Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Best Phillies Team

The Phillies’ two World Series-winning teams would seem to be the obvious choices as the best clubs in team history. But not so much.

As I wrote in the previous days’ entries, the fourth-best team was the 1950 club, the third was the 1976 101-win team. That leaves the competition down to the 1980 champions and this year’s team, one that’s significantly better than last year’s World Series winners. By adding a reigning Cy Young Winner (Cliff Lee), a 2009 All Star (Raul Ibanez), and a confidence that comes with the title, the ’09 team easily trumps the ’08 winners. But how do the 1980 and 2009 teams compare?

The 1980 team featured two Hall of Famers (Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton) and a hard-to-believe 17 players who’d be named All Stars during their careers. Seven of the eight regulars were All Stars at some point (Garry Maddox was the only one not named).

It’s hard to tell how the careers of the 2009 players will play out, but already 11 players on this year’s team have been named All Stars, including six of the eight regulars (except Carlos Ruiz or Pedro Feliz) and not counting yet-to-be-activated Pedro Martinez.

The key to comparing the teams is to focus on the individual season and not a player’s career. Some Phillies greats didn’t produce in ’80, or haven’t yet in ‘09: Bob Boone (.229), Greg Luzinski (.228), and Garry Maddox (.259) struggled then, while Jimmy Rollins (.242) and Ruiz (.231) are having off years now.

Conversely, Carlton won the Cy Young and Schmidt was NL and World Series MVP. Barring a freakish hot streak by Chase Utley or Ryan Howard, there won’t be any regular-season award-winners on the ’09 club.

The ‘09 team, however, has strengths the ’80 team didn’t. The starting rotation of Cole Hamels, Lee, Joe Blanton, J.A. Happ, and Jamie Moyer/perhaps Martinez is far better than the ’80 staff of Carlton, Dick Ruthven, Bob Walk, Randy Lerch, and Nino Espinosa/Larry Christenson.

The ’09 everyday regulars are also having better years than the ’80 starters. Howard tops an aging Pete Rose (.282 BA, .352 OBP), Utley’s better than Manny Trillo, Ibanez bests Luzinski, and Shane Victorino is better than ’80 Maddox. Boone/Ruiz is a wash. That leaves Bowa over a slumping Rollins, Schmidt ahead of Feliz, and Bake McBride ahead of Werth.

The ’80 team gets points for its bullpen and bench strength. Tug McGraw was otherworldly after returning from his injury (1.46 ERA for the season), and Ron Reed, Dickie Noles, and Kevin Saucier held down the fort. The ’09 team has potential over the next two months to swing the vote, though, with Brad Lidge finally coming around, and J.C. Romero, Chad Durbin, and Brett Myers due back.

The ’80 team demolishes the ’09 club in bench depth. Lonnie Smith, Keith Moreland, Greg Gross, and Del Unser pushed the ’80 starters for their jobs, while ’09 backups Greg Dobbs and newly acquired Ben Francisco are the only bench players who could be considered starters on other teams.

The final tally: the ’09 team’s everyday lineup and starting pitching are better than the ’80 club. Only the ’80 bullpen and bench beat the ’09 club. Remember, the ’80 team finished just 91-71, winning the division following a gut-wrenching series in Montreal on the season’s last weekend. Aside from a total collapse, the ’09 team should easily win the division and head to the playoffs as the defending World Series champs and likely NL favorites to reach the World Series.

What do you think? Let me know by commenting or sending me an e-mail.

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