cherry-picking of stats," especially when you consider the 1992-2007 includes the end of both players' careers during the same hitting environment. If you want to include the 124 wins, 3 Cy Youngs, an MVP and compare the first 16 seasons of Clemens against Schilling's "career" (92-07), Schilling still stacks up favorably:

Look, no one doubts Clemens was one of the top 10 pitchers of all-time and no one claims Schilling was the pitcher Clemens was (me included) but the comparison over the same time period is still impressive and shows Schilling's worthiness for Hall of Fame induction. This was a case study on Schilling's career, not Clemens'. Many will claim Schilling was on some superficial second-tier of pitchers during his career and all I wanted to show was during that stretch, he should be considered as good as any other pitcher, including Clemens.

BD: Your point is a good one. However, the stats aren't being "cherry picked" as much as perhaps limiting the comparison to those years. If Joe had built his argument on that alone, then his case for Schilling would be somewhat dubious (although many voters did just that with Jim Rice...sorry, Al). Instead, he lists the career totals for all ten contemporary pitchers *and* points out that the top five are "no brainer Hall of Famers," even going out of his way to remind everyone that Clemens is an "inner circle" choice.

Importantly, the analysis was based on many factors, including Schilling's career totals, peak, and postseason, as well as comparisons against his peers and how he stacks up versus the average Hall of Famer.

Nice work Joe!

The thing that really jumps out at my from the data table is that Mussina is head-and-shoulders above the other second-tier guys. He's got 50 more wins and comparable ERA (perhaps better when adjusted for league). The table seals the case for Mussina, in my opinion. Schilling's case leans heavily on his great post-season efforts.


You should have included Bret Saberhagen, Dwight Gooden, Orel Hershiser, Kevin Appier, and David Cone on your list.

This would have given you a better more rounded picture of the best pitchers from the 1984-2008 time period.


Nice post. It's good to see the influence your grandfather had on your writing.

I'm with you that Schilling should be in, but the 1992-2007 argument is so bad it reads almost as parody. Might as well just say he was the winningest pitcher in the 1980s or he led the league in RBI from 1967-1976. If you want to compare best 16 consecutive years or something, fine, but ditch the arbitrary, self-serving measures.

I just thought this was conspicuous by its absence and worthy of consideration:

Clemens... 246 HR;.707 HR/9
Maddux... 257 HR; .635 HR/9
Johnson... 311 HR; .862 HR/9
Glavine... 273 HR; .711 HR/9
Martinez... 232 HR; .781 HR/9
Schilling... 339 HR; .979 HR/9

If anyone has the time and resources to view these through the lens of park factors, that would be worthwhile.

-I'll make the following analogy
Obama winning the election : conservative talking heads :: Rice in the HOF : statistic minded writers
Not saying this is a good or bad thing, but I think it's funny that, at least in my opinion, the analogy holds perfectly (and I don't use that word lightly).

-I really, really take issue with anyone presenting Clemens as an unquestioned "inner circle" HOFer. I feel a solid, conservative way to address the HOF candidacy of potential steroid users, for now, is to look at their body of work prior to their likely use of steroids. For example, it appears that Barry Bonds began using steroids no later than the 1998-1999 period. Take his career before then, though, and he's still a HOFer. With Clemens, it's a similar deal. Strong sources currently place his steroid use beginning in 1997, so, for now, let's judge him from there. You can absolutely make a HOF case for him with that handicap, but any mention of the "inner circle" should disappear with him. As far as I'm concerned, there are two certain things with Clemens and his steroid use: he clearly takes a backseat to Maddux because of it, and he absolutely never would have done the late-career things he did if he hadn't been a user (and it is that late career success that makes his pure numbers "inner circle"). What would Maddux's numbers be like if he were just finishing a three-four year stretch that rivals his best seasons?

-Why is Pettitte on that list?

-kevin, yeah, Mussina has some clear advantages from the other "second tier" guys, but they're mostly in "compiling" categories...he's really a hair worse in qualitative areas, though, to be fair, having a longer career usually leads to drop at the end. Compiling numbers don't seem to help players as much as other things, so I don't think that puts him clearly ahead (he's certainly right with the rest of them, though). And I really don't think Schilling would have a fair HOF case without his playoff numbers, but those are very important numbers.

-Oh, and since it hasn't been said much her, nice article Joe. I definitely think it's about the entire package with Schilling: numbers (taking slightly into account his late start), playoff career, championship impact (and neither championship would have happened without him), near-misses in awards, and one final aspect that's often overlooked, a fairly unique skillset. I think the HOF can and should be about more than numbers alone, and Schilling was a true ace who was a top of the league pitcher, all the while giving us ridiculously low BB rates. Remember the season he made a run at more wins than walks? That was great.

