Schilling > Hershiser < Smoltz
The Prince of New York and I are in the midst of a friendly little discussion, brought up by the very possible retirement of the 41 year old Curt Schilling. And of course it has inspired a blog, via The Statistician Magician.
It isn’t so much that Schilling is a Hall of Famer or not, it is whether or not he is as deserving as a pitcher such as John Smoltz. Although, just for the record, I am a “Schilling for the Hall” advocate. Maybe it is because I have seen his best years, and some of the most memorable postseason performances a single pitcher can have. But maybe, just maybe, it has a lot to do with the numbers too.
The fact is, is that Schilling and Smoltz may very well be finished with their careers, due to the fact that each has just suffered a significant injury at a very old baseball age. So let us assume they never pitch again. If they don’t, then their ERA+ of 127 are duplicated by one another. They are EXACTLY the same! And as the decent expert opinion of Rob Neyer suggests, each would probably only hurt their Hall chances if they did choose to come back and pitch another year, or more. It wouldn’t be anything that would completely sway the Voters’ opinions one way or the other, but it almost definitely would be a year in which they would perform worse, than we as fans, are accustomed to. Remember, coming off a significant injury at this stage in one’s career, is a very, very difficult task. And to perform at a high level is even more difficult. And I doubt that Schilling and/or Smoltz would try and come back if they knew failure was around the bend. Each would have to think and know that they can be effective, not necessarily great, but effective. Because neither of them will ever be able to duplicate what they did when they were Great pitchers.
But these two have have posted incredibly similiar numbers throughout their careers. Careers which most would love to have. A few stats stick out though. One being the exact same in the ERA+ category over their careers, that I mentioned above. The fact that they have done this over basically the same amount of innings makes it feel even more identical. Schilling threw 3,261 innings over his career. Smoltz pitched 3,395. An almost irrelevant difference of 134 innings. To jump off subject a little, just for a second, in 2002 when Smoltz had 55 saves, after being converted to Closer, he pitched a total of 80 innings. Schilling that season pitched 259 innings on way to an ERA+ of 142. Schilling, during that 2002 season, had a better ERA+, and a better WHIP as a starter than Smoltz did as a closer. The following season Smoltz was absolutely incredible as a Closer, but Schilling was still very good as a starter. And that 2003 campaign was the only season year where he was a Mariano Rivera-caliber Closer (the other two years he closed full time Smoltz was good, but not absolutely incredible as he was in 2003). So what if he racked up some Saves? Why should this matter in the voters eyes? A great starter has more value than a great closer. I am sorry, but that is the way I feel.
On to a few others stats:
Strikeouts: Curt Schilling had 3,116 K’s to Smoltz’s 3,011. Again, basically the same. There is nothing significant that separates the two in this category either. Over the course of an entire career, 105 strikeouts means little, when comparing two pitchers.
Walks: Or bases on balls if one prefers. Schilling let 711 batters walk down to first base for free, Smoltz 992. Schilling actually wins that category.
WHIP: Schilling has a very slight edge in this category too. He wins by an almost meaningless margin of 1.137, to Smoltz’s 1.170. Not meaningless, but very close.
Where does Orel Hershiser come into play? Well, “The Prince of New York” agreed with Orestes Destrade that Schilling and Hershiser had similiar careers. I don’t agree with this. Nothing against Paul (Prince), or Orestes, but Schilling was a better pitcher. Period. One can say what they want about what Hershiser would have been had he not “blown out his shoulder” as Paul puts it, but that is baseball. I cannot compare what Hershiser might have been, with what Schilling WAS. That is simply not something that is valid. Hershiser may have gone on to be better, as his early years indicated, but he didn’t, and he wasn’t. His ERA+ is 15% lower than Schillings, he struck out 1,000 fewer batters, and walked 300 more than Schilling, in roughly the same amount of innings. I don’t see how he is all that comparable. Good, yes. Hershiser WAS good, but while Schilling and Smoltz are more “borderline” Hall of Famer’s, Hershiser is simply not worthy.
“And just one more thing,” to quote the great Ace Ventura. All three posted GREAT postseason numbers. Schilling a 2.23 ERA. Hershiser a 2.59 ERA. Smoltz a 2.65 ERA. Not much debate that all three were great in the playoffs, they were, that cannot be argued. And naturally Smoltz’s ERA was slightly higher because he threw more innings. So leaving it at all three being great is probably the best bet when comparing what they did in October.
So while all three were good, Smoltz and Schilling were clearly better, leaving Hershiser behind. But some voters may go on the fact that Smoltz added 154 saves, while Schilling simply did not. The fact of the matter is, is that Schilling and Smoltz do not separate themselves from one another. They are so close that if one goes in, the other must too. I believe they both should get in. But if one gets in because he added a different element to his game, even though it actually had less individual value, then there is something seriously wrong.
Oh, and in case you are wondering, I avoided “Wins” for a reason. Too many variables. But my readers know that I feel that way about the very overrated, and untelling stat that is “Wins and Losses.”