So, this guy wrote in with a complaint about Curt Schilling. I should say: I’m a Curt Schilling Hall of Fame guy. I think he’s a Hall of Famer, and I don’t think it’s an especially difficult call. I mean, no, he didn’t have the perfect career. He’s not one of the 10 best pitchers ever. But I think he’s one of the 25 best, and I think he’s pretty comfortably in that group.
The big knock against him, in my mind, is that he was wildly inconsistent until his mid 30s. He did not really appear on the scene until he was 25 — when he led the league in WHIP and posted a 2.35 ERA. Then he wasn’t especially good again until he was 29 or so. He had some good years and some injuries and then, at 34, suddenly, he was awesome, this monster, a truly great pitcher for four seasons. Those four years, 2001-2004 — with offense still exploding — match up pretty well to Tom Seaver’s best four consecutive seasons or just about anyone else’s, save a Koufax or a Pedro.
Then there was a sputter, one more good season, and it was over.
Even with those inconsistencies, I see a guy who had a very high peak from 2001 to 2004 — he went 74-28 with a 150 ERA+ and 30.1 WAR — and I see a guy with some Hall of Fame career numbers. Here’s two of them: Schilling had 3,116 strikeouts, and he had a .597 winning percentage. That has been a winning Hall of Fame combination in years past. Every single eligible pitcher with 3,000 strikeouts is in the Hall of Fame, and every non-eligible pitcher other than Schilling (Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz) seems a virtual lock to make the Hall.
Some of the 3,000-strikeout pitchers took a while to get inducted — Bert Blyleven the most prominent of those, but Don Sutton took five years. I think the reason it took longer for those guys is the theory that they were not great pitchers but were instead COMPILERS with sluggish winning percentages. I don’t think it’s true in either case, but that’s what many people thought. Anyway, That’s not Schilling’s problem. He has a lifetime 60-percent win-loss percentage, which means something to some people. And It shouldn’t hurt that Schilling has the best strikeout-to-walk ratio of any pitcher (any pitcher) with 1,000 strikeouts.
So, yes, I think Schilling is pretty clearly a Hall of Famer based just on his regular season work. I mean you are talking about a guy with a higher Baseball Reference WAR than Jim Palmer, Juan Marichal or Dennis Eckersley.
Then, on top of all that, you throw in his extraordinary postseason work — 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA in the postseason, 4-1 with a 2.06 ERA in the World Series, a couple of the most famous postseason games ever pitched — and in my mind that should make him a slam dunk. But, I also realize, the majority of people disagree. Almost nobody sees him as a slam dunk Hall of Famer. Even Schilling devotee Michael Schur is not certain of his place in the Hall of Fame. Thing is, I think the main reason many people don’t see Schilling as a slam dunk Hall of Famer is his lack of a Cy Young Award and his relatively low win total (216). Neither of those things bothers me at all. He was Cy Young worthy in 2001, 2002 and 2004 and got beat out by all-time seasons from Randy Johnson (twice) and Johan Santana. He had four or five other seasons that might have won a Cy Young Award in a down year.
As for pitcher wins … I think it has always been a fundamentally flawed statistic, and it becomes more flawed ever year.
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But I was telling you about this guy who wrote in. I can’t find his exact words — he might have sent them via email, via tweet, via Facebook post, via Instagram, via comment, can’t keep up with these crazy new technologies — but he basically said this: “Sure Schilling has all those strikeouts because he spent most of his career striking out pitchers in the National League. I’ll bet half his strikeouts are of pitchers.”
Well, obviously half of Schilling’s strikeouts were not pitchers — this is one of those great overstatements baseball sometimes sparks, such as someone saying that Roberto Clemente had such a great arm he saved 100 runs a year. Still, it is true that Schilling whiffed 269 pitchers in his career, which — if you are geared toward a certain conclusion — means he struck out fewer than 3,000 fully trained hitters in his career. His non-pitcher strikeout total is 2,847. So there you go. Schilling DID NOT strike out 3,000 non-pitchers.
