Bumgarner, Schilling, and the Best Postseason

Last Wednesday, following his terrific performance in Game 1 of the World Series, I wrote a piece for Just a Bit Outside putting Bumgarner’s 2014 playoff run into some historical perspective. One of the primary takeaways from that piece was just so amazing Curt Schilling’s 2001 performance was, as it clearly stood at the top of the heap as the best postseason a pitcher has ever had.

Here’s the table that ran in last week’s column, listing both the ERA- and FIP- of the starters who had at least five starts of seven or more innings pitched in the same postseason.

Pitcher Season ERA- FIP-
Curt Schilling 2001 25 43
Orel Hershiser 1988 32 68
Randy Johnson 2001 34 43
Cliff Lee 2009 37 44
Madison Bumgarner 2014 41 89
Greg Maddux 1995 67 98
Deacon Phillippe 1903 94 61

There was only player on that list who matched that criteria, but had actually six starts of least seven innings in a single postseason. But now, after Madison Bumgarner’s complete game shutout last night, there are two.

And the similarities between Schilling’s 2001 postseason and what Bumgarner has done so far this postseason don’t end there. Here are their overall numbers.

2001 Schilling 6 6 3 1 48.1 176 25 6 6 3 6   1     56
2014 Bumgarner 6 6 2 2 47.2 178 26 7 6 3 6   2     41

Almost identical, across the board. The biggest gap is in strikeouts, where Schilling dominated with an absurd 32% strikeout rate. Besides that, every other number is within two units of each other, and most of them are exact matches. Bumgarner has had Schilling’s 2001 postseason all over again, almost matching it to the tee.

If we were trying to split hairs, we would have to note that all of the differences do tend to lean in Schilling’s favor. He gave up one fewer run, even though Bumgarner’s extra run allowed was classified as unearned. He did strikeout 15 more batters while facing two fewer, and did so at a time when the National League strikeout rate was 18%, compared to the 20.5% average from this season. Three of his six starts came in the World Series, and two of them came on short rest. The 2001 Yankees had a better line-up than the 2014 Royals, and Chase Field and Yankee Stadium are better places to hit than AT*T Park or Kaufman Stadium.

If you make all the adjustments for era, opponent, and park effects, Schilling posting the same numbers as Bumgarner comes out as a bit more impressive, given the difference in degree of difficulty and the amount of outs he recorded on his own. But there’s also the reality that Bumgarner’s 2014 postseason might not yet be over. If this series goes seven games, the finale would come on Wednesday, Bumgarner’s traditional throw-day between starts. At the very least, you’d expect Bumgarner to pitch an inning or two in relief of Tim Hudson, and depending on how effective he was, getting up to three or four innings probably isn’t out of the question, especially if Tim Hudson struggles early.

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.

Schilling’s 2001 postseason shouldn’t be forgotten either, though. While the BBWAA collective nearly elected Jack Morris to the Hall of Fame because of one memorably great World Series start, Schilling’s 2001 run was the kind of performance that would have made a borderline HOF case an easy call. The fact that Schilling is not a borderline case — 18th all-time in pitching WAR by FIP, 32nd by RA9 — should make him one of the easiest selections on the ballot.

Voters: if you’re admiring Bumgarner’s run and where it places him in baseball history, how about honoring the guy who did this 13 years ago too?

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
8 years ago

2041, what incredible longevity!