Steve Carlton and the 25 Greatest Pitchers in Philadelphia Phillies History

Greg Pinto@@Greg_PintoCorrespondent IOctober 26, 2011

Steve Carlton and the 25 Greatest Pitchers in Philadelphia Phillies History

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    Pitching wins championships. That's how the old baseball axiom goes, right? The 2011 version of the Philadelphia Phillies would certainly disagree. After all, they assembled one of the greatest starting rotations of all time and took not one, not two, but four "aces" into postseason play, but even four of the game's top pitchers could push an anemic offense over the hump.

    What would the 1980 version of the Phillies say about that old axiom? They won the World Series in large part thanks to the contributions of their ace, Steve Carlton, who won 24 games in the regular season before going 3-and-0 in postseason play and their closer, Tug McGraw, who posted an ERA of 1.46 in the regular season and delivered the final pitch of the World Series.

    What about the 2008 team? After all, that pitching staff was led by unproven but emerging "ace", Cole Hamels, who after a solid regular season went on a tear in the playoffs, posting a record of 4-and-0 and leading the Phillies to a win in each of his five starts, after which he would be named both the NLCS and World Series MVP. What more can be said about Brad Lidge, who after coming to Philadelphia in a trade in the off-season, delivered a perfect season?

    Would it be a cop-out to say that the old baseball axiom that "pitching wins championships" is inconclusive? After all, teams with great pitching have won the World Series and teams with great pitching have watch the postseason from home in October. 

    Regardless of that, the Phillies as an organization live by that phrase, and throughout their history have brought in great pitching, be it to anchor a rotation or finish a game off. The following slide show will uncover the 25 greatest pitchers in the history of the organization, and it should be noted that the only statistics evaluated come from a pitcher's tenure with the Phillies.

    So let's get to it. Here are the 25 greatest Phillies' pitchers of all time.

25. Curt Davis

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    Curt Davis pitched just two and a half seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies, but he established quite the name for himself in that short period of time. He recorded 37 wins—which is amusing, given the fact that he threw 40 complete games—and thew more than 560 innings, registering an ERA+ of 136 and a WHIP of 1.315.

    His early success opened the eyes of other teams, especially the Chicago Cubs, who would later demand him as part of the trade that sent Chuck Klein to Philadelphia.

    Photo Credit:

24. Lew Richie

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    Lew Richie came to the Philadelphia Phillies as a free agent in the early 1900s and gave them three and a half very good seasons. On his way to collecting 23 wins (and 36 complete games,) Richie threw more than 500 innings quality innings, posting a WHIP of 1.155 to go with an ERA+ of 122.

    How did the Phillies respond to his good work on the mound? By trading him to a team then called the Boston Doves for Johnny Bates and Charlie Starr.

    Photo Credit:

23. Billy Wagner

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    Relievers had a tough time cracking this list first and foremost because most of the good ones (with a few obvious exceptions) weren't with the Philadelphia Phillies for very long. With that in mind, those that did make this list but weren't with the organization long had to have a phenomenal short tenure, and that is exactly the case of one Billy Wagner.

    Though he'd later be scorned by Phillies' fans for choosing the New York Mets in free agency, it's hard to argue the success that "Billy the Kid" had after arriving to the then-mediocre Phillies. He spent just two seasons in Philadelphia, but in that time managed to record 59 saves, posting an incredible ERA+ of 240 and a WHIP of just 0.810.

22. Gene Garber

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    Gene Garber was also a reliever that spent a relatively short time with the Philadelphia Phillies, pitching out of the bullpen for five seasons. Like Billy Wagner would do much later, Garber excelled out of the Phils' bullpen and became an integral, go-to piece, despite doing so without a significant role.

    After purchasing his contract from the Kansas City Royals, Garber logged close to 400 innings with the Phillies, posting an ERA+ of 141 and a WHIP of 1.149. He also posted an ERA of 2.68 over those five seasons, finishing more than 150 games for the Phillies before they traded him to the Atlanta Braves for Dick Ruthven.

21. Earl Moore

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    Earl Moore pitched in the Bigs more recently than Ben Sanders, but not by much. The Philadelphia Phillies purchased the "Steam Engine in Boots" (now that's a nickname) from Jersey City in the Eastern League, and he had an immediate impact on the Major Leagues. Okay, so he pitched in just three games in 1908, but in the three seasons that followed, he'd win at least 15 games for the Phillies.

    Moore pitched for the Phillies for six seasons in total, logging 1,150.1 innings. On the road to winning 67 games, Moore pitched to an ERA+ of 119 and a WHIP of 1.307. The Phillies would later allow him to be purchased by the Chicago Cubs following a down season, but had gotten the best out of his career.

20. Ryan Madson

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    Remember that guy on the left? That's a former top pitching prospect with a great fastball and a big, looping curveball that, in the long run, just couldn't cut it as a Major League starter. After tinkering with his delivery and moving him to the bullpen, however, the Philadelphia Phillies would later find that they were on to something with Ryan Madson—now one of the game's top closers.

    I keep having to convince myself that Madson belongs on a list like this, but why shouldn't he? Drafted by the Phillies in 1998, Madson has spent his entire, nine-year career with the organization. A move to the bullpen helped craft him into a fastball / change-up specialist not all that unlike Trevor Hoffman, and his nine year tenure is one of the longest on this list.

    Now a free agent, Madson has thrown 630 innings as a Phillie. He posted an ERA+ of 123 and a WHIP of 1.249. Despite having just one season as the team's full-time closer under his belt, Madson has been an integral part of the Phillies' bullpen, including the 2008 season where he was part of a group of relievers that would come to be known as, "the Bridge to Lidge."

19. Ben Sanders

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    Never heard of Ben Sanders before? Well, I don't blame you. After all, he played for the Philadelphia Phillies in the late 1800s and spent just five seasons in the Major Leagues, two of which were played for Philadelphia's "other team," the Philadelphia Athletics. (Remember, we're only counting stats acquired with the Phillies.)

    In those two seasons with the Phillies, he recorded an ERA under three and collected 38 wins. Pitching some of his best baseball in his early 20s, Sanders posted an ERA+ of 132 and a WHIP of 1.240.

    A short career, but a good one.

    Photo Credit:

18. Chris Short

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    Signed by the Philadelphia Phillies as an amateur free agent in1957, who would have thought that Chris Short would pitch with the organization for the next 14+ seasons? He made his debut in 1959, and over the coming years he would fill any role the Phils asked of him—be it starter, reliever, or anything in between—and do it well, becoming the epitome of pitchers known as "swingmen."

    Over those 14 seasons, Short collected 132 wins, 88 of which were complete games. He registered an ERA+ of 105 to go along with a WHIP of 1.283, logging 2,253 innings in his career with the Phillies.

    Photo Credit:

17. Ron Reed

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    Is it appropriate to call Ron Reed one of the most underrated Philadelphia Phillies of all time? Acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals in 1976, he would play a pivotal role in the Phillies' bullpen over the next eight seasons, serving primarily as Tug McGraw's set-up man, but also filling other roles over the course of his tenure.

    Reed logged 809.1 innings with the Phillies, posting an ERA+ of 122 and a WHIP of 1.151. He racked up 57 wins, most of them out of the bullpen, though one was a complete game, and of course, was a member of the 1980 World Series team. A few years later, he was traded to the Chicago White Sox for Jerry Koosman.

16. Dan Casey

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    Because Dan Casey pitched for the Philadelphia Phillies (then the Philadelphia Quakers) in the late 1880s, I considered writing this slide using a whole bunch of slang terms from the time period, but decided against it when I couldn't remember half of what those phrases meant. Instead, here are the cold, hard facts.

    Before they were called the Phillies, the Quakers had a great rotation arm by the name of Casey. In just four years for the Quakers, Casey logged close to 2,000 innings, winning 72 decisions and tossing 128 complete games. He recorded an ERA+ of 125 with a WHIP of 1.261.

    Gee whiz! Casey was one razzle-dazzle of a hurler!

