Monday, November 14, 2011

Happy Birthday...

Curt Schilling!

Schilling is 45 today. It's a bit hard to believe, but he threw his last pitch four years and twenty days ago.

I think Schilling makes the Hall of Fame eventually, but it probably takes a while. It's a shame, because he's pretty comfortably deserving. Ignoring his postseason heroics (and I think those have to count for something; it's silly to credit a player for team success in the World Series and such, but not for particularly noteworthy individual performance), Schilling is 17th among pitchers in career WAR since 1950. Eleven of the sixteen in front of him are in the Hall, and the other five are Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and Mike Mussina. Three of those guys are guaranteed to make it, and Mussina certainly should. Also, Schilling's 69.7 WAR is better than Don Drysdale, Juan Marichal, Jim Palmer, Jim Bunning, and Whitey Ford (along with Catfish Hunter and a bunch of other Hall of Famers in name only).

But if you're reading this, you probably know Schilling's career pretty well. What I want to talk about here is what happened to him in about 1994-95 (spoiler alert: I don't have a clue). In 1994, Schilling was 27, and an injury kept him out from mid-May until late August. He'd pitched in part of seven seasons -- four as a reliever, three as a starter, and was only really effective in one of those years, 1992 -- and had a career K/9 of 6.6 and a BB/9 of 2.8, for a K/BB of 2.34.

Schilling came back strong in 1995 (though he missed about the second half of '95) and was, permanently, a different pitcher. From age 28 through 40, 1995 through 2007, Schilling put up a 9.1 K/9, a 1.7 BB/9 and a 5.27 K/BB. He increased his strikeouts by nearly 40% and improved his K/BB ratio by about 125%.

We don't have pitch or batted ball data from that long ago, of course, so I can't go back and look at the numbers to determine what happened. (There's probably an article about it somewhere, but I haven't seen it.) Oddly, Schilling's hits per nine innings didn't drop at all with his huge increase in strikeouts: it's 8.3 through 1994 (though largely because of what looks like a very lucky 1992, in which he led the league in H/9), and 8.3 from 1995 on. And his homers per nine went up, from 0.7 before to 1.0 after. But we'd expect that, since offense league-wide took a huge leap forward at about the same time.

And speaking of league-wide: yes, there was a sizable jump in the strikeout rate, jumping from 5.9 to 6.4 in 1994, and then crawling up near 7.0 for most of the rest of Schilling's career. That accounts for a little over a third of the increase in Schilling's own strikeout rate (ignoring that the two jumps occurred a year apart). But he came back from an injury and, almost immediately, became a very different, much better pitcher.

How did that happen? I have no idea. I don't know if he developed a new pitch, or suddenly started throwing harder, or what. This was very much within my lifetime, and I don't have a clue what the answer is or how to get that information (other than to wait for someone to give it to me in the comments below). That really bothers me.

Anyway, happy birthday, Curt! You're kind of annoying -- annoying as hell, actually -- and I'd love for you never to publicly share an opinion on anything again. But you were a truly great pitcher, and I hope the writers don't take too long in giving you what your performance deserved.


David said...

Somehow, in counting players ahead of Schilling in WAR since 1950, you missed Roger Clemens, who should be grouped with the four non-HOF players. Nice article, though. In the late 90s, I always thought of Schilling and Brad Radke as the two most tragic figures in baseball: two very good pitchers who were stuck on horrible teams with no offense, who, it seemed had to throw a shutout every time out if they wanted a win. Now, of course, in 2001, Schilling became a much better pitcher (arguably Radke was the better of the two beforehand), and their stories diverge. But just before that, my sympathies went out to both of them. I hope that chapter of Schilling's career is never forgotten, though I fear it will be with his teams' successes in the aughts.

Bill said...

Dammit. He's so far above everybody that I think I was just counting him as a Hall of Famer (when in reality, of course, he's far from a sure thing even when he's eligible). I'll fix that.

David said...

You know, one thing I think keeps coming up against Schilling is that he played with a lot of great contemporary pitchers. He is more or less contemporary with Clemens, Maddux, Johnson, Martinez and Mussina. You can probably throw in Rivera, and possibly Hoffman, though I don't know if he'll get in to the Hall (likewise Clemens, though for different reasons). I think it's frankly laughable that this would be considered a strike against him. I mean, think about it: Ryan, Sutton, Perry, Niekro, Carlton, Seaver, Blyleven, Palmer and throw in Fingers, Gossage, and possibly Sutter, though his career started much later. You could probably include Catfish Hunter, too, though his career ended much earlier. I mean, if you just think of the pitchers active in, say 1971 who wound up in the Hall (meaning you'd add to this list Gibson and Jenkins and Bunning (on his last legs) and Wilhelm (likewise) . . . it's no contest. There are WAY more from that era - and Luis Tiant may still get in. I'm not saying that's bad. I'm a pretty "big Hall" guy, so only a few of those guys are real problems for me. But Schilling should be a no-doubter. We'll see, though.