Whom Would You Choose?

Pitchers and catchers are reporting!

That means there soon will be oodles of relevant, interesting and compelling story lines for columns, and I’m confident that my fellow THTers will keep you up to date and informed on who’s moving and who’s shaking.

This hasn’t happened quite yet, alas.

Besides, this has little to do with my column space. My long-time readers (Mom and whoever drew the short straw on our editing staff this week) know all too well that they’re stuck with whatever happens to tumble from my alleged mind and onto my keyboard.

In 2005, we discussed Curt Schilling’s Hall of Fame case since I felt it was easy to overlook such a pitcher when we’re witnessing an era chock full of all-time greats. Over the last two decades, it has been our privilege to watch the likes of Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux and Pedro Martinez. Although he’s just a notch below that, we can probably debate whether Tom Glavine should be reckoned along with our fab four, since he’s a two-time Cy Young Award winner, 10-time All-Star (a high number for a pitcher), five- time 20-game winner and (barring a catastrophe) soon to be 300-game winner.

In an era of such obscenely good pitchers, it is not hard to see how we might miss a talent of Schilling’s caliber. There is another pitcher in the same category—John Smoltz. Suppose you had a Hall of Fame ballot with one spot left and you had to choose between Schilling and Smoltz: Whom would you choose?

First, a quick and dirty look at the numbers:

The Stats

Pitcher    W   L   SV  ERA ERA+  IP    BB   K  WHIP
Schilling 207 138  22 3.44 127 3110.0 688 3015 1.13
Smoltz    193 137 154 3.27 126 3161.1 937 2778 1.17 

Next, the postseason résumés:

Pitcher    W  L SV  ERA  IP   BB  K  
Schilling  7  2  0 2.06 109.1 22 104 
Smoltz    15  4  4 2.65 207.0 67 194  


Awards: Curt Schilling
Six-time All Star
Two World Series rings
1995-ML-Lou Gehrig Memorial Award
2001-NL-Babe Ruth Award
2001-ML-Branch Rickey Award
2001-ML-Hutch Award
2001-ML-Roberto Clemente Award
2001-NL-TSN Pitcher of the Year
2001-ML-WS MVP-Tie (Randy Johnson)
2002-NL-TSN Pitcher of the Year

Awards: John Smoltz
1996 Cy Young
Seven-time All-Star
One World Series ring
1996-NL-TSN Pitcher of the Year
2002-NL-Rolaids Relief
2005-ML-Roberto Clemente Award

Other points of interest:

Black Ink: Pitching – 42 (Average HOFer ≈ 40)
Gray Ink: Pitching – 204 (Average HOFer ≈ 185)
HOF Standards: Pitching – 46.0 (Average HOFer ≈ 50)
HOF Monitor: Pitching – 167.0 (Likely HOFer > 100)

Black Ink: Pitching – 34 (Average HOFer ≈ 40)
Gray Ink: Pitching – 183 (Average HOFer ≈ 185)
HOF Standards: Pitching – 41.0 (Average HOFer ≈ 50)
HOF Monitor: Pitching – 142.0 (Likely HOFer > 100)

So now we have the raw data. It might seem to be a slam-dunk for Schilling, but let us not forget a few things in Smoltz’ favor: He was a key member of a dynasty team. Save for the strike-shortened 1994 season when they finished six games in arrears of the Montreal Expos, the Atlanta Braves won 14 division titles, five pennants and a World Series. Glavine came and went; Maddux came and went. The only on-field constant on that remarkable run was John Smoltz.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Further, Smoltz won pitching’s top honor for both starters and relievers (the Rolaids Relief Award—although relief pitchers obviously qualify for the Cy Young). Yes, the Braves had their share of postseason disappointments, yet Smoltz has an LDS ERA of 2.52, an LCS ERA of 2.83 and a World Series ERA of 2.47. In addition, Smoltz is first all-time in postseason wins (15), and third in innings pitched (207). Of interest, the pitchers ahead of him in IP have ERAs of 3.42 in 218.1 IP (Glavine) and 4.08 in 212 IP (Andy Pettitte).

Just for fun:

Pitcher    W  L  ERA   IP   H/9 BB/9  K/9 K:BB
Glavine   14 16 3.42 218.1 7.87 3.59 5.90 1.64 
Pettitte  14  9 4.08 212.0 9.68 2.46 5.69 2.31
Smoltz    15  4 2.65 207.0 7.30 2.91 8.43 2.89

Toss in the fact that the Braves were 61-58 (.513) over their 1991-2005 postseason run and Smoltz went 15-4 (.789) and you can make a legitimate case that Smoltz is the greatest postseason pitcher of the expansion era and has to be included in the “all-time” discussion.

Bill James said in his book Whatever Happened To The Hall of Fame—The Politics of Glory that a good way to find bona fide Hall of Famers is to look for key players on great teams. The Braves had an amazing run of division titles and John Smoltz was the biggest part of it.

Schilling, too, has nothing to ashamed of in his postseason résumé, but it pales alongside Smoltz’ even with the extra ring. He also has several notable achievements on his ledger. Schilling:

  • Is one of only four 20th-21st century pitchers with three or more 300-K seasons. The others are Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson and Sandy Koufax.
  • Has three 20-win seasons. Smoltz won 20+ just once.
  • Leads Smoltz in Runs Saved Against Average, 329-272.
  • Is first in BB/K among pitchers with 3,000+ IP.
  • Is one of just 15 20th-21st century pitchers with 3,000+ IP and a BB/9 of less than two and one of only four who have done it pitching exclusively in the expansion era.

A dead heat. Let’s add their regular season and postseason records together.

Pitcher    W   L   ERA    IP     BB   K
Schilling 215 140 3.23  3220.1  710 3119
Smoltz    208 141 3.39  3370.1 1004 2972 

You have to give more weight to postseason results, so this makes them bloody close to even still. Now, before I proceed, I haven’t checked these data yet. Both are terrific pitchers in both the regular and postseasons. One has a better résumé over 162, the other in October. I will cast my ballot for the pitcher who has the better record from Aug. 1 to the end of the season: stretch run/pennant race baseball. I’ll state in advance that if they’re somewhat close, the fact that Smoltz has pitched in this scenario far more often than Schilling gives the Braves ace’s total more weight.

So, I’m off to check the numbers at Baseball-Reference and will report back in a bit.

O.K. I’m back. Here are the totals:

Pitcher     W   L  ERA    IP     BB   K
Schilling  65  48 3.44  1084.2  240 1034
Smoltz     67  43 3.23  1094.1  318  966 

Smoltz’ winning percentage is higher; his ERA is lower. While his H/9 is .07 worse from Aug. 1 onward, his BB/9 and K/9 are slightly better during the stretch drive. In short, not only is he a postseason beast, but over 14 pennant races Smoltz—in the aggregate—manages to ramp it up a bit. Schilling’s ERA is the same, his winning percentage is below his career rate and his BB/9 is almost identical, but his H/9 and K/9 are a bit worse after Aug. 1.

Before I started this column, I would’ve voted for Curt Schilling. My mind is changed. If I have one vote to cast between the two at this point, I vote for John Smoltz.

Would you have voted for Schilling? Let me know why.

References & Resources
All stats courtesy of the amazing Baseball-Reference and Lee Sinins’ Sabermetric Encyclopedia.

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