Though the use of the reliever in baseball has changed drastically over the course of the game's history, the concept remains the same—take one of the best pitchers on your roster and throw him into a pressure-packed situation with the game on the line, whether it's with the bases loaded in the sixth inning or trying to nail down those final three outs in the ninth.
In the long history of the Philadelphia Phillies, more than a few good relievers have donned red pin-stripes, helping to create some of the most memorable images in the history of the franchise. How many of us will ever forget Tug McGraw launching himself into the air to celebrate a World Series title in 1980, or Brad Lidge dropping to his knees to celebrate with his club 28 years later?
In this slideshow, we will take a look at the greatest relievers to ever pitch for the Phillies. As such, we will only be looking at these relievers' statistics with the Phils, and they have been evaluated as such. Because the game has changed so much over the years, from era to era, a bevy of statistics were used to evaluate the relievers. Some heavy hitters were years pitched with the Phillies, ERA+, and games finished, and to a lesser extent, WHIP, saves and K/9, among other stats.
So now that we've gotten all of that mumbo-jumbo out of the way, there's nothing to it but to do it. Here are the 25 greatest relievers in the history of the Philadelphia Phillies.
Dick Selma was the type of reliever where you never knew quite what you were going to get, best defined by his four seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies—two really good ones and two not-so-good ones. Traded to the Phillies from the Chicago Cubs as part of the deal that sent Johnny Callison, now on the back end of his career, to the Windy City, there was some pressure on Selma to perform.
In four seasons with the Phillies, he posted an ERA+ of 97, but by appearing in 142 games, with 82 games finished and 26 saves, he helped to change the culture of the Phillies' bullpen, for over the coming years, they would go on quite the roll, culminating in a World Series victory, though, Selma would be long gone by that point.
Andy Karl had a brief career in Major League Baseball—just six seasons—but four of those seasons were spent with the Philadelphia Phillies. Surprisingly enough, those four seasons almost never happened. The Phillies had agreed to a deal with the Chicago Cubs that included Karl, but he refused to report to the Cubs in April and remained property of the Phillies.
He would go on to pitch primarily as a reliever, appearing in 153 games and finishing 85 of them, including 22 saves. He posted an ERA+ of 105 and a WHIP of 1.335, despite walking more batters than he struck out.
Though Jack Meyer had a brief career—just seven years in Major League Baseball—he spent the entirety of that career with the Philadelphia Phillies. Known as somewhat of a swing-man, able to pitch as both a starting pitcher and a reliever, Meyer built a solid career in the City of Brotherly Love.
Because he pitched in a time where the role of "reliever" was drastically different, Meyer didn't accumulate some of today's popular stats like saves and games finished. However, he is the owner of a 101 career ERA+, and did manage to finish 98 games for the Phils.
This isn't the kind of list the Philadelphia Phillies imagined Wayne Gomes making when they drafted him with the fourth overall pick of the 1993 draft. Instead of going on to be the ace that they envisioned, he pitched for several mediocre teams in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
That said, he was a solid reliever, especially with the Phils, where he spent five seasons. He posted an ERA+ of 102 during that time, finishing 125 games and converting 28 saves. Like most starters-turned-relievers, his struggle with control (BB/9 of more than four with the Phillies) would eventually seal his fate as a starting pitcher, and Gomes the reliever was born.
Syl Johnson is a lesser known reliever, who also spent time as a starter, but he pitched some of his best years with the Philadelphia Phillies from 1934-40. In those seven years, he finished 86 games, converting 23 saves, taking a much larger role with the Phillies as a reliever than any other team he pitched for throughout his career.
With an ERA+ of 108 and WHIP of 1.213 over those seven years, he was certainly a quality reliever for the Phils.
Jim Konstanty was a guy that I had considered moving up this list, but like a number of other guys that are going to appear on this list, I found many of their qualifying numbers to be about "quantity," as opposed to "quality."
Take for example Konstanty, who spent seven years with the Philadelphia Phillies during the "Whiz Kids" era. He currently sits fifth all time in games finished for the Phils with 202, and impressively won an MVP Award in 1950.
