Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Keltner List: Curt Schilling

Next up on the countdown is Curt Schilling. If there was a font that screamed "cheesy 1980s radio voice" I would use it. Stay tuned to WAZS where the third caller gets free tickets to the Cochise County Fair reunion show of Red Rider! Sheesh.

1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball?

Schilling arrived in the late 1980s (which seems like a long time ago) after a few average to above average seasons in Triple A. Believe it or not, he was traded to the Orioles along with Brady Anderson for Mike Boddicker in 1988, who is my distant cousin. I don't think that Schilling was ever regarded as the best player in baseball, but best pitcher? That's another question.

2. Was he the best player on his team?

Schilling was used as a reliever early in his career, and was not made a starter until the 1992 season. Schilling was probably the best pitcher for a few years with the Phillies, but not the best player. Again, was he the best pitcher on his team? With the Phillies he absolutely was from 1995 to his trade to the D-Backs in 2000. With the Red Sox, he was the ace of the staff for two seasons. Hell, I would take him as the best player on those Phillies teams.

3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?

By the late 1990s, Schilling was on the short list of the best pitcher in the NL, a list dominated by Greg Maddux and future teammate Pedro Martinez. I would have put him in third or fourth on that list. In some ways, I think Schilling's status as a pitcher is impacted negatively because of his teammates. Schilling was on teams with Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson, both pitchers a shade better than Schilling, This is not to say for a minute that Schilling was not a great pitcher, he was most years after 1997; he shared the spotlight with great pitchers and hall of fame talents. Schilling was usually one of the best pitchers in his league in 1992-93, 1997-1999, 2001-04. However, he may not have been as good as one of his teammates.

4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?

Schilling is best known for the "Bloody Sock", but he had plenty of chances in the postseason before that. Schilling made his first World Series start in Game 1 of the 1993 series. Schilling got hit pretty hard and gave up 6 ER in 6+ innings. After that? Here are the totals for Schilling's next 6 series starts:

41 2/3 

Schilling made four World Series appearances, and did not lose a game over the last three. That line is Gibson-esque. Overall, Schilling recorded 11 post season wins.

2001 with the Diamondbacks typifies Schilling. The DBacks won the west by 2 games over the Giants. Schilling gave up six runs on 10 hits in a game on Sept 18 with the Rockies. For the rest of August and September, Schilling was 9-1 with a WHIP of 0.974 and 94 Ks in 77 innings. Many times he got popped for one game, but then would just be dominant. In 2001-2 Schilling was 6-2 against the Giants with 72 Ks in 60 innings. He did not fare as well against the Yankees, but a 7-8 record against them wasn't bad. Schilling also carried a winning record against winning teams.

5. Was he good enough to contribute past his prime?

Schilling recorded three twenty win seasons after the age of 33, and won 15 games at age 39. He only had one subpar season after age 35 (2005) due to injuries. That qualifies as contributing.

6. Is he the best player in history not in the hall of fame?

No, but Schilling is on the short list of the best pitchers not in the hall of fame.

7. Are most players with similar statistics in the Hall of Fame?

Only two of Schilling's comps are hall of famers: Don Drysdale and Dazzy Vance. Both fit Schilling's profile of a hard throwing right hander who struck out men in bunches. His closest comps are Kevin Brown (920) and Bob Welch (900), both VERY high comp scores. Brown got 2.1% of the voting on his only year on the hall ballot in 2011. Brown, of course, got pummeled in game 7 of the 2004 ALCS, the day after Schilling won the Bloody Sock game. Brown's career ended the next year after a 4-7 season with the Yankees. Why did Brown only get 2.1%? Three things, in all likelihood:

1. Brown won 20 games once. Voters like big seasons.
2. Brown did not pitch well in the World Series (0-3 in four starts with an ERA over 6)
3. Most writers thought he was kind of a jerk, and he had a reputation as something of a mercenary.

Welch looked like a phenom in 1978 with the Dodgers, winning seven games, throwing three shutouts and nabbing three saves in one season at age 21. Welch's career was nearly derailed by alcoholism (a tale he tells very well in the book Five o' clock Comes Early) but he came back to win 57 games in three seasons with the A's teams of the late 80s. He is a good comp for Schilling because of his career trajectory; a few seasons where it was unclear where the arm would fit, a career lull in the middle and great heights at the end. In 2000, Welch got 0.2% of the vote for the Hall. His heights were not as great nor as long lasting as Schillings.

8. Do the players number meet hall of fame standards?

Schilling scores a 171 on the hall monitor, with a 46 on the standards. Both are quite respectable, with Schilling ranking 34th all time on the monitor score.

9. Is there evidence to suggest he was much better or worse than his statistics?

I think Schilling was better than his records, simply because of the attitude he brought to the mound. He was one of those athletes that are called "leaders", which is usually bull shit. With Schilling it wasn't, as he went out and won games. It is no small coincidence that the 1992 and 1993 Phillies and the 2004 Red Sox were cast as "working class" teams who liked to drink beer, have fun and win ball games. Schilling was a leader on both of those teams, and it was a wonderful sight to see.

