For baseball fans, the end of the year is about more than the holidays. No, for those of us devoted to the sport, it also represents Hall of Fame argument season. Baseball being baseball, stats for players will always come up in these heated debates. But for all the great tools we have to support our arguments these days, sabermetrics hasn't done a whole lot with the playoffs.
One of the most heated debates has been around the merits of Curt Schilling's case for the Hall of Fame, where there is a wide gulf from the stat-friendly crowd that believes he's a slam-dunk for Cooperstown and some of the more veteran writers into traditional statistics. And the playoffs factor in.
On a basic level, Schilling's case doesn't look all that compelling, as 216 wins is a low number for a Hall of Fame pitcher. HIs 3.46 ERA doesn't look very shiny when compared with the fact that every full-time starter in the Hall of Fame with fewer wins, with the exception of Jesse Haines, has a lower ERA.
The thing about stats, however, is that they have no meaning by themselves. Context is crucial. If you just say that a player has 55 ZORK or something, that has no meaning unless you know what ZORK means or what the ZORK of other great players is. A pitcher's win total is very different simply because of the realities of the game at the time it was played. For instance: Wouldn't it seem odd to declare that Sandy Koufax stunk because he didn't have a single season in which he won as many games as Old Hoss Radbourn did in his average season? Top pitchers simply win fewer games today because the usage is different.
ERA, while a better stat than pitcher wins, suffers a great deal in many cases when context is added. Schilling played almost entirely in a high-offense era and retired before that era ended. In the parks and leagues Schilling pitched in, a league-average ERA over his career would have been 4.39. Contrast that with a pitcher like Don Drysdale