In case you are wondering … of the 16 pitchers with 3,000 strikeouts, six of them needed pitcher strikeouts to achieve they mark. They are: Bob Gibson (2,649 non-p strikeouts; 468 p strikeouts); John Smoltz (2,701 non-p; 383 p); Curt Schilling (2,847 non-p, 269 p); Ferguson Jenkins (2,897 non-p, 295 p); Greg Maddux (2,952 non-p, 419 p) and Pedro Martinez (2,983 non-p, 171 p). The data isn’t available on Walter Johnson, though it’s fair to wonder if 509-plus of his 3,509 strikeouts were of pitchers.
I don’t think any of this means very much … it’s just fun baseball talk. Pitchers are hitters, at least in the National League, and their strikeouts count as much as any other. But it did get me to do a little research on the greatest strikeout pitchers and how many of their strikeouts were of pitchers. I found a few cool things, which I’ll pass along.
First off, there are 55 pitchers in my study — they are the 55 pitchers with 2,000-plus strikeouts who Baseball Reference offered complete information. Unfortunately, this does not include older pitchers like Bob Feller, Lefty Grove, Pete Alexander, Bobo Newsom and so on. My suspicion is that they had a higher percentage of pitcher strikeouts than my group of 55 for the obvious reason that there was no designated hitter in those days. Anyway. we have 55 pitchers.
Of Curt Schilling’s 3,116 strikeouts, 8.6 percent were of pitchers. That is almost exactly the average of all the pitchers in the study (8.8 percent). But, the study — as mentioned — is skewed by the DH. If you look only at pitchers who (1) Spent most of their career in the National League and/or (2) Pitched much of their career before the DH came into place — their strikeout totals are 11 percent pitchers.
The guy who most took advantage of pitching to pitchers? No question: Steve Carlton. In his amazing career, Carlton struck out 663 pitchers — almost 200 more than the next in line (Bob Gibson with 468). Man oh man oh man did Lefty love facing those pitchers. Non-pitchers hit .250/.316/.376 against him with 409 homers. Compare that with some contemporaries:
Steve Carlton: .250/.316/.376, 409 homers
Tom Seaver: .233/.292/.354, 372 homers
Nolan Ryan: .208/.313/.304, 319 homers
Gaylord Perry: .250/.301/.362, 393 homers
Don Sutton: .242/.293/.366, 466 homers
Phil Niekro: .251/.317/.374, 470 homers
Bert Blyleven: .249./.303/.370, 429 homers
The lines are fairly comparable — Ryan, obviously, is an outlier — but you might say that Carlton has the worst line of this bunch of great pitchers. But look at those same pitchers when facing other pitchers:
Carlton: .105/.151/.139 with 663 Ks in 1,291 ABs.
Seaver: .108/.147/.160 with 448 Ks in 1,061 ABs.
Ryan: .102/.155/.137 with 370 Ks in 708 ABs.
Perry: .139/.168/.179 with 343 Ks in 886 ABs.
Sutton: .128/.145/.159 with 450 Ks in 1,095 ABs.
Niekro: .156/.178/.205 with 332 Ks in 1,233 ABs.
Blyleven: .168/..202/.215 with 57 Ks in 368 ABs.
Oh, yeah, Lefty buckled down against those pitchers. Only Ryan and Seaver could match him when it came to facing down the opposing pitcher, and neither of them faced nearly as many pitchers as Carlton. Of course, getting out the opposing pitcher is an artfom too. Carlton was just especially good at that part of his job.
Then, there’s Jack Morris. I must admit: I’m surprised, considering how many people have been looking for positive statistical nuggets for Jack — so much so that they keep repeating the chestnut about Morris pitching to the score even though it has been proven again and again that he did not — that I’ve never read this before:
Jack Morris is the only pitcher with 2,000-plus strikeouts who did not face a single pitcher in his career.
