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At the beginning of the year, I thought the Red Sox made the right move by holding off on re-signing Curt Schilling. After all, this was supposed to be his final year on the diamond. His fastball is no longer fast. And his waistline is wee a bit, shall we say, Papi-esque.

Based on his regular season stats, the Sox should just let him walk away: for $13 million, you expect better than a 9-8 record and a 3.87 ERA. Contrary to what some in Boston have written, his transition from a power pitcher to a wily, finesse pitcher was not seamless.

But there are at least eight compelling reasons that the Red Sox should let Curt retire in a Red Sox uniform:

1. The old guy’s still got it. This season he came his closest ever to pitching a no-hitter, in June against the A’s. With two outs already recorded in the 9th, he was one good pitch away. (Random aside: In his successful no-no, Clay Buchholz didn’t shake of Varitek once. Curt shook Tek off on that last pitch, certain that the batter, Shannon Stewart, was taking. I will defend Varitek’s pitch-calling to my grave! TO MY GRAVE!)

2. And he can dial it up a notch in the postseason. In four playoff starts, Curt gave up 2 or fewer earned runs in three of them, getting through a full seven innings work in two. His only rough start (5 earned runs in 4.2 innings) came in Game 2 of the ALCS.

3. He makes those around him better. By all accounts, having Curt Schilling in your rotation is like having a second pitching coach on the staff. After Daisuke Matsuzaka’s sub-par start in Game 3 of the ALCS, Curt Schilling took the young hurler aside and gave him some tips on locating his fastball. Can it really be coincidence that Dice-K was much improved in his last two starts in the postseason? With younguns Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz (both 23) joining the rotation next year, Schilling’s wisdom could be a real asset.

4. He’s good in the clubhouse, too. Before Game 5 of the ALCS, when Boston was down 3-1 in the series and was facing the prospect of winning three in a row to keep their season alive, Schilling and David Ortiz called a players-only meeting. Their advice? Take it one game at a time, one inning at a time, one pitch at a time. Simple enough. But it was coming from two guys who could say, “We did one better than this in 2004; we were there; we know what to do.” To the press, Curt Schilling may always be a bit of a blowhard. To the fans, he may always be something of an enigma. But to his teammates, he’s The Guy.

5. You can never have too much pitching. In Boston, we call this the Bronson Arroyo Corollary. Moreover, with another 40+ pitcher almost certainly returning (17-game winner Tim Wakefield, who has a unique contract with Boston where each side mutually decides to re-up his $4 million recurring option), we could very well see a situation in which Tim Wakefield and Curt Schilling alternate brief DL stints. As long as the young guys can stay healthy and as long as Curt has enough left when October rolls around, I don’t really care how much time he misses during the regular season.

6. Boston can afford it. The Red Sox have a healthy revenue stream, thanks not only to the deep pockets of the ownership group, but to their 80% ownership of NESN (on which almost all Red Sox and Bruins games are broadcast, as well as popular pregame and postgame shows, and even a reality dating show called Sox Appeal). And let’s face it, Fenway Park is a cash cow—it sells out every game despite having the highest ticket prices in baseball (by far) and every night there isn’t a game, the Red Sox rent it out as the most popular event venue in Boston. When I attended a Scotch nosing (I kid you not) there in September, there were two other events taking place at the same time, and a park official told me they were booked solid straight through the Christmas season.

7. Free agent pitching is scarce this year. Including Schilling, who filed yesterday, the other starting pitchers on the market are Matt Clement (whom Boston will almost certainly not retain), Carlos Silva, Kyle Lohse, Joe Kennedy, Bob Wickman, Eric Milton, Elmer Dessens, Jason Jennings, Tony Armas, Kip Wells, and Russ Ortiz. Then there’s Bartolo Colon, the 2005 AL Cy Young winner, who is coming off two very rough years. There’s Livan Hernandez and Jon Lieber, but neither are what they once were. David Wells is on the market again, but if you’re going to sign an old, chubby guy, why would you pick Wells over Schilling?

8. The Bloody Sock. Need I say more? This man has to end his career with Boston. Lest you doubt his Boston bonafides, consider this: he’s already released a list of teams he’d be willing to go to if Boston doesn’t re-sign him; that list contains every team to make the playoffs this year, except one; and the single, solitary team that Curt doesn’t want to play for is…drum roll please…the New York Yankees. Why? Because, as he’s said in the past, it would mean that everything he did in Boston was a lie.

Curt Schilling is a probable Hall of Famer. And he must go to Cooperstown wearing a Red Sox cap. The Red Sox should cough up the dough.

17 Responses to “The Red Sox should keep Curt Schilling”

  1. Paul Moro says:

    The best thing about Japanese baseball may actually be the fans. Go to pretty much any stadium over there and the crowd is often deafening. Everyone seems to know exactly what they’re doing, when to sing these songs, when to beat their drums and to what exact rhythm.