However, in terms of an overall presentation of statistics, this may be the best spot for him. In his seven years with the Phillies, he posted an ERA+ of 110, walking nearly as many batters as he struck out and allowing right around nine hits per nine innings. That isn't to take away from Konstanty, however, as he is still one of the greatest Phils' relievers of all time.
I can almost hear the outcry. "What are you crazy, Greg? Jose Mesa is the Philadelphia Phillies all time leader in saves! How can the Phillies' all time leader in saves not even crack the top 20? The Phils' early playoff exit must have deadened a few of your brain cells!"
If there is one point I want to get across, it is this—Mesa was not nearly as good as a lot of the fan base seems to think he was. He is the prime example of a closer who excelled with other teams and then came to Philadelphia and somehow managed to collect saves.
Yes, he finished 183 games and converted 112 saves for the Phils, but none of those were comfortable saves. His ERA+ of 102 was a sharp drop from the success he had in Cleveland, and his WHIP 1.421 is not nearly indicative of the "success" he had as a closer.
I suppose there are some props to be given for holding the Phillies' all time saves record, but that is an arbitrary statistic and doesn't reflect his actual contributions to this organization in the least bit.
Turk Farrell also had a bit of what I'm calling "Jose Mesa Syndrome," where he would manage to throw up a ton of numbers in arbitrary statistics like saves and games finished, but the quality of his work was sometimes lacking, though, to a much lesser extent than Mesa.
Farrell spent a couple of different years with the Philadelphia Phillies, totaling nine years of service time. In those years, he managed to finish off 244 games for the Fightins, converting 65 saves. He posted an ERA+ of 114 and a WHIP of 1.310, along with average rates of hits, strikeouts, and walks per nine innings.
When the Philadelphia Phillies signed Tom Gordon to be their closer, they were hoping to get the same production that he had given the New York Yankees in the seasons prior. That was not the case. "Flash" regressed quite a bit in his tenure with the Phillies after signing his three-year contract, becoming all but useless during the championship season of 2008.
That said, he was still a quality reliever. In his three years with the Phils, Gordon posted an ERA+ of 110 and a WHIP of 1.364. finishing 71 games for the Phillies, turning 42 of those into saves and striking out close to nine batters per nine innings.
Larry Andersen's playing career may very well be remembered by the trade that sent him to the Boston Red Sox for then prospect and now Hall of Fame probable, Jeff Bagwell. His legacy with the Philadelphia Phillies is a bit different though, as the once solid reliever has solidified himself as a great broadcaster.
Andersen the reliever was quite good for the Phils. He was never labeled as the "closer" or even the "set-up man," for that matter, but he pitched in any role the team asked him to pitch in, and did his job well. He did finish 73 games for the Phillies over his six year career with the team, posting an ERA+ of 117 and a WHIP of 1.303 in close to 300 innings.
Jack Baldschun came to the Philadelphia Phillies in the early 1960s in the Rule 5 Draft and spent his first five Major League seasons with the club. In those years, Baldschun made a name for himself as a quality workhorse, logging a ton of innings and appearing in a lot of games out of the bullpen.
In those five seasons with the Phils, Baldschun finished 214 games, converting 59 saves. He posted an ERA+ of 114 and a WHIP of 1.340, posting strong strikeout numbers over his tenure with the Phillies.
Ricky Bottalico is one of the most overlooked relievers in the history of the Philadelphia Phillies' franchise, in my personal opinion. Signed as an amateur free agent, "Ricky Bo" spent seven years with the Phils (in two different stints) and was a quality reliever over most of his tenure.
In those seven seasons, he filled numerous roles and posted an ERA+ of 115, to go along with a WHIP of 1.308. Now a popular figure once again in Philadelphia thanks to his work as an analyst for Comcast SportsNet, Bottalico finished 192 games as a reliever, including 78 saves, and struck out close to nine batters per nine innings.
Now the pitching coach for the division rival Atlanta Braves, once upon a time, Roger McDowell was a member of the Philadelphia Phillies and played a vital role in the bullpen in the late 1980s, early 1990s. McDowell came to Philadelphia along with Lenny Dykstra in the trade that sent Juan Samuel to the New York Mets.
