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April 12, 2001

The Daily Prospectus

Missing the Boat

by Joe Sheehan

Back in March, I did a column on the Arizona Diamondbacks that contained the following sentence:

"The staff is the D'backs strength, but other than Randy Johnson, there's no one here who's a good bet for 200 innings of league-average ball."

That generated a lot of reader mail, some of which sung the praises of Brian Anderson, but most of the responses called me on the carpet for apparently forgetting Curt Schilling. My response at the time was that Schilling's increased fragility in 1999-2000, coupled with the dip in his strikeout rate, made me leery of his reliability for a full season of effectiveness in 2001.

Schilling has opened the season with two excellent starts--albeit against an unimpressive Dodger lineup--so it made me curious as to whether I'd missed something. I went back and took a look at Schilling's 2000 performance, and discovered more than a few things I'd missed.

Schilling has a well-deserved reputation as a workhorse and is one of the pitchers about whose pitch counts we routinely fret and fume. Well, after joining the Diamondbacks in July of last year, Schilling reached 120 pitches just one time in 13 starts, throwing exactly that many in his next-to-last outing. By comparison, he crossed that threshold three times in 16 starts for the Phillies before the trade.

Let's break that down using the new PAP^3 methodology introduced in Baseball Prospectus 2001. Here's the scale:

Category     Pitch Range             Risk

Category I 1-104 Virtually none Category II 105-109 Minimal Category III 110-121 Moderate Category IV 122-132 Significant Category V 133+ Severe

Here's Schilling's starts for each team by category:

Team            I    II    III    IV    V   Total   Avg. Cat.
Phillies        4     3      6     2    1     16          2.6
Diamondbacks    3     6      4     0    0     13          2.1

Schilling clearly was worked less hard after the trade. Was this all the difference between Buck Showalter and Terry Francona, or was something else at work?

I think the latter. Schilling appears to have changed something in his approach at midseason. Despite throwing fewer pitches per start and having fewer dangerous starts, Schilling averaged about a half-inning longer per start with the Diamondbacks than he did with the Phillies. He did this by cutting his walk rate in half, from 2.5 per nine innings to 1.2 per nine innings. After walking three or more batters five times in 16 starts with the Phillies, he didn't have a single three-walk start the rest of the season.

The new approach took some steam out of his strikeout totals, as he whiffed one batter per nine less with the D'backs.

Is this conclusive? No; there could be some park effect at work--the Vet increases walks, the Bob is neutral--and the sample sizes are fairly small. Schilling is uniformly regarded as an intelligent man, and it's not hard to picture him making the decision to change his approach on the mound in an effort to reduce his pitch counts, especially after the 1999 surgery.

I do know that looking at this makes me reconsider my initial opinion. Schilling has to be considered a good bet to throw 200 innings of above-average baseball, and I was wrong to dismiss him so lightly in March.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Contact him by clicking here.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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