-Oh, and as a Boston fan, I think a Schilling HOF cap would have to come down to Philadelphia or Arizona. Tough call there...he was a longer Phillie, but his best years and biggest championship came with the Diamondbacks...considering that he and Randy Johnson were essentially the first faces of that latter franchise, I think I have to put him in a Diamondback cap.

I will not follow up on this line of thought regardless if there is response or not because I do not intend to hijack this thread, but I cannot simply let the comment on steroid use pass.

Steroid use has no place in any discussion of records or of players candidacy for awards. It is close to irrelevant and is essentially a product of media frenzy creating facts out of supposition and guesswork. In my view, the notion that steroid use was cheating, was illegal or immoral or had clear effects on performance are some combination of simply untrue, grossly exaggerated or minimally significant.

I assume that anyone who wishes to reserve judgment on Clemens or Bonds or anyone else would support revisiting the candidacy of Willie Mays, an admitted user of illegal performance enhancers. And of course would question the entire era of Mays, Aaron, Robinson, Clemente and the rest who dominated the era of amphetamines.

For a reasoned discussion of the matter, I refer you to this site:

There is also plenty of rational discussion from people like Brattain and Calcaterra as well as at BP and elsewhere, discussion that is ordinarily drowned out by people working off unexamined assumptions.

The thing that always bothers me about Schilling (besides his mouth), and something I rarely see mentioned, is the fact that the guy pitched 20 years in the bigs and only 10 times did he win more than 10 games in a season. I know he didn't pitch much his first few years and he's had his share of injuries, but smoltz has been injured and even spent 4 years as a closer and he's won 10+ games 13 out of 20 seasons. Brown won 10+ games 13 out of 19 seasons. Petitte has 10+ wins in 13 out of 14 seasons. I'm not saying Schilling doesn't have the numbers, career and especially postseason. It just seems like it's not too much to ask a dominant pitcher---a Hall of Fame pitcher!---to win 10 games in a season at least more than half his career.

I have to agree with BD here and recommend removing that 12 year period thing. Taking a player's best 12 years and comparing everyone else at the exact same time period is stacking the deck in that player's favor by a wide stretch.

It also obfuscates by enabling you to take advantage of the career reputations of the other players, while eliminating some of their best years. So someone can look at this data and say, "Wow, Schilling compared favorably to Clemens for 16 years? Holy crap! No brainer. He's in."

But then if you realize the data set has removed all of Clemens' best years as a Red Sox, you've really stacked the deck against Clemens. The only fair comparison would be 1992-2007 for Schilling compared to 1986-2001 for Clemens.

The Rice supporters laid their entire argument on the same type of argument. Most RBI from 77-86 or whatever. Same can be said for a particular 10 year period of Joe Carter's if I recall.

You guys are better than that. That section weakens the entire argument's credibility, and worse, it eliminates your ability to criticize the same tactic when we need you to in the future for other marginal HOFers. I recommend removing it.

Here's Clemens for '86-'01
CG 111
IP 3754
H 3160
ER 1274
K 3591
BB 1229
W 271
K:BB 2.92
K/9 8.61
WHIP 1.17
ERA 3.05

28 more complete games, 639 more IP, 588 more Ks, 59 more Ws. The ratios still hold up well for Schilling. It's clear Clemens is the better pitcher, simply from a sheer workhorse comparison, but Schilling looks pretty good considering it's next to one of the best pitchers in history.

Peter, interesting analogy, but I think you have it completely backwards. You need to put the two reality based communities on the same side:
Obama winning election:conservative talking heads::statistic minded writers::Rice in HOF


RE "inner circle", I don't think he's arguing whether Clemens should make it in or not. He's setting that aside for now. I think he's simply saying, based on stats alone, if Clemens never took steroids, he's a clear inner circle HOF. There's really no debating that. First ballot no question without the controversy.

I think my "cherry-picking" criticism still stands. I realize '92-'07 represents virtually the entirety of Schilling's career as a starter, but if you're going to compare him to other pitchers, you at least need to look at the entirety of THEIR careers as a starter. You don't just look at what they happened to be doing during those particular years. Otherwise, you're implying that the years 1992-07 have some special significance in the history of baseball and a player who dominated over that particular span of years deserves special consideration when it comes to HoF induction.

