Bumgarner Has Been Great, But Nobody Can Touch Curt Schilling’s 2001

By: Brian Mangan

Nice article by Dave Cameron over at Fangraphs yesterday, saying this about Madison Bumgarner’s 2014 postseason run:

If Bumgarner manages to throw a few more dominant relief innings in Game 7, then there really will be a case that his run this year will have surpassed Curt Schilling’s 2001 season as the best postseason pitching performance in the history of the game. At the very least, though, he’s put himself in the conversation, and has had the kind of October performance that will never be forgotten.

Bumgarner has been incredible, but it would take some serious mental gymnastics to even call it close with Schilling right now.  And even if Bumgarner were to return in relief in Game 7, there would still be no conceivable way for Bumgarner to pull close to Schilling.

Here is a comparison of their postseason stats, courtesy Fangraphs:Comparison

But a simple comparison of the statistics — which already favor Schilling — doesn’t tell the full story.

Not only is the general run environment in 2014 so much lower than 2001, but the specific teams faced and ballparks they played in all favor Schilling.  Here’s who Bumgarner has faced this October:

  • 2014 Royals, 651 runs
  • 2014 Nationals, 686 runs
  • 2014 Pirates, 682 runs

And this is who Schilling faced:

  • 2001 Yankees, 804 runs
  • 2001 Cardinals, 814 runs
  • 2001 Braves, 729 runs

Even the worst offensive team faced by Schilling scored more than 10% more often than the Royals (the Braves scored 78 more runs than the Royals).  On top of that, Kauffman Stadium and AT&T Park are much more favorable to pitchers than Yankee Stadium and Bank One Ballpark, where Schilling pitched.

The overall ERA in MLB this season was 3.74, with batters striking out 7.74 times per nine innings.  In 2001, the average ERA was a whopping 4.42 and batters struck out only 6.74 times per nine.  Oh, and Schilling tosed 256.2 innings in the regular season, meaning his final total for the season was north of 300.

This quick comparison would be incomplete without a mention of Orel Hershiser, whose 1988 postseason run was the second-best ever in terms of ERA-.  Hershiser had only two series in which to do his damage and he dominated, allowing only 5 earned runs in 32.2 innings (1.37 ERA) and striking out 32.  He appeared four times in the NLCS.  He started Game 1 (beating Gooden), Game 3 (handing a lead to bullpen) and pitched a complete game shutout in Game 7 against the Mets.  He also appeared in Game 4 for a dramatic one out save in the twelfth inning after inheriting runners on second and third.

Schilling’s performances were equally gritty (not to say that Bumgarner’s are not).

Schilling shut out the juggernaut Cardinals out in Game 1, and then allowed only 1 ER while pitching a complete game to clinch the series.  Against the Braves, Schilling pitched another complete game, his third in a row, to take the series lead 2-1.  Then, under incredible pressue, Schilling started Game 1 of the World Series and buried the Yankees, allowing only one run over 7 innings. He started Game 4 and went 7 innings again, handing a 3-1 lead to closer Byung-Hyun Kim. Then, in Game 7, he dominated again, going 7.1 and allowing only two runs.  Schilling could easily have gone 6-0 in that postseason.

None of this is intended to take away from Bumgarner, who has had a truly historic postseason run.  In fact, only two men in history, Bumgarner and Schilling, have lasted at least seven innings and given up no more than three earned runs in all six of their postseason starts.

Like Cameron said in an article over at Just a Bit Outside, “this is still a great run, one of the best baseball has seen, and worthy of all the adulation thrown his way.

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Brian Mangan is a Mets fan and attorney living in New York City.

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As a bonus, I was wondering this aloud on twitter today and the wonderful @aceballstats actually answered it for me.  Here’s a fact that you can impress your friends with: