Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Phillies' All-Time Best Reliever Is...

You’re the manager of the Phillies—if it helps, the Rolaids are in the bottom desk drawer. It’s Game 7 of the World Series, bottom of the ninth. The Phils are up 1, nobody out, and the heart of the opponent’s batting order is due up.

You make the call to the bullpen—but this is no ordinary ‘pen. Out there spitting sunflower seeds and warming up are the best relief pitchers in Phillies history. You get to make the all-time decision: who gets the call to save the game?

Brad Lidge’s record-setting success this season—37 straight saves and counting—highlights an often forgotten bit of Phillies history. They’ve had some stellar relief pitchers over the years, especially considering the relief-pitcher-as-rock-star era only began in the mid-1970s, when 30- and 40-save seasons became the norm among the league leaders.

Steve Bedrosian in 1987 is the only Phillie since the 1970s to lead the NL (with 40), though there have been several all-stars and aces among the mix. Consider: Gene Garber, Ron Reed, Tug McGraw, Al Holland, Bedrosian, Kent Tekulve, Mitch Williams, Jose Mesa, Billy Wagner, Brett Myers, and Lidge. Even Doug Jones and Heathcliff Slocumb had all-star seasons with the Phils.

Missing from that list are the four other Phillies to lead the NL in saves since World War II: Andy Karl (15 in ’45), Ken Raffensberger (6 in ’46), Jim Konstanty (22 in ’50), and Jack Meyer (16 in ’55).

So, who’d be the Game 7 pick? For argument’s sake, we’ll look only at each pitcher’s best season. For example, while McGraw pitched 10 seasons with the Phils , we’ll count 1980 only, when he finished fifth in the Cy Young voting with 20 saves and a 1.46 ERA for the world champions.

From the two groups listed above, it’s easy to make a first cut to narrow the field, keeping Lidge, McGraw, Konstanty, Bedrosian, Holland, and Wagner. Even so, that leaves out 40-save seasons by Mesa and Williams, plus standout seasons by Garber and Reed from the 1976 and 1977 bullpens that Baseball Prospectus ranked as the second-best in baseball history! McGraw was also in the ‘pen on those two teams.

The quick rundowns: we know the season Lidge is having, and McGraw’s ’80 year was noted. Konstanty won 16 and saved 22 in 1950 for the Whiz Kids when he was the NL MVP, the first reliever to win the award. And Bedrosian won the ’87 Cy Young, going 5-3 with a 2.83 ERA and 40 saves.

Holland was the consensus MLB relief pitcher of the year in 1983, finishing sixth in Cy Young and ninth in MVP voting, going 8-4 with a 2.26 ERA and 25 saves. And Wagner went 4-3 with a 1.51 ERA and 38 saves in 2005.

Now looking at those six in the bullpen, I think if you’re the Phillies manager you can put away the Rolaids and relax. You can’t go wrong.

All of them except for Wagner and Lidge (so far) won either an individual honor or a team title. So those two are out. Bedrosian was dominating and Holland was overpowering but neither had that something special that separates McGraw and Konstanty.

Konstanty pitched in a major-league record 74 games in 1950, which was unheard of then, and had 16 wins to go along with his 22 saves. His is clearly the best season in Phillies history by a righthander.

But I’m going with McGraw, who got tougher as the season and the playoffs progressed. He pitched in all five NLCS games, earning saves in two. He then pitched in four World Series games, winning one, saving two and finishing with a 1.17 ERA and 10 strikeouts in 7.2 innings. The fact that one of those strikeouts gave the Phillies their only world championship plays a part in my pick, too.

But, who knows—check back in a month. If Lidge is still perfect and hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy, I may have a different answer. —JR

1 comment:

Gern said...

Lidge is MONEY! Can't wait to see him put Ramirez away for the last out of the NLCS.