Introduction | The backlog problem | Frank Thomas | Jack Morris
Jeff Bagwell | Craig Biggio | Edgar Martinez
Next up, we take a look at starting pitchers Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling. Enjoy.
We’re combining Mussina and Schilling’s post because they are a duo that will likely be compared to each other on the ballot.
I’ll start with the newcomer. For whatever reasons, wins were always the topic with Mike Mussina, in that it took until his final year to win 20. At this point, we should all know that was not all in Mussina’s (or any other pitcher) control, not by a long shot. However, I do want to point out that in his career, Mussina won 19 games twice, 18 games three times, 17 games twice, 16 games once, and 15 games twice. Overall, he won 270 games in his 18 year career. So before we really get down to it, realize that any talk of Mussina “not being a winner” by the standard that people who talk like this use is objectively false.
If you look at Mussina’s Baseball-Reference page, you don’t see a lot of black ink, indicating leading the league, but if you go down, you see him on top 10 leaderboards a lot. He finished in the top 10 in ERA 11 times, top 10 in WHIP 12 times, top 10 in BB/9 practically every year of his career, top 10 strikeouts per 9 nine times, top 10 in innings eight times, and top 10 in strikeouts ten times. He was also incredibly durable, throwing at least 150 innings every season of his career after his rookie campaign, including over 200 innings 11 separate times.
Admittedly, there isn’t one “wow” year that jumps out, although his years as the ace of the early to mid-90s Orioles (the last good teams that franchise had for 15 years) are close. Also keep in mind that Mussina pitched his entire career in the AL East. He dealt with the early 90s Blue Jays, the late 90s Yankees, and the middle of the decade Red Sox, and his numbers are still really good.
I’ve given you lots of numbers rapid fire, but I urge you to look at Mussina’s numbers yourself. Look how few bad seasons there were, and how often he appeared on the league leaderboards. Was he ever the best pitcher in baseball? No, probably not. Was he among the best for the vast majority of his career? Definitely. If ballot space were no object, Mussina would be a yes for me. Officially, he’s officially a MAYBE because of the backlog and the rules, but he’s very much in the running for my last ballot spot.
WILL HE GET IN: According to the leading predictor of results, Mussina is in danger of falling off the ballot, which would be awful. It might be the most egregious one-and-done in the history of the voting. For now, let’s just hope he gets a second go-round.
Now, on to Curt Schilling, who very much has the “winner” label. It took him a while to establish himself while being traded three times before he was 25. In 1992 with the Phillies though, he began to show what he could do, finishing the year with a 2.35 ERA and leading the league in WHIP. Fast forward to 1996 though to get the true beginning of his peak. A 3.19 ERA that year led to two straight years of over 300 strikeouts, both league leading. Also in 1998, he led the league with 15 complete games and led in innings with a 3.25 ERA. Somehow this netted him zero Cy Young votes.
In 2000 he was traded to Arizona and teamed up with Randy Johnson to form one of the most dominant pitching duos in baseball history, and the anchors to the Diamondbacks 2001 World Series win. Schilling finished second to Johnson in the Cy Young voting in both 2001 and 2002. By that point, he was both a strikeout machine and stingy with walks, a very potent combination. Two years later it was on to Boston. His strikeout rate went down there (understandable given he was in his late 30s), but the walk rate was still low and except for a bizarrely poor 2005, was still a very good pitcher. Also, something about a bloody sock.
The big negative on Schilling to some is his 216 career wins. This ignores the career 3.46 ERA (127 ERA+) and the over 3000 career strikeouts, 15th all-time. He also has the 2nd best K/BB ratio in history, and the guy in first pitched when anywhere from 5 to 8 balls were needed for a walk. Schilling also has his incredible postseason record of 11-2 with a 2.33 ERA and a WHIP under 1. I’m not big on putting too much emphasis on postseason stats due to small sample sizes, but in some cases, some bonus credit is worth it, and Schilling certainly qualifies.
I don’t like him personally, and he had more peaks and valleys than Mussina, but to me Schilling is a Hall of Famer as well. For now, he’s a MAYBE, but again, that’s due to ballot limits only.
WILL HE GET IN: Last year was his first time on the ballot and he got 38.8%. I thought it would be higher. It’s likely to go down to the crowding. If this ballot ever gets sane again, maybe Schilling can start moving up.
As Eric said, we're combining Mussina and Schilling because of their similarities. They're not identical players by any stretch, but they're close enough that they'll likely garner similar amounts of votes this year and in the future. Eventually, I'd be shocked if one of them gets in and the other does not. I believe that it will eventually be both of them enshrined in Cooperstown, or neither.
The main difference between Schilling and Mussina is that Schilling's career peaked a bit higher, while Mussina enjoyed a bit more consistency. Both were among the best in the league during their respective heydays, but Schilling at his best was a bit better than Mussina at his best.
Neither of them ever won a Cy Young award, but both finished in the top 5 quite a few times (Schilling 4, Mussina 6). As Eric pointed out, Schilling's best seasons were pretty remarkable, and Mussina's best years were extremely impressive as well.
Personally, I think these guys are both firmly on the border of the Hall of Fame. I wouldn't particularly mind if either of them were inducted, but I also don't think it would be a catastrophe if they were to be omitted.
Both, however, are far better options than Jack Morris, and they both deserve at least the chance to be on the ballot for as long as it takes for the writers to either induct them, or let the 15 years run out. If either of them were to fall off the ballot before that, it would be a shame.
WILL THEY GET IN: Not this year, but I firmly believe that both Schilling and Mussina will get in at some point. It may take 10 years, but I think it will happen.
What do you think? How would you vote for these two players? Should they get in this year, sometime down the road, or never?