At this time of year, the baseball world regularly debates Curt Schilling’s Hall of Fame case. The former Philadelphia Phillies ace tops the average Hall of Fame starting pitcher in career bWAR and JAWS, and is considered one of the greatest postseason pitchers in the history of the sport. Still, he made quite a few enemies during his playing career and has alienated some voters with his political and social views since his career concluded.
But hey, that’s another debate for another time.
Baseball statistician Ryan M. Spaeder is currently in the midst of an interesting project where he has former players submit their Hall of Fame ballots. Some former players submit the ballots anonymously. Schilling elected to put his name behind his ballot.
He started with the qualifier that “I did not vote, nor would I ever, for anyone who cheated.” That seemingly refers to anyone substantively connected to performance-enhancing drugs. Home Rung King Barry Bonds, seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens and 12-time All-Star Manny Ramirez, Schilling’s teammate in Boston, didn’t appear on his ballot. The same goes for Sammy Sosa and Gary Sheffield, who along with the aforementioned trio, would be statistical locks for the Hall of Fame if not for their connections to performance-enhancing drugs.
Two former Phillies did garner Schilling’s vote.
Scott Rolen, who was Schilling’s teammate from 1996 until the Phillies traded Schilling to the Arizona Diamondbacks in July of 2000, was one of those two. Rolen received just 10.2 percent of votes in 2018, his first year on the Hall of Fame ballot. But as I noted for SportsRadio 94 WIP last month, Rolen was a seven-time All-Star, who won eight Gold Glove Awards and has a higher bWAR, WAR7 and JAWS than the average Hall of Fame third baseman. Schilling took things a step further in praising Rolen’s defensive prowess:
“Scott Rolen is the best defensive third basemen of all-time and was a middle of the order bat,” Schilling said. “He showed up, played the game hard and played it right – he was better than most players on the field every day.”
History has overlooked how impactful of an offensive player Rolen was. Between 1997 and 2004, Rolen slashed .287/.389/.524 with 222 home runs, 813 RBIs and 91 stolen bases. FanGraphs says that the only two players that graded out as better offensive players during that period are Bonds and Alex Rodriguez, two of the 10 greatest offensive players in baseball history. Meanwhile, over that same period, Rolen graded out as a better offensive player than Andruw Jones, Jeff Bagwell, Derek Jeter, Larry Walker, Vladimir Guerrero, Jeff Kent, Manny Ramirez and Pudge Rodriguez, among others.
Rolen did only finish in the top five in MVP voting once in his career, in 2004. That, however, feels like more of an indictment on the voting process, and his peak coming during the Steroid Era, than anything. For example, in 2004 Rolen slashed .314/.409/.598 with 34 home runs and 124 RBIs. He posted a staggering 9.0 fWAR. For reference, a 6.0 fWAR or better is considered MVP caliber. Even though his 2004 season saw him top 2018 National League MVP Christian Yelich in terms of on-base percentage, RBIs, wOBA and fWAR, he finished fourth in National League MVP voting in 2004, behind Bonds, Adrian Beltre and Albert Pujols. Bonds, who hit .362 with 45 home runs at age 39, is believed to have had some assistance. Statistically, he’s the greatest offensive player in baseball history. Meanwhile, Beltre and Pujols are locks to be first-ballot Hall of Famers. Rolen shouldn’t be penalized for his peak coming at the wrong time.
While Rolen faces an uphill battle, the late Roy Halladay, appearing on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time in 2019, is expected to gain entry to baseball’s most prestigious club at some point. Whether he gets the necessary 75 percent of votes to become a first-ballot Hall of Famer or not remains to be seen. But Schilling says Halladay, who he squared off with in the American League East, would get his vote:
“Roy Halladay was the epitome of a Hall of Fame pitcher and person,” Schilling said.
Evaluating the Hall of Fame cases of pitchers is difficult because how they are used changes rather drastically in every era. But Halladay finished his career with a 3.38 ERA, a 3.39 FIP and a 64.3 bWAR across 2,749.1 innings. He topped the 200 innings mark eight times in his career. He’s one of six pitchers ever to win a Cy Young Award in both leagues. Three of the other five – Gaylord Perry, Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez – are Hall of Famers. Clemens, statistically, is one of the five best pitchers in baseball history, but isn’t in the Hall of Fame because of his connection to performance-enhancing drugs. The sixth pitcher to win a Cy Young Award in both leagues is Max Scherzer, who is still playing and will have an interesting Hall of Fame case because of his historically dominant peak.
Hall of Fame voters, controversially, are limited to voting for just 10 candidates per year. In addition to Rolen and Halladay, Schilling filled out seven of his remaining eight slots, voting for Todd Helton, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, Mike Mussina, Mariano Rivera, Omar Vizquel and Larry Walker. He listed four others as “fringe” candidates: Kent, Andruw Jones, Lance Berkman and Billy Wagner. Wagner, who spent the 2004 and 2005 seasons with the Phillies, is often overlooked in Hall of Fame discussions. He probably shouldn’t be, though, because he is sixth all-time in saves and has a lower career ERA, FIP and batting average against than Trevor Hoffman, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame this past summer.
Meanwhile, another part of Spaeder’s experiment has been asking former players if they would vote for Pete Rose and “Shoeless” Joe Jackson if they were eligible to be on the Hall of Fame ballot. Neither have ever appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot – despite having numbers that would make them easy selections – because both were banned by baseball for life for betting on games.
Jackson died over a decade before Schilling was born, but because of the ties that both Schilling and Rose have to the Phillies, the two have certainly gotten a chance to no each other. But Schilling says that despite the fact that he “loves Pete to death,” he wouldn’t vote for him because he believes that he gambled on his team to win and lose as both a player and a manager.
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