Boston Red Sox: Hall of Fame case for pitcher Curt Schilling

BOSTON - OCTOBER 13: Starting pitcher Curt Schilling #38 of the Boston Red Sox pitches in the first inning of Game Two of the American League Championship Series against the Cleveland Indians at Fenway Park on October 13, 2007 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
BOSTON - OCTOBER 13: Starting pitcher Curt Schilling #38 of the Boston Red Sox pitches in the first inning of Game Two of the American League Championship Series against the Cleveland Indians at Fenway Park on October 13, 2007 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

Former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling failed to get elected to the Hall of Fame in 2020. A closer look at the numbers show that he has a very good case.

There probably hasn’t been a more polarizing member of the Boston Red Sox over the last twenty years than Curt Schilling. He was the marquee addition to the 2004 Red Sox and arguably one of the missing pieces that pushed them over the top after the heartbreak of the 2003 ALCS. He had a fantastic season in 2004, going 21-6 with a 3.26 ERA and 203 strikeouts and his performance in the “bloody sock” game has been the stuff of Red Sox lore from the very moment it happened. While he only played the final four years of his career in Boston, he won two World Series there and is firmly entrenched as a Sox legend.

While there’s some debate over whether the totality of Schilling’s career warrants enshrinement in Cooperstown (which will be discussed in this article), most people going into the Hall of Fame voting this year thought that this, his eighth year on the ballot, would be when he’d finally get in. For a while it looked like he’d receive the required 75% of the vote, but he ended up falling twenty votes short at 70%. Responses to his failure have seemed to be fairly evenly split, with both the consenting and dissenting camps strongly defending their positions.

Before we get into the discussion of whether or not Schilling should be in the Hall of Fame, let’s look at his career numbers.

20 years, 216-146 W-L record, 3.46 ERA, 3116 K, 711 BB, 1.137 WHIP, 6x All Star, 3x World Series champion, World Series MVP (2001), 2x MLB wins leader, 2x NL strikeout leader, NLCS MVP, member of the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame and Philadelphia Phillies Hall of Fame.

That’s a very impressive career spent with mainly three teams: the Phillies, Diamondbacks, and Red Sox (Schilling played his first three seasons in Baltimore and his fourth in Houston, but only appeared in a total of 100 games for those two teams).

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He won twenty games twice (22-6 in 2001, 21-6 in 2004) and averaged 15 wins per season for his career. He had 300+ strikeouts in a season three times (1998, 1999, 2002) and averaged 211 per season for his career. He was a workhorse who averaged 221 innings per season and twice led MLB in innings pitched in a season. Combined with the various individual accolades, it would seem he’d be a sure-fire hall of famer, right?

The one stat that most people zero in on are his career wins. While 300 wins is the “magic number” for a pitcher, Schilling is just barely above 200 for his career. Nearly every argument made for not enshrining him begins with his wins which is ironic and more than a bit disingenuous. All we hear in this Analytics Age of baseball is that pitcher wins are a “meaningless stat” because of all of the other factors out of the pitcher’s control that go into it, and yet those same people will use Schilling’s win total against him. Schilling is a member of the 3000 strikeout club, another “magic number” for pitchers, yet this is never mentioned by those bring up his lesser win total.

Another knock on Schilling is that he didn’t have enough truly dominant years in his career and that his peak period wasn’t “long enough.” Let me give you the stats of another pitcher without revealing his name yet.

16 years, 236-106 W-L record, 2.75 ERA, 1956 K, 1086 BB, 1.215 WHIP, 10x All Star, 6x World Series champion, World Series MVP (1961), 3x AL wins leader, 2x MLB ERA leader, AL Cy Young Award winner (1961), Baseball Hall of Fame member.

Fairly comparable stats, yes? Roughly the same number of wins, lower ERA, but fewer strikeouts and considerably more walks. Their individual honors are about the same as are the career averages (17 wins per season, won twenty games twice, 142 strikeouts per season, 230 innings pitched per season, led MLB in innings pitched twice). Their careers are remarkably similar. Have you guessed who it is yet?

None other than Yankees great Whitey Ford. His career is so similar to Schilling’s in almost every category that it’s eerie. No one has ever debated the merits of whether Ford belongs in the Hall of Fame (although with those numbers, I do think his being on any team other than the Yankees probably would have hampered his candidacy a bit). If we look at their career postseason numbers, Schilling’s case gets even stronger.

Schilling: 11-2 W-L, 2.23 ERA, 120 K, 25 BB, .968 WHIP, 133.1 IP.

Ford: 10-8 W-L, 2.71 ERA, 94 K, 34 BB, 1.137 WHIP, 146.0 IP.

Taking into account that there were more postseason rounds in the years Schilling played (there was only the World Series during Ford’s career), we should also consider that Ford compiled those numbers solely in the eleven World Series he played in while Schilling’s numbers came during the twelve postseason series (in five years) he played in.

The remarkable similarity of their statistics in both the regular season and postseason and the fact that Ford is almost universally heralded as one of the greatest clutch pitchers of all time for both his regular season and postseason heroics helps Schilling’s case immensely.

Curt Schilling has long been known as one of the premier postseason pitchers of his generation and if that same metric was used to bolster Ford’s case in order to push a very good regular season career over the top and into Cooperstown, the same should be done for Schilling.

Next. Red Sox struggles following World Series seasons. dark

Do many people dislike Schilling as a person? Yes. Are his political views and failed business ventures held against him? Yes. Should those negate what he did on the mound and keep him out of Cooperstown? (And let’s be honest, there are a lot of great players who weren’t good people in Cooperstown. Kirby Puckett, anyone?). I say no.