During his tenure with the Phils, McDowell became known for his on the field persona, highlighted by his rock star-like mullet that would become a favorite among Philly relievers in the coming years. In his three years with the Phils, McDowell pitched some of his best baseball, posting an ERA+ of 128 and a WHIP of 1.421. He finished 117 games and converted 44 saves.
Over the coming weeks, Ryan Madson's name is going to come up frequently as one of the top closers on the free agent market. The Philadelphia Phillies will push hard to bring him back and for obvious reasons, but one of those reasons flying under the radar is simply this: Madson has become one of the greatest relievers in the history of the Phillies.
Once a starter with a looping curveball, that may seem like an odd statement. But Madson, who has mastered the fastball / change-up combo, has done with the Phils' bullpen what few other men could accomplish. He rose through the ranks—from failed starter, to middle reliever, to set-up man, to closer—and now, is primed for a nice contract.
In retrospective, Madson's nine seasons with the Phillies have been good ones. He has posted an ERA+ of 123 to go along with a WHIP of 1.294. "Mad Dog" has posted impressive strikeout and walk numbers, finishing 150 games for the Phillies and converting 52 saves.
Though he could very well be wearing a different uniform for 2012, the old gut feeling is telling me that Madson will be back with the Phils next season.
Al Holland spent just three seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies, but boy, was he good when he was there. He was traded to the Phillies by the San Francisco Giants, along with Joe Morgan, and both would play big roles for the Phils in the early 1980s.
Holland wore several jerseys over the course of his career, but pitched some of his best baseball in the Phillies' set. In those three seasons, he close to 200 innings, finishing 117 games and saving 55. He posted an ERA+ of 127 and a WHIP of just 1.103.
He would later be traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates for another reliever yet to appear on this list.
Brad Lidge was a tough guy to place on this list. In his four seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies, not only has he been used in a few different roles, but the results have been night and day. Numbers alone, his results probably do not warrant listing him this high, but let's be honest—the Phillies would not have won the World Series in 2008 without him.
In his four seasons with the Phils, Lidge has only been "Lights Out" sporadically. Regardless of that, he has posted an ERA+ of 113 and a WHIP of 1.430. Lidge posted strong strikeout numbers, finishing 158 games for the Phillies and converting 100 saves.
He'll join teammate Ryan Madson as a free agent this winter (most likely) and like Madson, the Phils would like to bring him back in a smaller capacity.
Steve Bedrosian was a great reliever. There is no disputing that. However, I often get the feeling that his winning of the National League Cy Young Award in 1987 (a questionable recipient, at best) often blurs how valuable he actually was to the Philadelphia Phillies.
Bedrosian came to the Phillies as part of a trade from the Atlanta Braves and spent four years in Philadelphia, his best season coming in '87 when he converted a league leading 40 saves. In total, Bedrosian logged 103 saves for the Phils, finishing 188 games in total. He posted strong numbers across the board, highlighted by an ERA+ of 118 and a WHIP of 1.253.
On the Al Holland slide, I alluded to a trade that would bring another great reliever to the Philadelphia Phillies, and here it is. The Phillies would send Holland, as part of a package, to the Pittsburgh Pirates, who in turn sent a package of players to the Phils, headlined by Kent Tekulve.
Tekulve was just a cool player. Everything about him was strange in a way that Philadelphia fans love. He wore sunglasses that belonged on a cheesy cop in a highway patrol movie and had one of the strangest windups of all time, but it worked.
In four seasons with the Fightins, Tekulve posted a very good ERA+ of 129 to go along with a strong WHIP of 1.225. He finished 148 games, converting 25 saves in the process. A contact pitcher if their ever was one, "Teke" found a way to get outs—but it was never normal.
Mitch Williams personified the Philadelphia Phillies' fan base better than any reliever on this list. A fiery closer, he rocked a mullet and let his emotions flow freely on the mound, with the ability to blow a fastball by a hitter in the strike-zone and then completely lose control, brushing guys back with a pitch near the eyeballs, helping him garner the nickname, "Wild Thing."