  2. Unfortunately, the contact-hitting revolution will NOT be televised.

  3. Paul Moro says:

    I’ll hold off on the Schilling-HOF debate.

    But I’ll say this much – on a one-year deal, Curt Schilling is very much worth it. His Ks may be lacking. He still gives up too many homeruns, especially at Fenway. But he can still pitch. There are far worse things the Red Sox can do than give Schilling another year at a similar salary.

  4. Sarah Green says:

    His K’s have gone down, but he’s kept his walk rate low. And giving up solo homers is often the mark of a pitcher who throws a lot of strikes. Pedro did it too, when he was with the Red Sox. It doesn’t bother me. Plus, I’d like to see what the guy could do now that he’s had a full year to adjust to this “finesse” stuff. If October was a preview, I’ll take it.

    In Schill’s favor for HOF consideration: over 3,000 strikeouts and 14th on that list, all time; 213 wins to get him over that particular threshold; and his K/BB rate is the best all-time. Add his October resume and I think he has a more than decent shot.

  5. Paul Moro says:

    When I said that he can still pitch, the walks (or lack thereof) were basically what I was talking about. But walks usually don’t tell you about whether or not pitchers are slipping. They can be warning signs for poor mechanics or injuries, but age usually doesn’t have much to do with that, unless they just lose confidence in their skills and start trying to nibble.

    What can indicate age are things like slugging pct against and line drive %. If they’re making harder contact, then it’s worrisome. For the last 3 years, he’s been walking a tightrope in that department. But it hasn’t affected him as much as I would have expected.

    Again, I think that the Sox should offer him a one-year deal. But one red flag that I’m sure they realize: in 2007, there was a pretty big disparity in how Schilling performed with runners on base and with the bases clear. Opponents slugged almost .500 against him with no one on. When he had runners on, they slugged .363. I haven’t seen any evidence that this is a repeatable skill from year to year. I expect that gap to narrow quite a bit in 2008. This could mean that the SLG with runners on could come closer to .500 or that SLG with bases clear could come closer to .363. If it’s the former, the ERA will jump a good bit. If it’s the latter, obviously, he’ll be fine.

    And I will continue to keep my mouth shut on his HOF credentials for the time being. I am not getting thrown into this debate. You scare me.

  6. Sarah Green says:

    I frighten many people, Paul. Especially males. I think Schilling’s low walk rate is worth noting, since he has such a ridiculously low walk rate. I also think it’s commendable this year in light of his transition to a guy who pitches with deception and guile. The stakes for him keeping his command of the strike zone are higher now that he can no longer blow it by anyone. As for the difference between his performance with runners on and without, I think you would have to go back and look at previous years to see how he had done earlier. I know Curt is a clutch pitcher from watching him lo these many years; for all I know, he does perform better and take fewer risks with men on base.

  7. Nick Kapur says:

    Actually, Paul, while I haven’t looked at the numbers, I suspect you might find that great pitchers often yield higher slugging percentages with the bases empty. Pedro had an absolutely uncanny ability to only give up solo home runs, but I suspect it was not just a fluke. I think smart pitchers pitch to contact when there is nobody on and let their defense make plays, saving up their best stuff for when they really need it in a jam.

  8. Nick Kapur says:

    Also, I am absolutely not afraid to dive into the Curt Schilling Hall of Fame debate. To me, he is a first ballot Hall of Famer. I don’t know if he will actually get in on the first ballot or not, but by the end of his career he is going to have well over 200 wins, and we can no longer say that pitchers need 300 to get in (not that we ever did). Plus, he has two of the most memorable World Series pitching performances ever (2001 and 2004), along with pitching very well in two other World Series.

    Leading three different teams to four World Series plus 200 wins plus one of the most dominant pitchers of his generation = Curt Schilling is already a Hall of Famer, even if he retires tomorrow.

  9. Nick Kapur says:

    As an added note, Schilling is well over the benchmark for an “average Hall of Famer” in Black Ink, Gray Ink, and Hall of Fame Monitor, and he is just a shade under in Hall of Fame Standards, but should soon be over…

  10. Paul Moro says:

    All right, here are those SLG% splits for Schilling and Pedro with runners on and bases clear. I can only do a quick check since 2002 because that’s all ESPN.com keeps track.

    Schilling (ON/NONE):

    2007: .363/.499

    2006: .452/.462

    2005: .509/.505

    2004: .381/.391

    2003: .367/.353

    2002: .438/.326

    Pedro (ON/NONE)

    2007: .389/.387

    2006: .465/.340

    2005: .344/.329

    2004: .370/.419

    2003: .287/.330

    2002: .302/.312

    These splits are usually a lot closer together than Schilling’s 2007. The argument wasn’t that Schilling’s SLG% Against in 2008 will DEFINITELY be clsoer to the .499 than the .363. I’m just saying that I don’t think that the disparity is something that translates year after year. So I expect those splits to be closer together in 2008, which MAY mean that he’ll allow a higher SLG% with men on base than he did this year. It was kind of like “Can the real Curt Schilling please stand up”.