    Photo Credit:

15. Eppa Rixey

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    Eppa Rixey may be in the Hall of Fame, but he's wearing a Cincinnati Reds cap for a reason. He pitched his best baseball for the Reds, but broke into the league with the Philadelphia Phillies, where he pitched equally as well (though team results don't really show that.)

    Signed by the Phillies as a free agent, Rixey pitched with the club for eight seasons, logging more than 1,600 innings and pitching to an ERA+ of 108. He recorded a WHIP of 1.245 and won 87 decisions for the Phils, tossing 110 complete games.

    He was traded to Cincinnati for Greasy Neale and Jimmy Ring—neither of whom had much success in Philadelphia.

14. John Denny

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    The Philadelphia Phillies were looking to shore up their starting rotation in the early 1980s and made a splash by acquiring John Denny from the Cleveland Indians. He rewarded them in his next full season with the club by winning a Cy Young Award in 1983. Overall, Denny's Phillies career spanned four solid seasons.

    He logged 650 innings with the Phils, winning 95 games and completing 15 of them. Denny had an ERA+ of 123 and a WHIP of 1.225, and though the Phillies tried to recoup some of his lost value after a down season in 1985 by trading him to the Cincinnati Reds, they never did.

13. Dutch Leonard

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    Dutch Leonard spent just two seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies, and in one of them lost a league high 17 games, but still he managed to put together one of the best stints by a Phillies' pitcher in the history of the organization.

    After the Phillies purchased his contract from the Washington Senators, he logged 460.2 innings, winning 29 games and tossing 35 complete games in total. He was at the top of his game for the Phillies, registering an ERA+ of 152 and a WHIP of 1.218. Despite that, he would be traded to the Chicago Cubs just two years after his arrival.

    Photo Credit:

12. George McQuillan

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    It goes without saying that "scouting" wasn't the same in baseball back in the early 1900s. Now a full time job and less literally, an art, scouting back then was some skill and a whole bunch of luck. By proxy, it also goes without saying that Lady Luck was with the Philadelphia Phillies back in August of 1906, when the team purchased the contract of a 22 year old pitcher by the name of George McQuillan from the Eastern League.

    McQuillan stepped right in and made his presence known with the Phillies in 1907, making five starts and completing all five of them, also finishing a game en route to a 4-0 record and an ERA of just 0.66. Of course, that was just a tease of the success he'd have with the Phillies.

    In six seasons overall, McQuillan but together a great career with the Phils, logging 926.1 innings and tossing 72 complete games, though, a lack of team success resulted in just 54 wins to his credit. To illustrate just how tough he was to hit, McQuillan posted an ERA+ of 146 with the Phils, and a WHIP of just 1.020.

11. Cole Hamels

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    It's time to give Cole Hamels the credit he deserves. After all, it took fans around the game of baseball years to consider him an ace, and by the time they did, he was pitching in a rotation behind Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee.

    Long before that, however, "Hollywood" Hamels built an impressive resumé with the Philadelphia Phillies, highlighted by doing what just a handful of others had been able to do before him—bring a World Series trophy down Broad Street.

    Debuting in 2006 as the "phenom" heralded with bringing the Phillies' losing ways to an end, it wasn't long before he did just that, posting a perfect record of 4-0 during the 2008 postseason, allowing his team to win all five games and being honored as the NLCS and World Series MVP in the process.

    Postseason heroics are just a small part of the career that, thus far, has landed Hamels on this list. Even marred by an average season in 2009, the Phillies' lefty has been as promised when scouts spoke of his potential way back when. Hamels has logged 1,161.1 innings for the Phillies, winning 74 games and tossing 10 complete games.

    Often overlooked, Hamels' ERA+ of 126 and WHIP of 1.141 are two marks that rank him among the Phillies' all-time greats, and did I mention, he hasn't celebrated his 28th birthday yet.

10. Tully Sparks

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    Tully Sparks is another guy that pitched for the Philadelphia Phillies before the turn of the 20th century, but I'll spare you the failed attempt at slang from the 1800s.

    The Phillies purchased Sparks' contract from the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1897, but he would roam around baseball for a bit before finally finding a home with the Phillies once again in 1903—where he would spend the rest of his career, retiring from baseball in 1910.