It's the FIRST table we should be looking at. It gives all of the players' career stats. It arguably shows that Schilling is less deserving of induction than about seven of his starting-pitcher contemporaries. (Of course, there's no guaranty of a particular number of HoF slots for pitchers in this group. They could ALL get in, for all we know.)

Also, my criticism is only directed to this particular argument. Perhaps there are other good arguments in Schilling's favor, but that doesn't mean THIS argument is a good one.

A question...I'm not as well-versed in the new-fangled statistics as I'd like to be....can someone tell me what WARP 3 is capturing that ERA+ isn't? I notice that Smoltz, Schilling and Brown have the exact same ERA+ and almost identical innings pitched. And yet their WARP 3 numbers vary significantly.

The 3000Ks, the K/BB ratio, the 3 2nd Cy finishes, winning the series on 2 different teams, the playoff performances....he's going in. BTW, it is still called the hall of FAME, and most of the voters are still largely of the 20th century sportwriting club.
Schillings fame and self promotional ability will play a big factor. He's perceived as a winner even though as Snydes pointed out he only won 10+ games in 20 years.
Second, third ballot max depending on the class.

Kris: Schilling's higher HR rate is primarily a function of throwing so many strikes and being a flyball pitcher. As a commenter at the Baseball Think Factory pointed out in a thread linked to this article, "Schilling's high K/low walk/FB tendencies lead to the smallest UER/RA ratio in history." Although I haven't verified this claim, I would not be surprised by it. While Brown, a groundball type with a low HR rate, and Schilling both have a career ERA+ of 127, the former allowed 172 UER (14.5% of RA) as compared to 65 for the latter (5.2% of RA). Another way of looking at this information is to note that Schilling's ERA+ undervalues his RA+, meaning he was a better pitcher than Brown as far as preventing runs (earned and unearned).

Snydes: I don't think wins as a standalone stat are all that telling. But, if you want to go there, consider the fact that Schilling started a total of FIVE games in his first FOUR seasons. It's pretty tough to win 10 games when you average one start per year. Curt had three other injury-marred seasons in which he started only 11, 13, and 17 times. Of the 13 remaining campaigns, he won 10 or more games 10x, nine twice, and eight once. Schilling had three 20-win seasons (vs. one for Smoltz), eight 15-win seasons (vs. six for Smoltz) and, so as not to appear to be cherry picking the number 15, he had nine 14-win seasons (vs. 10 for Smoltz, who had four years when he won 14 exactly).

noseeum: We're not going to "remove" the 12-year comparison. As with BD, your comments in this area are noted but are also repetitive and have been addressed in my first comment (#8 above). Furthermore, the inclusion of this comparison doesn't reduce the credibility of the argument at all. Schilling's HoF case and stats (as well as those of his contemporaries) are what they are. If you want to dismiss this information, fine. That's your prerogative. But it doesn't "weaken the entire argument's credibility" as Joe made a multi-faceted case based on career totals, peak performance, and postseason record. The inclusion of the one item doesn't change any of the facts or reduce the strength of the other points.

Ed: WARP incorporates fielding and hitting as well as pitching. As such, the differnce in these pitchers WARP and ERA+ totals is partially a function of these additional factors as well as the 4 percent extra innings Smoltz threw compared to Schilling and Brown.

Hugh: Sounds like Blyleven (except for the second place CYA finishes) although Bert completed over 50% more innings than Schilling, which means Bert generated about 5,000 more outs than Curt over their careers. The difference between the two is approximately equal to the number of innings (or outs) CC Sabathia has produced in his entire MLB career.

Has anyone ever heard an explanation for Schilling's big jump in strikeout ratio beginning in 1997? I don't remember ever hearing one at the time, which struck me as odd.

The problem Schilling will have is that he had alternating excellent, then injured years in Philly, pitched alongside an all-time great in Arizona, and alonside another all-time great in Boston. I agree that Schilling has a case, but except for some bad Phillies teams (other than 93), he was the second-best pitcher on his staffs.

I think it will be interesting to see how many pitchers from 85-05 make the HoF cut. There may be more than the previous 20 year period, even if Blyleven gets in.

Thanks Rich! A follow-up question if you don't mind....why would WARP include a pitcher's fielding? Isn't that already captured through ERA? (with the exception of errors that the pitcher commits)

You're welcome, Ed. WARP isn't an open-source stat so I'm not sure how much weighting a pitcher's fielding has on the total. But you're point is valid.

