Recently, Curt Schilling underwent surgery on his throwing shoulder. While it’s not a given that he’ll retire, speculation is rampant that he’s thrown his last pitch. When Jayson Stark of ESPN held a debate on Schilling’s Hall of Fame chances, three different users brought up Mike Mussina in their questions. With this is mind, it’s time we compare the careers and legacies of the two men.
This is important because, as contemporaries, they were similar pitchers and it’s likely that if one gets in or is left out, the other will follow suit. How similar were they? According to Bill James, Schilling is the 2nd most similar pitcher to Mussina and Mussina the 4th most similar to Schilling.
Please note: This is not an argument to determine who’s the better pitcher. If you comment on this article, please read the entire thing and try not to turn it into a Yankees/Sox snipe-fest.
1. Straight Numbers
Schilling: 216-146 (.597) 3,216 IP, 3.46 ERA, +127 ERA+, 711 BB, 3116 K
Mussina: 262-150 (.636) 3,475 IP, 3.70 ERA, +122 ERA+. 770 BB, 2,737 K
Schilling 19 GS, 11-2, 2.23 ERA, 133 IP, 25 BB, 125 K
Mussina 21 GS, 7-8, 3.42 ERA, 139 IP, 33 BB, 145K
Schilling has 3 20-win seasons, 3 World Series titles and 3 second-place finishes in Cy Young voting, plus one half of a World Series MVP. Mussina has one second place finish in Cy Young voting
Black Ink: Schilling- 42, Mussina- 16
Grey Ink: Mussina- 241, Schilling 205
Ok, with these numbers in front of us, let’s look at where Schilling seperates himself from Mussina:
Schilling’s three best seasons are the stuff of legend-
2001: 22-6, ERA+ 157, 293 K
2002: 23-7, ERA+ 142, 316 K
2004: 21-6, ERA+ 150, 203 K
These three seasons probably all win a Cy Young under normal circumstances. Unfortunately for Schilling, Randy Johnson and Johan Santana conspired to keep him from taking home the hardware with even more spectacular seasons. Schilling was virtually unhittable for those two years in Arizona, averaging 300 strikeouts a season. Even the most adamant Mussina supporter cannot claim that Schilling was not the more dominant pitcher at his peak. That’s why Schilling’s black ink score is so much higher than Mussina’s
2. Seriously, have you seen this guy’s playoff numbers?
Curt Schilling is, without question, the best postseason pitcher of our generation. Look at his 2001 performance. It’s pretty mindblowing:
6 GS, 4-0, 48.1 IP, 1.12 ERA, 25 H, 6 BB, 56K
There’s simply no way that Mussina’s postseason numbers are in any way close to Schilling’s.
3. He’s got the things voters like to see
The 20-win seasons, the rings, the dominance. He’s also a member of the 3,000 strikeout club, which only has a single member not in the Hall of Fame (Paging Bert Blylevyn). With these numbers, it’s hard to imagine voters keeping him out. He was also a legendary innings eater, once tossing 15 complete games in a season, and another time tossing 10 in only 26 starts.
With these numbers in mind, it’s easy to see how Schilling can get into the Hall of Fame. (In fact, Schilling’s regular season win total was lower partly due to the fact that he often got terrible run support) So how can we compare Mussina’s less dominant career to Schilling’s? Well, you have to look at things a little differently. So now let’s make the case for Mussina.
1. He pitched in the better hitting league
National League fans may not want to hear this but it’s true: For pitchers, it’s a lot more fun in the National League, and not just because of the Designated Hitter. Curt Schilling spent the prime of his career in the weaker hitting league, and while you can’t quantify the differences, you have to admit it’s there. In this era, the American League has had stronger lineups, and we have the league ERA numbers to prove it.
1992: NL: 3.51, AL: 3.99; AL + 0.48
1993: NL: 3.97, AL: 4.47; AL + 0.50
1994: NL: 4.30, AL: 5.00; AL + 0.70
1995: NL: 4.23, AL: 4.77; AL + 0.44
1996: NL: 4.27, AL: 4.95; AL + 0.68
1997: NL: 4.25, AL: 4.39; AL + 0.14
1998: NL: 4.36, AL: 4.52; AL + 0.16
1999: NL: 4.80, AL: 4.68; NL + 0.12
2000: NL: 4.73, AL: 4.72; NL + 0.01
2001: NL: 4.67, AL: 4.48; NL + 0.19
2002: NL: 4.57, AL: 4.42; NL + 0.15
2003: NL: 4.67, AL: 4.39; NL + 0.28
Average: NL 4.36, AL: 4.56; AL + 0.20
This is a rough estimate, and inexact due to differences in innings pitched, not to mention interleague play. But, it does point to the American League being tougher on pitchers, particularly from 1992-1996, which ironically, was probably the best portion of Mussina’s career. Now, Schilling’s ERA relative to his league was still better, but that’s not the only statistic to think about. Strikeouts are likely to be easier to accumulate due to the pitcher hitting. Given that Schilling snuck past the magic 3,000 K mark by less than 120 and Mussina is creeping up on it but likely to fall short, it would be very interesting to see what the numbers would look like if the roles were reversed.
2. For starting pitchers, consistency and longevity matter
Starting pitchers can only impact 30-35 games a seaon normally, so a pitcher missing starts due to injuries can really hurt a team, as a pitcher missing 5-6 games may be missing 15-20% of his season. Schilling has had some seasons where he’s not been able to get to the mound as often as you’d like. From 1994-1996, he made a total of 56 starts. Even accounting for the strike doesn’t help him much there because in that same time, Mussina made 92. Schilling did dabble as a reliever, sometimes a good one, early in his career, and made 21 appearances in the bullpen in 2005, but he’s made a total of only 436 starts, compared to Mussina’s 522. Some of this was bullpen related, but some of it was also injury related. Schilling ranks 83rd all-time in games started, Mussina ranks 37th and should rise higher. With another 10 starts this season, he moves up to 32nd. Mussina’s innings totals are also 200 IP higher and also likely to rise. He currently ranks 73rd all-time, and could move as high as 66th by the end of this season. Schilling is currently 94th. Schilling may have been more dominant when he was on the mound, but, as the saying goes, “You can’t help your team if you’re not there.” Mussina’s ability to go out on the mound every five days more consistantly than Schilling has to be taken into account. This is why Mussina’s win total is so much higher than Schilling’s. If, as many have predicted, we’ve seen the last of the 300-game winners with Tom Glavine and possibly Randy Johnson, it’s going to be very difficult to keep a pitcher with a win total that could be north of 275 out of the Hall while letting in a contemporary pitcher with only 216.
So what’s this all mean?
Mussina and Schilling are, in this site’s opinion, both worthy of the Hall of Fame. They represent the two different classes of Hall of Famer’s. Schilling’s career as a starter was marked by patches of total dominance, as well as stretches of inconsistency. However, his peaks should get him in and score points with the voters. Mussina’s career lacks the brilliance of Schilling’s, but is a better example of the everyday, year in, year out consistency starting pitchers need and by the end of his career, his numbers could become much more exclusive than Schilling’s. Here’s hoping we see both of them in the Hall.