    In total, Sparks spent nine strong seasons with the Phillies' organization, posting an ERA+ of 109 and a WHIP of 1.133. He would go on to win 95 games and toss 150 complete games, logging just under 1,700 innings total over his tenure with the Phils.

9. Charlie Buffinton

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    It's almost hard to imagine a player cracking the top ten of a list like this and spending just three years with a team (spoiler: this gentleman won't be the last,) but that's exactly the case for Charlie Buffinton.

    Way back when they were still known as the Philadelphia Quakers, the organization purchased Buffinton's contract from—in my honest opinion—one of the best-named organizations of all time, the Boston Beaneaters.

    Though he would pitch just three seasons for the Quakers, Buffinton was the definition of a "work-horse," even by the standard set for pitchers in the late 1800s. In three seasons, Buffinton tossed 1,112.2 innings for the Quakers, which breaks down to an average of 370.3 innings per season. It took Cole Hamels six seasons to pass that mark!

    That, however, was a common theme for that time period. What drives Buffinton up this list was the quality of those innings packed into three seasons. He tossed 115 complete games, generating an ERA+ of 132 and a WHIP of 1.203, winning 77 games for the Quakers.

    Photo Credit:

8. Roy Halladay

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    Too soon to put Roy Halladay on a list like this? Maybe, but as was explained in the last slide, it is my belief that the quality of games, in the long run, outweighs the length of a career, and in just two seasons, "Doc" has accomplished more than most pitchers that have come through the Philadelphia Phillies' organization have dreamed of.

    Arriving in Philadelphia via trade from the Toronto Blue Jays before the 2010 season, Halladay has been every bit as good as advertised. In his first season with a new club, in a new league, in a completely different environment, he threw not only a perfect game, but a postseason no-hitter, a feat even rarer than the first. His impressive debut season with the Phillies would be honored with a Cy Young Award, but Halladay was far from finished.

    In just two seasons, he has posted a record of 40-16 (.714 winning percentage), with an ERA of 2.40. In two seasons, he has thrown 484.1 innings and 17 complete games. His efficiency has been impeccable, compiling an ERA+ of 166, and a minuscule WHIP of 1.041.

    At this rate, Halladay is putting his potential Hall of Fame career on cruise control.

7. Tug McGraw

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    It's hard to imagine a list like this without Tug McGraw—a man who embodied not only the spirit of the Philadelphia Phillies' as an organization, but the character of the fiery fan base that stood and cheered for him in the ninth inning. His celebration after nailing down the final out in the 1980 World Series couldn't have been any more perfect—he looks almost weightless, the same way the city felt when the pressure of not owning a World Series title was lifted.

    Acquired prior to the 1975 season in a trade with the New York Mets, who would have guessed that the "Tugger's" number 45 would be a mainstay in Philadelphia to this day? He spent 10 seasons with the Phillies, each of them with the same fiery exuberance that made him a fan-favorite.

    Those 10 seasons resulted in 722 innings—three starts, interestingly enough—and 313 games finished. He recorded a WHIP of 1.198 and an ERA+ of 120, forever setting the bar for closers in the City of Brotherly Love.

6. Curt Schilling

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    Curt Schilling may have gone on to bigger and better things with the Boston Red Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks, adding World Series rings to his collection with those teams, but he built the foundation of his career right here with the Philadelphia Phillies.

    Acquired by the Phillies from the Houston Astros for pennies on the dollar (no offense, Jason Grimsley,) Schilling would become the first, legitimate ace to pitch in Philadelphia for what seemed like a very long time. After all, these weren't the Phillies we've gotten used to. Though he pitched for some good clubs, he pitched for his fair share of bad ones as well.

    Schilling, however, was their bright spot. Before he was traded to the D'backs for more pennies on the dollar, Schilling had pitched nine years with the Phils, logging 1,659.1 innings, tossing 61 complete games, and recording 101 wins. He did all of that with an ERA+ of 126, a WHIP of 1.210, and a smile on his face.

5. Charlie Ferguson

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    Another standout for the Philadelphia Quakers of the late 1800s, Charlie Ferguson was a similar pitcher (and case, as far as this list is concerned) to Charlie Buffinton, with one difference—Ferguson did with Buffinton did, but did it better.

