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Rocket Envy—Schilling's Preemptive, Premature Un-Retirement
2005-02-09 13:37
by Mike Carminati

TSN's Ken Rosenthal reports that "Red Sox RHP Curt Schilling, 38, plans to retire when his contract expires at the end of the 2007 season." Not only have we had to live with Roger Clemens retiring and un-retiring over the last two seasons whenever his wife asks him to take out the garbage, now we have guys setting themselves up for preemptive retirements/un-retirements in the future.

And of course, Schilling, the great team player he, is doing it for completely altruistic reasons:

Schilling…says he will not play past age 40 in an attempt to strengthen his Hall of Fame credentials. By playing only three more seasons, he likely would fall short of the 66 victories he needs to reach 250. Schilling, however, says his family will come first. He and his wife, Shonda, have four children, ages 3 to 9.

What's the deal with the magic number of 250? Bert Blyleven won 287 and he's languishing in BBWAA ballot purgatory. Besides what Hall of Fame credentials does Schilling have?

Of all active pitchers, where does Schilling stand in the line for Hall plaques in baseball's soup kitchen? Tenth? Twlefth? Definitely, behind Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, Tom Glavine, Pedro Martinez, and Mariano Rivera. I'd put him in the Kevin Brown, Mike Mussina, and David Wells group. OK, so maybe Schilling is seventh or eighth. Then there are the Blylevens, Johns, Kaats, Morrisi, Guidrys, etc. I won't even go into Tony Mullane and Bobby Matthews (two nineteenth century players, whose election I don't necessarily support).

Keep in mind that there's no pitcher in the Hall with 184 or fewer wins and an ERA of 3.32 or worse. Schilling has 184 wins, a 3.32 career ERA, and a .599 winning percentage. He is far from the lock the media would lead you to believe, bloody sock or no.

What if he's hit by a bus tomorrow?
Ooh, let's enjoy that for a moment....
I'm just kidding by the way. I wish Mr. Schilling no harm. However, I can't see him going in without two more twenty-win seasons, minimum. Maybe I'm crazy though.

Let's assume that Schilling does pitch enough to reach 250 wins, no matter how many unretirements are needed to do so. Would his stats be Hall-worthy?
The only pitchers with less than 250 wins, an ERA over 3.24, and a winning percentage under .625 that are in the Hall are:

Bob Lemon2071283.23.618
Herb Pennock2401623.60.597
Dazzy Vance1971403.24.585
Catfish Hunter2241663.26.574
Jesse Haines2101583.64.571
Waite Hoyt2371823.59.566
Jim Bunning2241843.27.549
Dennis Eckersley1971713.50.535

Eckersley, of course, was a closer for half his career. A few of the others are usually mentioned as among the worst pitchers in the Hall. And yeah, ERA is era- and park-specific, but 3.32 still isn't going to impress.
I'm ready to open the doors to a lot more players from the under-represented expansion era, but I can't support him. I think Schilling's candidacy should fade almost as quickly as Joe Carter, a putative Hall of Famer in his day, who fell off the ballot in his first year.

As my friend Chris points out, Peter Gammons and his ilk have already labeled Schilling the greatest postseason ever. Does that claim hold water and should it help him gain admission to the Hall?

Here are all the guys with 5 or more postseason victories:

John Smoltz144.778 2.70
Andy Pettitte138.619 4.05
Tom Glavine1215.444 3.71
Greg Maddux1114.440 3.22
Whitey Ford108.556 2.71
Dave Stewart106.625 2.84
David Wells103.769 3.18
Roger Clemens107.588 3.54
Catfish Hunter96.600 3.26
Orlando Hernandez93.750 2.65
Curt Schilling82.800 2.22
Jim Palmer83.727 2.61
Mariano Rivera81.889 0.75
David Cone83.727 3.80
Orel Hershiser83.727 2.59
Jack Morris74.636 3.80
Red Ruffing72.778 2.63
Allie Reynolds72.778 2.79
Bob Caruthers78.467 2.51
Dave McNally74.636 2.49
Randy Johnson78.467 3.08
Bob Gibson72.778 1.89
Lefty Gomez601.000 2.86
Tommy John63.667 2.65
Chief Bender64.600 2.44
Burt Hooton63.667 3.17
Mike Mussina66.500 3.16
Steve Carlton66.500 3.26
Livan Hernandez62.750 3.99
Ken Holtzman64.600 2.30
Waite Hoyt64.600 1.83
Don Sutton64.600 3.68
Jack Coombs501.000 2.70
Juan Guzman51.833 2.44
Fernando Valenzuela51.833 1.98
Jimmy Key53.625 3.15
Mordecai Brown54.556 2.97
Ron Guidry52.714 3.02
Christy Mathewson55.500 0.97
Ed Crane52.714 3.27
Francisco Rodriguez53.625 2.31
Bruce Kison51.833 1.98
Bert Blyleven51.833 2.47
Vic Raschi53.625 2.24
Steve Avery53.625 2.90
John Tudor54.556 3.41
Pedro Martinez53.625 3.74
Tim Wakefield54.556 6.07
Herb Pennock501.000 1.95
Kevin Brown55.500 4.30

Schilling has great stats, but he's by no means head and shoulders above the rest. Besides it didn't help Dave Stewart much.

How does he perform in Bill James' Hall of Fame tests? (From

Black Ink: Pitching - 40 (35) (Average HOFer ~ 40)
Gray Ink: Pitching - 192 (43) (Average HOFer ~ 185)
HOF Standards: Pitching - 42.0 (59) (Average HOFer ~ 50)
HOF Monitor: Pitching - 151.0 (40) (Likely HOFer > 100) Overall Rank in parentheses.

That's better than I expected. Perhaps Schilling's best argument will be his strikeouts, not his wins totals. He should pass 3000 Ks sometime in 2006. That is still a magic number in a lot of voters' eyes. Depending on how many men have reach that number by the time he is eligible for the Hall determine whether and how quickly Schilling goes into the Hall. Maybe he would be wise to step down as quickly as possible after reaching 3000. It's better to be Rollie Fingers than Rich Gossage where the voters are concerned.

My final assessment is that Schilling is not a Hall of Famer as yet. He may well be one once he reaches 3000 strikeouts, only time will tell. If 3000 loses its luster, than Schilling will need to reach, say, the top ten (3500 K) or have two more twenty-win seasons. Given that his Hall argument is based on three years (2000-01 and 2004) out of 17 in his career, there's no reason to believe that he can remain healthy and effective in order to get those two more monster seasons.

I personally would not rush to enshrine the guy, but it appears that he'll Don Sutton his way into the Hall. Given his rapport with the media and his desire to remain in the public eye, he'll have his advocates when his day comes. He's no lock, but his odds are improving even with the stringent standards that are now imposed on expansion-era candidates. Now let's hope that his head does not get too big to fit on one plaque.

[Thanks to my friend Mike for the TSN article link.]

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