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D-backs on the Hall of Fame ballot, #4: Curt Schilling

The "B pitcher" in our stellar pairing of the early 2000's is also on the ballot for Cooperstown, making his third appearance. Will it go any better than the previous two?

Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Career: 20 years, 569 games, 216-146, 3.46 ERA (127 ERA+), 80.7 bWAR
Arizona: 4 years, 108 games, 58-28, 3.14 ERA (148 ERA+), 26.0 bWAR

There may not have been a more dominant 1-2 punch for a team in the liveball era than Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson. In 2001, they combined for 18.8 bWAR; the following season, they were even better, being worth a total of 19.6 bWAR. The lowest bWAR the pair put up in over those two years was Schilling's 8.7 in 2002. The last team with two pitchers that good were the 1903 New York Giants, with Christy Mathewson and Joe McGinnity - and they started 100 of the team's games that season, throwing over 800 innings. Both men are in the Hall of Fame, so will Schilling also join his team-mate, who seems all but certain to be elected next week?

The signs aren't promised, since Schilling has already been on the ballot twice, and fallen well short, despite being described by Jonah Keri as "a mortal lock". He received just 29.2% of votes last time, and is going the wrong direction, being down from 38.8% in his debut. It definitely seems low, considering his numbers are, in many ways, comparable with those voted in. Let's reprint a table from our Big Unit article, posting Schilling's stats alongside those starting pitchers who have been elected over the past 15 years, and the best of those listed alongside Curt on this year's ballot. For comparison, the average starting pitcher currently in Cooperstown has a JAWS of 61.8.

Bert Blyleven 692 287 250 4970.0 4632 2029 1830 1322 3701 3.31 3.19 118 95.3
Roger Clemens 709 354 184 4916.2 4185 1885 1707 1580 4672 3.12 3.09 143 140.3
Tom Glavine 682 305 203 4413.1 4298 1900 1734 1500 2607 3.54 3.95 118 81.4
Randy Johnson 618 303 166 4135.1 3346 1703 1513 1497 4875 3.29 3.19 135 102.1
Greg Maddux 744 355 227 5008.1 4726 1981 1756 999 3371 3.16 3.26 132 106.9
Pedro Martinez 476 219 100 2827.1 2221 1006 919 760 3154 2.93 2.91 154 84.0
Mike Mussina 537 270 153 3562.2 3460 1559 1458 785 2813 3.68 3.57 123 83.0
Curt Schilling 569 216 146 3261.0 2998 1318 1253 711 3116 3.46 3.23 127 79.9
John Smoltz 723 213 155 3473.0 3074 1391 1284 1010 3084 3.33 3.24 125 69.5

If Johnson and Maddux seem comparable, Glavine and Schilling are approximate parallels; Glavine has the advantage of longevity and got those 300 wins, but Schilling has a better ERA and was superior at his peak (WAR7 = WAR over a player's best seven seasons). That 127 career ERA+ is exactly the same as Bob Gibson and Tom Seaver, both of whom made it in on their first try, the latter coming closer to a unanimous selection than any other player (98.8%). And that's not even including Curt's post-season, bloody sock dominance: he lost only twice in 19 playoff starts and has a 2.23 ERA, while he is 4-1 with a 2.06 ERA in the World Series.

But in last year's balloting, Glavine was named by 92% of voters, more than three times as many as Schilling. Why such a difference in perception? There is the "overshadowed" argument. Glavine twice won the National League Cy Young award, in 1991 and 1998, something Schilling never managed. Curt was runner-up on three separate occasions: twice to Johnson and once to Johan Santana, though none of those were even close, with Schilling being named the top pick on only two out of the possible 92 ballots. Certainly, it appears that, when Schilling was at his peak, he wasn't even the best pitcher on his own team, and that may well lead voters to under-rate him.

It's possible the snub could be more personal in nature. While Johnson was renowned for his sullen demeanor to the media, there seems a general perception that was just who the Big Unit was. Schilling was far more voluble, but this is not necessarily a good thing. As a quote variously ascribed to Mark Twain or Abraham Lincoln (though with slim evidence for either) puts it, "It's better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than open it and remove all doubt." Schilling has a habit of the latter; most particularly to Arizona fans, for calling his World Series ring won with the Diamondbacks, "the B ring."

But that's hardly the only example. Last year, he claimed Red Sox medical staff suggested he take PEDs; an accusation found "baseless" by an investigation. And he's still at it, recently getting involved in a Twitter spat with a certain ESPN pundit well-known to the SnakePit, on the topic of - wait for it - evolution. This ended with the latter being allowed to play the martyr card, smugly quoting Galileo after serving a social media suspension imposed by ESPN. Me, I'm reminded of Oscar Wilde's quote on fox-hunting: "the unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible." I leave it as an exercise to SnakePit readers to figure out who is what in that analogy.

But to get back to baseball, his time here in Arizona was particularly notable for pin-point control. In 2002, he faced 1,021 batters and walked just 39. That K:BB ratio of 9.58 has been passed by only one National League pitcher in the past 130 years (Brett Saberhagen, 1994). During one streak covering parts of six outings between May 13-June 8, he struck out 56 batters between free passes. But he was equally prone to the home-run, leading the league the previous season, allowing 37 long balls, and Schilling famously demanded the team keep the BOB roof closed when he pitched.

Had Johnson still been in the American League, it's certainly possible Schilling might have won the NL Cy Young in both 2001 and 2002, and his Hall of Fame case would likely be a great deal stronger as a result. As is, he's on shaky ground, though it's worth noting that a number of players who started off with lower approval ratings than Curt have made it into Cooperstown, including Goose Gossage, Eddie Mathews and Jim Rice. But the crowded ballot we see this year is not going to make Schilling's task any easier, and even as an outspoken advocate against PEDs [one case where his mouth does deserve respect], this year almost certainly won't be his.

Update: Email from Curt Schilling.

Thanks for the article, but please research before you do things. I never, not once, called the Arizona ring a "B" ring. The Arizona was the "A" ring (because it had an A) and the Red Sox ring was the "B" ring (well you can guess why). Not only did you misstate, but you stated the exact opposite.

Not only that but then you post about an argument that, knowing I am a Christian, anyone that knew me knew before I posted anything what I believed. I didn't argue against evolution, I argued against "evolution of man", which, if you do even a small investigation, is insane as to what people believe and are being taught still today.

You can rail on me for anything you like, as a Christian it's absolutely something I expect and am more than used to, but please don't make shit up.