    Throwing a ton of innings was somewhat of a norm for the time period, but Ferguson had a rubber arm. He logged 1,514 innings for the Quakers over a span of four seasons, tossing 165 complete games and winning 99 decisions. He posted an ERA+ of 121 and a WHIP of 1.117.

    In spite of all that, he pitched just four seasons total in the Major League, winning at least 20 games in each of those years. Even more surprisingly, he lost 20 games or more twice! Talk about a lack of run support!

    Photo Credit: The Baseball Biography Project.

4. Jim Bunning

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    Not many of men get the chance to play Major League Baseball, be elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and then be elected into office as a United States Senator, but Jim Bunning did. Now retired, Bunning spent the majority of his career with the Detroit Tigers and in office, but it's his tenure with the Philadelphia Phillies that lands him on this list.

    Acquired from the Tigers in 1963, Bunning would spend two different stints with the Phillies for a total of six seasons. During that span of time he did so much more than toss a perfect game—he cemented his legacy as one of the game's all-time greats.

    He threw 1,520 innings for the Phillies, helping him to 65 complete games and 89 wins. He registered an ERA+ of 122 and a minuscule WHIP of 1.110. His number 14 is retired by the Phillies, and along with Roy Halladay, is the only other man on this list to throw a perfect game in the history of the Phillies' organization.

3. Robin Roberts

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    It just isn't very often that a single player will spend more than 10 years with a single organization, and it usually signifies a player that changed the landscape of the franchise's history. That was exactly the case for Robin Roberts and the Philadelphia Phillies, who worked with each other for 14 seasons.

    Over that span of time, Roberts set the high marks for complete games and innings pitched by a Phillies pitcher, logging 272 and 3,739.1, respectively. He won 234 games for the Phils, compiling an ERA+ of 114 and a WHIP of just 1.170. He won at least 20 games in a season six times, leading the league in a bevy of other categories over the course of his career.

    His number 36 is retired by the Phillies' organization, and after he passed away in May of 2010, the team wore a memorial patch on their sleeves to remember him and the contributions he made to the Phillies.

2. Steve Carlton

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    For many people, there is no greater pitcher in the history of the Philadelphia Phillies than Steve Carlton, and frankly, you wouldn't get much of an argument out of me. Simply known as "Lefty" for his craft and handedness, Carlton made a name for himself by being as close to un-hittable as possible, making hitters look foolish and stockpiling impressive numbers on a number of bad Phillies' teams.

    Acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals for fellow starting pitcher Rick Wise, the thought of Carlton—a promising young left hander—spending 15 seasons with the Phillies could be labeled as far-fetched. In spite of those doubts, Carlton did just that, logging 3,697.1 innings and tossing 185 wins.

    The ace of both World Series caliber teams and perennial losers, Carlton accumulate 241 wins as a Phillie and would retire with more than 300. He posted an ERA+ of 120 and a WHIP of 1.210, and to many, is the greatest Phillies' pitcher of all time, but not on this list.

    That honor belongs to...

1. Grover Cleveland Alexander

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    Grover Cleveland Alexander—who was born during the term of former President Grover Cleveland—was more commonly referred to as Pete Alexander during his days with the Philadelphia Phillies. During World War I, he was drafted into the United States Military and deployed in Europe, where he was exposed to mustard gas and experienced shell shock and a loss of hearing. That was in 1917—he would pitch for 13 more seasons!

    Enough of that, though. I'm sure your curious as to what baseball qualities "Old Pete" has, and they better be good ones, if he's going to top Steve Carlton. For starters, he won at least 20 games nine times, including three seasons where he won at least 30 games. He lead the league in WHIP five times, and in innings pitched seven, and that's just the tip of the statistical iceberg.

    In eight seasons with the Phillies, Alexander won 190 games, tossing 219 complete games, and logging 2,513.2 innings. He registered an incredible ERA+ of 140 and a tiny WHIP of just 1.075.

    As good as Calrton was—four Cy Young Awards good—Alexander was even better.