There are four pitchers in my life I would watch pitch on TV or live if I had the chance, just because of what they did:

1. Tim Wakefield: probably the last great knuckleballer we will ever see, which is awful. Why doesn't someone go back to mixing in a knuckler here and there like a lot of the old timers did in the 1930s and 1940s? It would work! Got a 90 MPH fastball and a crummy change up? Toss a knuckler up there and see what happens.
2. Nolan Ryan: he was 1000 years old when I was in grade school and did not retire until I was in college. Good lord, he threw hard for a long time. I have no earthly idea how he did it. "Awesome" is a word most overused these days, but Ryan was in that he inspired wonder and no small amount of fear.
3. Pedro Martinez: attitude and throwing inside. Not many people do that anymore, and Martinez was one of the better guys at throwing inside with control. My dad used to tell me stories about Sal Maglie when I was a kid, and Martinez made me think of him.
4. Jamie Moyer: again, how did he do that? Moyer always made me happy on the mound, simply because he was the anti-strongman. His changeup leisurely knocked down large men with tree trunk legs that dominated baseball in the 1990s. He was the David in a Goliath Steroid game writ large, and it was beautiful.

10. Is he the best player eligible who has not been inducted?


11. How many Cy Young type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an Cy Young Award? If not, how often did he come close?

He was the Co-MVP of the 2001 World Series with Randy Johnson. Schilling never won a CYA. He finished second three times and fourth in the voting once. This seems odd to me, but looking at the years involved, it makes sense. Here are the winners in Schilling's seven highest WAR seasons:

1992: Schilling was 14-11, had 26 relief appearances and 16 starts, 4 shutouts, 2 saves, 10 CG and an ERA of 2.35. Greg Maddux won the award that year and Schilling did not make the top 5.

1997: Schilling's first "big" year. Led league in Ks, wins 17 games. Winner Pedro Martinez also won 17 games, and he and Schilling were the only pitchers in the NL to strike out 300 hitters. Martinez had an ERA a run lower than Schillings. Schilling finished 4th, behind Denny Neagle, but should have been third behind Martinez and Maddux.

1998: Schilling went 15-14 and received zero votes, even though he led the league in IP, K and CG. He was as good, if not better, than the winner Tom Glavine, and certainly better than John Smoltz or  the recently-traded-to-the-Astros Randy Johnson.

2001: Second to Randy Johnson. Schilling and Johnson combined to win 43 games and strikeout 645 hitters. The only pitcher better than Schilling in the NL (and the game that year) was Johnson.

2002: If anything, Johnson and Schilling were better in 2002. 11.26 K/9 over 71 starts with 49 wins. For the second straight year, the only pitcher in baseball better than Schilling was his teammate.

2004: Second to Johan Santana, which was a legitimate vote. Both won 20 games, but Santana's peripherals were better.

12. How many all star type seasons did he have? How many All Star teams did he play for? Did most other players selected to that many All Star games get elected to the Hall of Fame?

Schilling made six AS teams and started two games.  He is in good company, sharing that number with Jim Palmer and Lefty Grove. In Groves' defense, they didn't have an All Star game until he had led the league in Ks seven times and won an MVP award. A good rule of thumb for pitchers is 7 appearances, and Schilling is on the cusp.

13. If this man was the best player on his team, could his team win the pennant?

If Schilling is his teams best pitcher, that team would contend for a division title but probably not a pennant.

14. What impact did the player have on baseball history?

Schilling was a central character in Boston's first world series victory in 86 years and was a vital piece of two other championships. His performance in game 6 of the 2004 ALCS, coming as it did with the Red Sox pushing for an historic comeback, the ESPN fanned rivalry and the feeling that if Schilling did his thing there was no way in hell the Red Sox were not going to win a game 7, is historic. Even if the Red Sox and Yankee rivalry wasn't for about 30 years before the 1990s. I think every baseball fan in the Universe owes that team a debt of gratitude in that we will not have to hear about the Curse of the Bambino ever again.

15. Did the player uphold the standards of the Hall of Fame?

Schilling certainly does, giving generously of his time to various charities and doing yeoman's work in support of ALS research. Business troubles aside, Schilling was an excellent teammate, positive clubhouse presence and has put his celebrity to good use in the wider world.

If anything, Schilling makes me dislike Jack Morris' candidacy a little more. Let's compare the two in the World Series, upon which much of the Morris candidacy rests:

51 2/3

Schilling led the league in wins twice, Morris twice. Morris led the league in complete games once, Schilling four times. In 563 fewer innings, Schilling struck out 638 more hitters and walked 620 fewer than Morris. Schilling made one more All Star team than Morris. If the argument for Morris centers on his place as a "Big Game" Pitcher, what to do with Schilling, whose post season record is every bit as good, made more all star games and won just as many titles as Morris? Schilling led his league in categories twice as often as Morris and scores higher in both the hall of fame monitor and standards.  Schilling's seven year WAR, courtesy of BBref, is 49.0 to Morris' 32.8 Roughly, a peak Schilling was worth two more wins a year to his team than a peak Morris. I'll take Schilling.


No comments:

Post a Comment