Imagine you were responsible for selecting a fantasy staff for your team, the Philadelphia Phillies, which was to play against all other team’s pitching staffs. Who would be on your team? How would it compare to other team’s staffs?
The rules here are that starting pitchers must have pitched at least 1000 innings for the Phillies. They may be pulled from any part of the team’s history, dating back to 1883, when they were known as the Quakers (the team became the Phillies in 1890, and remained so, but for two years during WWII [’43-’44], when they were the Blue Jays).
Basically, we are looking for those pitchers who contributed the most to the team throughout their careers. Relief pitchers mentioned will be those likewise who contributed the most to the team with the highest quality.
Our format is to discover an early years’ rotation, before 1950, and a modern one, post-1950.
The Phillies from 1915 until 1950 were usually near the bottom of the NL standings. For one thing, their park was such a severe scoring haven, that maintaining any pitching there seemed futile.
There were not any pennants before 1915 either, just two second place finishes, in 1887 and 1901.
The early Rotation
For four of five years from ’13-’17 the Phillies were good, finishing second or first. The main reason had to be Grover Alexander. He began his career in ’11 and proceeded to establish one of the truly great peaks in baseball history.
He led the league in wins five times, and totaled 190 for the team in just seven years. His 1915 season is one of the greatest ever pitched. He posted 12 shutouts that year, only to top it with 16 the next year! Alexander’s career is often ranked among the very best in baseball history. He was at his very best as a Philly.
Pitching alongside Alexander was future HOF pitcher Eppa Rixey. Although Rixey didn’t fully hit his stride until he was in Cincinnati, his 87 wins as a Philly during this time helped the team during their only stretch of success before 1950.
The remainder of this rotation comes from the pre-modern era. The Quaker’s best campaign came in ’87, when they had the services of Charlie Ferguson, and Charles Buffinton. Buffinton had just come from Boston, while Ferguson was finishing his short four year career.
The other good campaign of these early years came in 1901, behind the fine pitching of Al Orth. It was Orth’s first 20 win season. He also led the league in WHIP and shutouts that year.
Putting this together, we get our Early Years Rotation:
1 – Pete Alexander, 1911-17; 190 wins, ERA+140, 61 shutouts
2 – Eppa Rixey, 1912-’20; 87 W; ERA+ 108, 14 shutouts
3 – Charles Buffinton, 1887-’89, 77 W, ERA+ 132; 9 shutouts
4 – Al “Curveless Wonder” Orth, 1895-1901; 100 W; ERA+ 109; 14 shutouts
5 – Charlie Ferguson, 1884-’87; 99W; ERA+ 121, 13 shutouts
While Alexander is certainly formidable, and the others are nice pitchers, the Philly faithful will be glad we move on now to the modern staff!
In search of the all-time Phillies starting rotation—the post-1950 staff:
Now we uncover some of the names readers will surely recognize. Right at the top of the all-time Phillies win list are two HOF pitchers, Robin Roberts and Steve Carlton.
Roberts was the ace of the Phillies staff of the 1950s. He was truly exceptional during his era, winning 266 games, pitching over 300 complete games, and winning 20 or more six consecutive years. In fact, he led the league in innings pitched and K/BB ratio five times each, wins four times, Ks twice and WHIP once.
At one point he pitched 27 consecutive complete games! That’s incredible considering the team had Jim Konstanty, who won the MVP as a reliever, backing him up.
Steve Carlton came over to the Phillies from the St. Louis Cardinals in 1972. While cutting his teeth as a Cardinal, he was ready to fulfill his promise as a Philly in ’72.
Carlton won 27 games, pitched 30 complete games, led the league with a 1.97 ERA, and threw in 310 Ks. It was his coming out season as a great pitcher! Carlton went on to win four Cy Young awards and strikeout over 4,000 batters.
“Lefty” is one of the five greatest lefthanders in baseball history.
Filling out our modern rotation will not be too difficult. Jim Bunning contributed some of his finest years as a Philly in the 60s. In six years he struck out 1197 batters, and won 89 games for the team.
Curt Schilling established himself as a fine starter while in Philadelphia from ’92-2000. His 101 wins and ERA+ 126 give him a place on the rotation.
For a fifth starter the Philly fans can choose between Curt Simmons and Chris Short. Simmons toiled in the '50s, winning 115 games for the team and putting up an ERA+ 108. Chris Short worked mostly in the '60s when he struck out 1,585 batters and threw 24 shutouts. One can start, the other can be the spot starter. They are both lefthanded.
For relievers, I chose Tug McGraw, who came over to the Phillies after becoming somewhat of a legend for the Mets, and his sidekick Ron Reed. These guys had 94 and 90 saves, and ERA+ marks of +120 and +122.
It is their workload of over 700 and 800 innings, and their habit of finishing each other’s work that earned them a place on the all-time Philly team.
Now we can put together the all-time Phillies starting rotation and staff:
1 – “Pete” Alexander, 1911-1917; 190 W; ERA+ 140; 61 SHO
2 – Steve Carlton, 1972-’86; 241 W; ERA+ 120; 39 SHO; 3031 Ks
3 – Robin Roberts, 1948-1961; 234 W; ERA+ 114; 35 SHO; 1871 Ks
4 – Curt Schilling, 1992-2000; 101 W; ERA+ 126; 14 SHO; 1554 Ks
5 – Jim Bunning, 1964-’67, ’70-’71; 89 W; ERA+ 122; 23 SHO; 1197 Ks
Spot Starters – Chris Short, Curt Simmons, and Charles Buffinton
Relievers – Tug McGraw and Ron Reed
This Phillies’ rotation is surely one of the finest in history. All of the starters were some of the best in their eras, and were very durable pitchers to boot. The only thing a manager would need to be concerned with would be an injury to one of the starters.
The level of replacements drops off considerably, and the replacement pitchers available from the Phillies all-time roster leave much to be desired. Only seven pitchers won 100 games or more as a member of the Phillies.
The relievers are good and form a good team, if not among the greatest.
So Philly fans, take pride in having one of the great starting rotations, and pray nobody gets injured!