Well, hey, it’s interesting. His timing was precise — he started a bit after the designated hitter came into play, he ended shortly before interleague play began, and he spent his entire career in the American League.
What’s particularly fascinating about this is that, on this very blog, I did a rather detailed breakdown of Jack Morris vs. Rick Reuschel. It seemed to me, no matter how you broke down the statistics, Reuschel was the better pitcher. The point was Reuschel got no Hall of Fame consideration whatsoever while Morris has been gaining tremendous Hall of Fame steam (I have predicted Morris will get in this year, but I think I’m going to go back on that prediction. I think I underestimated some of the paralysis by analysis of this year’s ballot. More on my new Hall of Fame predictions coming soon).
But one thing I did not consider: Rick Reuschel, perhaps even more than Steve Carlton, took advantage of facing pitchers. And Jack Morris never faced a single one.
Look: Reuschel struck out 2,015 batters in his career. But 359 of them — an overwhelming 17.8 percent — were pitchers. That’s the highest percentage in my little study.
Reuschel against non-pitchers: 13,829 PAs, .274/.324/.388 with 1,656 strikeouts, 900 walks, 218 homers.
Morris against non-pitchers: 16,120 PAs, .247/.313/.380 with 2,478 strikeouts, 1,390 walks, 389 homers.
Hmm. That looks like Morris was a bit better than Reuschel, doesn’t it? But … Reuschel faced 1,059 pitchers in his career. And those guys hit .130/.165/.157 and Reuschel struck out 359 of them and walked just 35. He allowed only three homers in those 1,059 plate appearances.
Of course, saying that we have a new factor to consider in Morris vs. Reuschel does not make Morris a Hall of Famer. In truth, you could make a pretty compelling argument that shows that this year’s ballot addition David Wells is a better Hall of Fame candidate than Morris. Wells has a higher WAR (49.4 to 39.3), a better ERA+ (108 to 105), a higher winning percentage (.604 to .577), a much better strikeout to walk ratio (3.06 to 1.78), and even a better postseason record (10-5, 3.17 ERA vs. 7-4, 3.80 ERA). This is the big problem with Morris — there are MANY pitchers almost no one wants in the Hall of Fame who have a compelling argument against him.
But, again, I’m surprised that the many Morris fans out there wouldn’t make a bigger deal of the “never faced a pitcher” thing.
As for Schilling … I don’t believe he took any special advantage of facing pitchers. I will tell you about another pitcher who did love facing pitcher: Greg Maddux. In addition to striking out 419 pitchers in 1,451 plate appearances, he allowed exactly one pitcher to homer off him in his long career. One. Who was that pitcher? Well, it happened in 2004, when Maddux — for reasons not entirely clear — went gopher-ball crazy. Maybe it was Wrigley Field plus age. He gave up 35 homers for the Cubs that year — up to that point he had never even given up 25 homers in a season. Eight different players — including Wily Mo Pena — hit multiple homers off Maddux that year. And the pitcher who homered? Jason Jennings. He hit a two run homer off Maddux on May 8, 2004 to tie the score. Jennings and the Rockies eventually won the game 4-3.
Pitcher home runs allowed for some random great pitchers:
Greg Maddux: 1 in 1,250 at-bats
Bert Blyleven: 1 in 368 at-bats
Bob Gibson: 2 in 1,029 at-bats
Nolan Ryan: 2 in 708 at-bats
Jim Palmer: 2 in 339 at-bats
Sandy Koufax: 3 in 603 at-bats
Tom Glavine: 4 in 1,152 at-bats
Steve Carlton: 5 in 1,291 at-bats
Tom Seaver: 8 in 1,061 at-bats.
Fergie Jenkins: 9 in 727 at-bats
Phil Niekro: 12 in 1,233 at-bats.
Well, anyway, I found it interesting.