Goodbye Curt, hello Cooperstown


Curt Schilling announced his retirement from baseball this week, after toying around with the idea of making a half-season comeback attempt in 2009. Thanks for everything, and best of luck to you.

He leaves quite a legacy with the Phillies, Diamondbacks and the Red Sox, having participated in four World Series and winning three of them. No one can dispute that he has been one of the best postseason pitchers in history, going 10-2 with a 2.23 ERA in 19 starts. And then there’s that bloody sock thing, which immortalized him in the minds and hearts of Red Sox Nation back in 2004.

Naturally, the topic of discussion this week has been, is he Hall worthy? Schilling broke into the Majors in 1988 at age 21. As it stands, he finished with 216 wins over a 20-year career (80th all-time), having battled a couple of major injuries. This seems a little low by past standards. He started 436 games and finished with a 3.46 ERA in 3,261 innings pitched. This is also not overwhelming. But Schilling also struck out 3,116 batters, while walking just 711 over his career, making a strong case as an exceptional pitcher.

Baseball-Reference.com uses black ink (finishing first in a major stat category) and grey ink (finishing in the top 10) as indicators for the Hall of Fame. His black ink score is 42, and grey ink is 205, ranking him 34th in both categories. The average HOFer has scores of 40 and 185, respectively. There are also measures called HOF Standards and HOF Monitor¬†which show him just missing the cutoff for the former and well above the cutoff for the latter. So standard systems see him as a borderline admit, which may mean he won’t make it on the first try (he will be pitted against Greg Maddux his first eligible year, after all).

But let me give you some other reasons why he should make it:

  • There have been only 33 seasons in the HISTORY of baseball in which a pitcher has reached 300 strikeouts, and Schilling owns three of them. The only other guys with at least that many? Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson and Sandy Koufax. That’s good company.
  • Not only are his strikeouts impressive, so is his control. His 4.38 strikeout-to-walk ratio ranks 2nd on the all-time career list. That’s gotta be worth something, right?
  • Schilling’s 3.46 ERA is not that impressive, some say, especially given all the time he’s spent in the NL. His career adjusted ERA+ is 127, meaning he’s been about 27% better than league average over his career. Some other Hall of Famers with ERA+ of 127 (minimum 1000 IP and 100 decisions): Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, Stan Coveleski and Tim Keefe. Goose Gossage and Jim Palmer lag Schilling at 126. Again, I think he belongs.
  • Wins are an overrated stat, as any sabermetrician will tell you. If your team is good, and you’re lucky, you can win 20 games. You also have to consider that top starters used to get 40 starts per season in the 70s, but now it’s typically 34-35 maximum. If 300 wins was the old gold standard, with a 5-man rotation you have to discount that about 15%. That means players of this era should be guaranteed in with a total of 255 wins.
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