Baseball is, for the most part, an exact science.
That is why we can compare Tony Gwynn and Tris Speaker, even though 75 years passed between their respective debuts. We know that Speaker's .345 average is still very comparable to Gwynn's .338.
Of course the game has changed slightly. Speaker averaged 25 stolen bases a season, four more than Gwynn. But 25 steals was less impressive in the 1910s than 21 was 80 years later.
For the most part, however, the numbers have remained fairly constant, especially since the dead ball era came to an end in 1920.
Yet it is this exactness and consistency, which gives birth to the most inexact part of the sport: the Hall of Fame.
People will argue to their dying day that player X should make it and player Y should not. That is why it took Bert Blyleven and Jim Rice so long, and why people still fight for Luis Tiant. (In all seriousness, how is Catfish Hunter in Cooperstown when Tiant is not?)
HoF voting is painted in many shades of grey and there will never be a right answer. Bear in mind, there were people who did not vote for Willie Mays in 1979.
But whilst debating the merits of one player can be at once entertaining and infuriating, comparing two similar players can be even more so.
Enter Andy Pettitte. The longtime Yankee announced his retirement earlier this month and instantly sparked debate about his Cooperstown credentials. Even his most ardent supporter will admit that his regular season numbers are not good enough and that you have to look at the postseason to see his true value. The same argument is made for Curt Schilling.
The two have had quite similar careers. Although an incredibly inexact measurement, Baseball Reference's "similar pitchers" section lists Pettitte as being most like David Wells, Kevin Brown and Bob Welch. It has Schilling as being most similar to Brown, Welch and Orel Hershiser. It is an awful tool for comparison, of course, but it is interesting, at least.
So let's compare. Do either deserve a spot? (Incidentally, although Schilling retired in 2008, his last game was in '07, so he will be eligible in 2013, three years before Pettitte.)
Invariably, the first stat everyone looks to is wins.
In 16 seasons, Pettitte went 240-138 for a .635 winning percentage.
In 20 seasons, Schilling was 216-146, a .597 winning percentage.
There will be those who will cry that neither is close to 300 wins, so neither deserves to make the Hall. The answer to their argument? Sandy Koufax. Yes, injury curtailed his career at just 12 seasons, but he only won 165 games. Anyone want to argue that he is not one of the greatest pitchers of all time?
Wins are a poor statistic. A pitcher has to rely too heavily on his teammates helping him out. If they cannot, his win-loss record will suffer, something known now as the Felix Hernandez Deficiency.
Curt Schilling played on some terrible Philadelphia teams in the '90s. The Phillies had a winning record just once in his time with the franchise. Andy Pettitte on the other hand, was on a New York side about to become a dynasty. He debuted in 1995. The Yankees won the World Series in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000, and won the AL pennant in 2001 and 2003.
Simply put, he got more help than Schilling ever did.
That is not to take anything away from Pettitte; he was a good pitcher, but he was never great. Look at his ERA.
Schilling had a sub-3.30 ERA nine times. Pettitte managed it four times. In seasons with at least 160 IP, Schilling accomplished it eight times to Pettitte's two.
Over the course of their careers, it is closer, but Schilling still wins it 3.46 to 3.88.
In any case, neither player probably deserves a place in Cooperstown based on their regular season records. But then you look at the postseason. It was only after the calendar flipped to October that each made a name for himself.
Five-time champion Andy Pettitte won 19 games in the playoffs, more than any other pitcher in history. However, as has been established, wins are a poor indicator of a pitcher's ability by themselves. Remember, Pettitte has pitched in a staggering 42 playoff games. His record of 19-10 is very good, but it is not incredible. Neither is his 3.83 postseason ERA.
Curt Schilling—who has three rings—is another matter. In 19 playoff starts, he went 11-2 with a 2.23 earned run average and a WHIP below one. Just give the man a plaque.
Both are borderline cases, but in almost every category, Schilling is closer to being HoF-worthy.
He deserves to be in the Hall. Pettitte just falls short. And then we reach the question of performance-enhancing drugs.
Andy Pettitte has admitted taking them and in the eyes of some, his honesty has exonerated him from the same blame and hatred that has befallen Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, et al. There will be others, though, who will never vote for him.
The issue might be moot, anyway. Although Pettitte is retired, there is a strong feeling that he will pull a Roger Clemens and return midseason.
Somebody warn Suzyn Waldman.
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