Grover Cleveland Alexander Might Have Been a Greater Phillie Than Mike Schmidt

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Grover Cleveland Alexander Might Have Been a Greater Phillie Than Mike Schmidt
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Mike Schmidt is the overwhelming choice as the greatest Philadelphia Phillies player of all time. Steve Carlton is considered the greatest Phillies' pitcher ever.

In a recent poll by a national newspaper, the players selected as the greatest Phillies were Richie Asburn, Steve Carlton, Ed Delahanty, Robin Roberts and Mike Schmidt. It was no contest as Schmidt received 64 percent of the votes. Carlton finished second with 22 percent.

A player who might have been the greatest of all Phillies was not even listed.

In 1911, 24-year-old Grover Cleveland Alexander joined the Phillies. He set a rookie record that will never be broken when he won 28 games. Alexander pitched 367 innings, had a 2.57 ERA and a 133 ERA+.

Alexander pitched for the Phillies from 1911-17. During those eight seasons, he was 190-88 with a 2.12 ERA and a 143 ERA+. He averaged 27 wins a season.

In 1915, "Pete" won 31 games as the Phillies won the pennant. He followed that by winning 33 games in 1916 and 30 in 1917.

During the offseason,  Phillies' owner William Baker sent Alexander to the Chicago Cubs. The excuse was that the Phillies thought that Alexander would be drafted to help the imperialistic goals of Great Britain and the United States, but Baker admitted that the deal was made because he needed the money.

Steve Carlton played for the Phillies from 1972-86. He was 241-161 with a 3.04 ERA and a 123 ERA+.

A strong case can be made that Alexander, despite pitching for the Phillies for only eight seasons compared to Carlton's 15, was the greater Phillies' pitcher.

Alexander topped Carlton with respect to ERA, ERA+, games won, innings pitched, and wins per season. Carlton led the league in strikeouts five times. So did Alexander, but Alexander did it in five of his eight Phillies' seasons.

Mike Schmidt is another story. He was a great defensive third baseman who hit 548 home runs. Schmidt batted .267/.380/.527 over 18 seasons, 16 of which were full seasons.

It is impossible to credit any player with the victory when his team wins, even the pitcher.

When Mike Schmidt hit a "game-winning" home run, we tend to ignore the contributions his teammates made to put him in the position to hit the home run. When Carlton pitched one of his six one-hitters, he needed help from his teammates, without which he would have had no better than a tie game.

Whether Alexander was a greater Phillie than Schmidt is a matter of opinion.

Alexander averaged 40 starts a season, completing 31 of them. He pitched about 356 innings a season and was credited with an average of 27 wins.

Schmidt averaged about 134 games a season, with 30 home runs and 89 RBIs.

Schmidt's Phillies played approximately 1,450 innings a season. Schmidt played approximately 1,200 of those innings.

Alexander's Phillies played approximately 1,390 innings a season (154 game schedule). Alexander pitched 356 of those innings.

Now to use statistics to make a point. Remember, Mark Twain quoted Ben Disraeli when the latter pointed out there are "Lies, damned lies, and statistics."

Mike Schmidt played defense 1,200 innings a season, but he batted 678 times a season, which averages to four plate appearances a game. 

Taking 1980, which was Schmidt's best season (48 home runs and 121 RBIs), he made 652 of the Phillies 6,265 plate appearances. That is 10.4 percent of his team's plate appearances.

Taking 1915, which was Alexander's best season, he pitched 376 and one-third innings. He faced 1,435 of the 5,478 batters the Phillies faced. That is 26.2 percent of the batters his team faced.

The above points out that pitchers such as Alexander, Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson, Mordecai Brown, Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson are involved as much as regular star players over the course of  season.

It is a baseball axiom that great pitchers stop great hitters more often than great hitters succeed against great pitchers. Or not.

Maybe Grover Cleveland Alexander really was the greatest Phillies' player of all time. Maybe not.

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