BTW, the difference between Smoltz's and Schilling's WARP is 6.3 percent and the difference between their innings pitched is 4.1 percent. As such, hitting and fielding have a very minor impact on WARP overall. But that small gap is most likely explained by Smoltz's superior rate stats (.161/.228/.209 vs. .151/.178/.171) and number of opportunities (1151 plate appearances vs. 901).

Rich, I was being facetious re removal to see if I got a response, so thanks!

I did think my addition of adding clemens '87-01 stats was worthwhile, especially because in my view, it shows how good Schilling was.

I say he's in, and I'm a Yankee fan. Two teams hired him to help them get them rings, and he delivered twice in some really memorable ways. That's what the game's about after all. Postseason puts him over the top for me.

I didn't pick up on your facetiosness so I apologize but, hey, you got a response! I now need to say "you're welcome" to complete the exchange.

Re adding Clemens' '87-'01 stats, Joe had provided a link to a table in comment #7 above, which essentially shows the same information. Both of your findings clearly show The Rocket's superiority although Schilling looks mighty good as well as you and Joe detail.

FWIW, I agree with your conclusion. I would have no hesitation in voting for Clemens, Maddux, Johnson, Glavine, Martinez, Mussina, Smoltz, and Schilling for the Hall of Fame.

There are a minimum of 150 starters each year. Obviously, more than that start games, but there are roughly 150 rotation spots available each season (take into account expansion, as some teams didn't exist yet). If you are the 8th best pitcher over a 20 year period, I think that in most cases that you are great, and probably deserving of enshrinement.

Nice work, Joe! Now take four years off, then get ready to drop the hammer annually for the next 13-14 years and don't let up. Should be a successful recipe.

His postseason success might be the thing for him, because all the voters (by this I mean voters not as intelligent as any Lederer would be) ever think aboiut are "moments" (i.e. Jack Morris) and Schilling has had his number of those.

Hey, the ketchup on the sock puts him in the HOF by my standards.

There's a saying you know a Hall of Famer when you see one and you don't really have to look at the stats. The great Schil is one of those. I've seen enough of his October pitching. He's in, baby.

J McD, regarding your comments, I'm with you somewhat, but I don't agree with your final conclusion. Schilling is a true "ace" to me, and being an "ace" is about more than being the best pitcher on a staff.

Aces have always been about innings, consistency, being "stoppers", among other things...NOT about just being the #1 pitcher on a staff. Many staffs don't have an ace, and there are times when staffs have more than one. Sportswriters loved to trot this out for the late-'90s Yankees by saying they had "four aces", even if they didn't have it quite right (Clemens was an ace, Wells had the qualities, but El Duque was more "clutch" than ace, and Pettitte was a true top of the line #2).

Schilling was long regarded as the ace of the Phillies, and rightfully so. Who cares if the teams were bad, he would have been an ace on any team (notice how I say "an ace", not "the ace", becuase it doesn't have to be singular). With Arizona, we had one of the most dominant co-ace pairings of all-time. True, RJ was clearly a notch better than Schilling, but that's just kudos to the Diamondbacks for putting it together, not a killer of Schilling's "ace" status. And when Schilling joined the Red Sox, while he was not the staff #1 in terms of rotation spot, he was its best pitcher in 2004...a second ace once again. I don't think he lost the title of a true ace until his injury in 2005.

As for the comments by Bob R., I think steroid discussions are very relevant in a HOF discussion, and he should have noted that I advocate for a conservative approach (and also noted that this is how I see it "for now", because hopefully the consensus will decide how to address this so we can be fair about it). I do respect his right to not question players on this, but I also think I have the right to disapprove of ignoring it. As for reserving judgement or not with Clemens and Bonds...let's be serious here. With Bonds in particular, we don't need an admission of guilt or a positive drug test to "prove" his use. People love to use "innocent until proven guilty" to defend him, and call this some witch hunt, but what they overlook is the fact that, in the United States, you're guilty once proven by a "preponderence of evidence". No need to go into detail, but I think that has definitely been made for Bonds. I'm open to suggestion otherwise, but I don't see it.

And to noseeum, yeah, I'm totally with you there on Clemens' candidacy if you ignore steroids. In fact, until the Mitchell Report came out, he was the example I used on a candidate we should use to weed out bad HOF voters (anyone who doesn't vote for slam dunk Clemens should lose his vote). Sadly, he's too clouded to use for THAT issue now. Oh, and for my analogy, I was going for the "(one) leads to (two) going crazy and being unable to move on to other issues". Like I said, not necessarily a good or bad thing, but funny how both reactions are virtually identical.