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January 03, 2016

Is Curt Schilling a Hall of Famer? Would he go into Cooperstown as a Phillie?

Only five players who have worn a Phillies uniform for the majority of their careers have had their numbers retired by the organization: Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Richie Ashburn, Robin Roberts, and Jim Bunning. All five of those players are also Hall of Famers. This is not a coincidence. The Phillies have long had an unofficial rule that only Hall of Fame players are eligible to have their numbers retired by the organization.

It should be interesting to see if they ever become flexible on those “rules,” otherwise, there’s a fair chance no one from the World Series Champion 2008 team would have their number retired by the Phillies. Chase Utley’s 26 and Jimmy Rollins’ 11 are as iconic as the players who wore them on the back of their red pinstriped jerseys, right?

But I digress.

Rollins (still looking for a job as a current free agent) and Utley (who re-signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers on a one-year contract) are at least a half decade away from appearing on a Hall of Fame ballot. Shoo-in Hall of Famer Jim Thome is eligible in two years, for the Class of 2018, along with a quartet of other former Phillies who do not stand a very strong chance of entering The Hall without an admission ticket: Jamie Moyer, Brad Lidge, Scott Rolen and Kevin Millwood.

There is a former Phillie eligible this year, however, and one who is drawing considerable interest from the BBWAA voting populace. According to Ryan Thibs, who has kept a running count of ballots made public, via @NotMrTibbs, Curt Schilling is on 59.5 percent of those ballots, which is a considerable jump from the 39 percent Schilling appeared on last year.

Since players need to appear on 75 percent of the ballots for induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Schilling would still appear to be facing an uphill battle. But since the 158 public ballots Thibs has assembled (as of midnight on Monday) only count for a little more than one-third of the expected final count of ballots, it’s still possible Schilling is one of the names read when final results, and thus, the Class of 2016, is announced on Wednesday.

Which would lead to a fun debate…

As it turns out, I asked this very question to Schilling himself two summers ago before the All-Star Game at Citi Field.

“It's challenging because I became a [regular] big-league player in Philly, I spent [nine] of my [20] years there,” Schilling said in July of 2013. “But the things people know me for happened in Arizona, happened in Boston. So I don't know. I don't think I'd have a problem with any of them.”

Schilling grew into an ace (and was one for a long while) in Philadelphia, but reached a new level of stardom in Boston, where he played a vital role in ending the Curse of the Bambino in collecting the first of two World Series rings with the Red Sox.

But he spent twice as long in Philadelphia as he did in Boston and had some very, very good years at Veterans Stadium.

Schilling went to three of his six All-Star games as a representative of the Phillies; he went two other times as a Diamondback (he played in Arizona for four seasons) and once while with Boston.

I've written about this topic before, and I’ll go ahead and copy this useful paragraph into this story:

Schilling went 101-78 with a 3.35 ERA, 61 complete games and 14 shutouts in 242 games (226 starts) in Philadelphia. In Arizona, he went 58-28 with a 3.14 ERA, 18 complete games, and five shutouts in 108 games, and, in Boston, he went 53-29 with a 3.95 ERA, four complete games, and one shutout in 119 games.

Think about the end of that first sentence for a minute. Schilling completed 61 of the 226 games he started with the Phillies, an astounding 27 percent of his starts. In the last 30 years, when the complete game has gone the way of the dodo bird with the protecting of young pitchers with pitch counts and the specialization of bullpens, only three pitchers have had more complete games than Schilling’s 83 with the Phillies, Red Sox and Diamondbacks: Roger Clemens (110), Greg Maddux (109) and Randy Johnson (100).

Schilling, however, completed more of his starts in Philadelphia than Clemens did in Boston (100 of 382 starts, 26 percent), than Maddux did in Atlanta (61 of 363, 16.8 percent), than Johnson did in Arizona (36 of 192, 18.75 percent). This isn’t to say Schilling’s career was superior to any of those pitchers; it’s said to illustrate just how durable and dominant Schilling was in a near-decade long stay in South Philly.

Schilling played longer in Philadelphia (nine seasons) than in Boston and Arizona combined (four years each). He played (and excelled) in the postseason with the Phillies, and although he made many more October starts elsewhere, three of his four with Philadelphia rank among the top nine of his 19 career playoff starts, at least statistically (bloody socks need not apply).

But the World Series rings (two in Boston, one in Arizona) do loom large and it almost feels like a coin toss between the scripted Phillies ‘P’ or the Old English-ish Boston ‘B’ for what logo would appear on the hat on Schilling’s plaque. Perhaps he would go the route of Maddux: logo-free.

Whether Schilling deserves a plaque at all is another story. But let’s attempt to squeeze some of that into this story, too.

When Schilling was enshrined into the Phillies Wall of Fame in August of 2013, his 2.06 ERA ranked 13th in baseball history among the 55 pitchers who had logged at least 40 World Series innings. Bob Gibson is the only pitcher among the dozen ahead of Schilling to pitch in the last 50 years.

Schilling's .846 postseason winning percentage trails only Lefty Gomez (1.000) and Mariano Rivera (.889). Among pitchers who have logged at least 80 postseason innings, Schilling's 2.23 ERA ranks fourth, behind Christy Mathewson (0.97), Waite Hoyt (1.83) and Gibson (1.89).

All of those pitchers are in the Hall of Fame, except Rivera, who will be a first-ballot selection, and Schilling. You can check in on my friend @theaceofspaeder for more gaudy Schilling postseason stats, like this:

Postseason success alone does not make a Hall of Famer. So let's compare him to a contemporary who coasted into Cooperstown on his first year on the ballot two years ago.

Tom Glavine has two more Cy Young Awards than Schilling, who never won one but finished second thrice. But when you match up their 13 best seasons against each other, with 12 of those seasons falling in the same year, the former Phillies righthander fares pretty well.

  Glavine, 1991-2003  Schilling, 1992-2004  
 W/L218-116 180-112 
ERA3.24 3.28 
 G432 382 
 IP2,882 2,667 2/3 
 IP/S6 2/3 7 1/3 
 CG44 82 
 SHO18 19 
 ERA+130 134 
FIP3.82  3.12
 K/BB1.83 4.64 

                                                     *compiled thanks to baseball-reference

No, with 216 career wins, Schilling didn’t come close to reaching the 300-win plateau Glavine, Maddux, Johnson and many others reached. But wins are hardly the control of the starting pitcher in the modern day game. What pitchers can control, however, are how many batters they strike out and walk, and (usually) how many they allow on base.

In his 20 big league seasons, Schilling had a strikeout-to-walk rate higher than 4.0 nine times. Since 1901, only three others pitchers have managed to match that, and all are in the Hall of Fame: Pedro Martinez, Johnson, Maddux.

In those same 20 years, Schilling had a WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) lower than 1.08 in six of his seasons. Only five pitchers since 1901 have had a lower WHIP more often: Maddux (9 seasons with a 1.08 WHIP or lower), Martinez (7), Clemens (7), Tom Seaver (7), Juan Marichal (7).

Four of those pitchers are in Cooperstown and the other is a seven-time Cy Young Award winner who would be a no-brainer for the Hall if it wasn’t for the well-documented PED allegations.