In spite of all that, he was good. Very good, for the Phillies. Though he pitched for just three years in Philadelphia, he became a fan-favorite. He posted an ERA+ of 119 with the Phils, converting 102 saves and finishing 173 games overall.
Though his control often helped put runners on base, Williams always seemed to find a way to work out of jams and close out games, and he did it with style.
This, in my opinion, was the first of a few tough positions. When judging the relievers for this list, I had to weigh a few things carefully, and one of the toughest comparisons is easily the length of a pitcher's body of work versus his success. So obviously, it goes without saying that a reliever who had just above average success for a longer period of time was more valuable to the club than relievers with short stints.
But that isn't always the case, as some relievers with short stints performed so well that the length of their stint becomes almost secondary. That was the case for Heathcliff Slocumb, who spent just two seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies. But they were dominant seasons.
He finished 70 games for the Phillies, converting 32 saves. The quality of his work was impeccable, as he posted an ERA+ of 149, with strong strikeout rates.
Billy Wagner also spent just two seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies, but he was incredible during those two seasons. When the Phillies acquired Wagner from the Houston Astros, they battling to establish an ounce of credibility, and though Wagner helped them towards that goal, he pitched just two brilliant seasons before leaving.
Wagner, who finished 108 games, would convert 59 saves. He posted an incredible ERA+ of 240, along with phenomenal strikeout and walk rates, helping him to a minuscule WHIP of 0.810.
Gene Garber was a crafty right handed reliever. He could strike you out, but he wouldn't rely on it. He needed to pick his spots in the strike-zone and utilize off-speed pitches to be effective, and he did it well. Garber was "purchased" from the Kansas City Royals and spent five very good seasons with the Phillies.
Over those five seasons, he was used in a variety of roles, but he managed to finish 154 games and convert 51 saves. He posted a great ERA+ of 141 and a WHIP that was equally as impressive, sitting at 1.149.
He would later be traded to the Atlanta Braves for another pitcher—Dick Ruthven.
Joe Hoerner is somewhat of my surprise selection for the number three spot. He pitched for the Philadelphia Phillies for four seasons, but that isn't what landed him here. Over that span of four seasons, he was one of the best relievers in all of baseball, posting great numbers across the board.
He came to the Phillies from the St. Louis Cardinals as part of the mammoth trade that sent Dick Allen to the Redbirds and saw Curt Flood refuse to report to the Phillies. He would become a dominant reliever in the Phils' bullpen, finishing off 73 games and converting 21 saves, appearing in 133 games overall.
Over those four seasons, he posted an incredible ERA+ of 165 and a WHIP of 1.212, showing strong strikeout to walk ratios as well.
Having been under contract with the Philadelphia Phillies both before and after their World Series victory in 1980, few pitchers played a bigger role in the success of the franchise than Ron Reed. He was acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals and plugged right into the bullpen, where he would be a mainstay for the next eight seasons.
During those years, he was more of a set-up man than anything. He appeared in 458 games for the Phillies, finishing 255 of them and converting 90 saves. Most impressive, perhaps, is just how good he was over that span of time, posting an ERA+ of 122 and a WHIP of 1.150, with strong numbers across the board.
Realistically, could there be any other?
Tug McGraw was the heart and soul of the Philadelphia Phillies' bullpen during their 1980 World Series title, and as a mainstay and fan-favorite an entire city was shaken by his loss. Still today you can see his name emblazoned upon the back of t-shirts and jerseys, because the name "McGraw" brings to mind one thing in the city of Philadelphia—a World Series title.
His Phillies' career is forever remembered by that picture to the left, where he leaves the ground and throws his arms high in the air after delivering the final pitch sealing the Phillies' World Series conquest. But the "Tugger's" career ran much deeper than that.
He spent 10 seasons as the Phils' closer, appearing in 463 games, finishing 313 of them, and converting 94 saves. He posted an ERA+ of 122 over that 10 year span, along with a WHIP of 1.198 and a bevy of other statistics that further show just how good he was.