Politics Aside, Curt Schilling Belongs in Cooperstown

By Louis Addeo-Weiss

It’s been said that sports and politics shouldn’t mix. However, living in America, one of the virtues of democracy is stated in the First Amendment, our right to freedom of speech.

For longtime pitcher Curt Schilling, his controversial political views, which fall in line with the despised and deplored alt-right movement, this has greatly affected his induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

2020 will mark Schilling’s 8th year on the ballot, one which he received 60.9% of the vote in 2019. To receive baseball’s highest honor, one must attain at least 75% of the vote.

Here, we will put politics aside and make a statistical case for the man who authored the bloody sock performance in Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS. 

For any player, the best place to start when discussing their viability for Cooperstown in WAR (Wins Above Replacement). It is important, too, that we understand the context of their career, relative to their peers and those who have come before.

Schilling spent the vast majority of his career as a starting pitcher, starting 436 of the 569 games he appeared in, so we’ll gauge his performance by that of other starters.

The average WAR, according to baseball-reference, of a hall of fame pitcher is 73.2, a mark Schilling exceeds at 79.5 (80.5 pWAR). When it comes to perspective player evaluation, WAR has come to be defined as the ultimate benchmark for a player’s production over the course of their career, however, other factors exist to aid in one’s HOF narrative.

Let’s turn our attention away from WAR and focus on ERA+.

For those not familiar, ERA+ is all-encompassing, pitting a pitcher’s ERA against the entirety of the league with adjustments being made to accompany respective ballparks. In lamen’s terms, it shows how much better (or worse) you are at preventing runs than everyone else.

Using baseball-reference’s play index, we see that 136 pitchers have tossed at least 3,000 innings, a mark defined by consistency and durability. Of those hurlers though, we see that Schilling is tied for 13th all-time in ERA+ at 127. Of those names he shares this distinction with, they include Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson, and Kevin Brown, two names who are sure-fire Hall of Famers, and another who should’ve gotten an extended look by the writers.

What this tells us is this: in his respective era, Curt Schilling was as good at preventing runs as Gibson and Seaver were in theirs.

Benchmark numbers are one aspect to Hall of Fame voting that writers look for when dissecting a player’s career. For hitters, 500 home runs merit an almost-certain ‘yes’, as are 300 wins and 3,000 strikeouts.

And while Schilling eclipsed 3,000 punchouts during his career, retiring with 3,116 strikeouts, people will look to his low win total as a detractor, as the right-hander finished with just 216 victories.

Stan Coveleski, who, like Schilling, finished his career with a career 127 ERA+, ended his respective career with 215 wins. Coveleski was inducted into Cooperstown on the Veterans Committee in 1969.

Even fellow Cooperstown-enshrined hurlers Don Drysdale and Hal Newhouser have fewer wins than Schilling, at 209 and 207 respectively. Unlike Schilling, Drysdale did, however, win a Cy Young Award, while Newhouser won consecutive MVPs from 1944-45, which reads as a bit of cherry-picking stats to bar Schilling from induction due to his political views.

However, additional metrics speak to Schilling’s hall of fame credentials, particularly his walk rate. 

Among pitchers with at least 1,000 innings pitched, Schilling ranks 7th in strikeout-to-walk-ratio, averaging 4.38 punchouts per walk. Of the 6 names listed above him, 5 are current active MLB pitchers, including Chris Sale, who holds the all-time mark at 5.37, and Corey Kluber (5.0).

Yet, when you look at pitchers with at least 3,000 innings pitched, a benchmark of longevity, Schilling ranks second, trailing only Tommy Bond at 5.04, respectively.

And if these numbers weren’t enough, we haven’t even glanced over his postseason track record.

In 133.1 postseason innings pitched across 19 starts, Schilling posted an 11-2 record, with a 2.23 ERA, striking out 120 batters, while only walking 25. That’s a strikeout-to-walk-ratio of 4.8, more impressive than his already historically great 4.38 mark in the regular season.

WPA, short for Win Probability Added, is a metric used to calculate a player’s contributions on a plus-minus scale, further outlines just how great Schilling was in October.

The all-time leader in Postseason WPA among starting pitchers? Curt Schilling at 4.09.

That mark also ranks second-best among any player in baseball history, with longtime Yankees closer Mariano Rivera serving as the all-time leader at 11.7. 

The narrative is illustrated through the numbers; Curt Schilling belongs in the Hall of Fame and his induction should no further be delayed by his political ideology.

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