  11. Sarah Green says:

    That’s interesting Paul—it actually looks like Pedro’s days of only giving up solo shots ended when he left Boston. (Thus far, everything that happens just validates Boston’s decision to let him go; plus they got Buchholz with the pick! Booya!) But I wonder, if looking at Schilling’s numbers, we could go so far as to call it a mild trend—to say he’s gotten better at getting out of jams as he gets older/wiser/a changeup. No?

  12. If that’s the case, Sarah, then Schilling wised up a lot between ’06 and ’07. There;s almost no difference between Schilling’s splits in 2006. Looking at his numbers from last year, opponents had 796 ABs against him. The .452 SLG% over that span would mean 360 total bases given up. The .462 SLG% over that same time would be 368 TBs. It’s really not a big difference and totally within the realm of random fluctuation.

    And I’d be really curious to see Pedro’s pre 2002 splits to see if it really is a trend or just a coincidence. I have no idea where to find the info, though. Anyone know?

    Either way, even in his better days, the splits were much closer together than Schilling’s in 2007.

  13. Sarah Green says:

    No, I have no idea where to find that stuff. I mean, you could try baseball-reference.com or maaaybe hardballtimes.com, but I still like ESPN.com’s stats the best because, even if they don’t have all the stats I would want (VORP, mainly) they are so well-organized and easy to sort. BP might have it but I find their interface very unintuitive.

    Do you not think that Schilling’s adding a changeup to his repetoire this year might have had some impact? I mean, he made a conscious choice to supplant strikeouts with contact outs. That has to show up somewhere in his numbers.

  14. I don’t think any pitcher ever chooses to supplant strikeouts with contact outs. He’s forced to because he can’t strike anyone out any more.

    And any counter-argument I can pose depends a lot on how you feel about “Batting-Average-on-Balls-in-Play”. If you’re like me and rely a good deal on BABiP to rationalize things, then I can say things like strikeouts are much more preferable to “pitching to contact”. If it’s true that, on average, batters get hits roughly 30% of the time they make contact (depending on how hard they hit the ball), then why wouldn’t you choose to let them hit it? Strikeouts help limit the damage caused by this 30% “rule”, which is why it’s an important ability to have.

    As for the changeup thing, I honestly don’t know. My first inclination would be to see his Line Drive % and his Ground ball/ Fly ball ratio to see if hitters are making different kinds of contact against him.

    So I looked at the numbers and it’s pretty inconclusive. His LD% in 2007 was at 19% (meaning that 19% of the time that hitters made contact against him, they hit the ball hard), which is pretty similar to his 2006 19.7% and 2004′s 19.8% (I’m not counting 2005 because that season was a career anomaly – he was a mess).

    He is allowing flyballs a bit more than he used to, but not by much. He had a .91 GB/FB ratio this year, compared to .96 in 2006 and 1.04 in 2004. Which doesn’t necessarily mean much. It may be worth mentioning that there’s been a steady decline in the # of groundballs he allows since 1998. But this hasn’t hurt him that much yet.

  15. Sarah Green says:

    No, I know he was forced to switch strategies by cruel Father Time, rather than any kind of preference. No power pitcher likes to admit he can’t blow it by hitters anymore. But instead of just pathetically hanging on to the past (which would have been disastrous), he decided to add a new pitch to his arsenal and find a way to make it work. He can still get a strikeout when he *needs* one, but most of the time these days, he has to let his defense do their jobs if he wants to keep his pitch count down.

  16. You may be right about Schilling being able to “dial it up” when he wants to. I haven’t seen the guy pitch enough this year to have earned the right to an opinion on that. So I’ll concede this at the moment. Let’s remember to review this conversation next year.

    But I did recently read a study that claimed there was essentially no difference between a strikeout and contact pitcher in how deep he can go in a game. It has more to do with how many walks they give up. You can read it here.

    http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/the-kazmir-conundrum/contact.

    Basically, the argument here is that yes, it takes more pitches to strike a guy out than to get him to put the ball in play. But this is all balanced out when you consider that each K is an out while each ball in play is not. And that going for Ks doesn’t necessarily mean your walks are going up too.

    But I think I’ve gotten WAAAY off topic here. Sorry.

  17. Hallo, I’m an Italian boy. I didn’t know the baseball very well before moving to Japan for work.
    Now, after 5 years:
    - I’ve become a big fan of the Hanshin Tigers;
    - I go to the stadium 5-7 times a year;
    - I like the atmosphere of the Japanese stadiums very very very much!!!!

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