Saturday, August 8, 2009

Best Phillies Team, Part 2

Following up on yesterday’s entry: Is this year’s Phillies team the best in club history? I’ve narrowed the competition down to four: 2009, 1980, 1976, and 1950.

I expected the 1950 team would give the ’80 and ’09 teams a challenge, but it looks like just the fourth best of the bunch. The Whiz Kids got hot for one season behind 25-and-unders Robin Roberts, Richie Ashburn, Curt Simmons, Del Ennis, Granny Hamner, and Willie Jones.

Despite having just three players named to that year’s All-Star team (Roberts, Jones, and Jim Konstanty), the Phillies claimed four of the top seven spots in the year-end MVP balloting and six of the top 16. Reliever Jim Konstanty (16-7, 22 saves) won the award and Del Ennis (4th), Granny Hamner (6th), Robin Roberts (7th), Andy Seminick (14th) and Curt Simmons (16th) rounded out the group.

Despite the team’s strong lineup, the Phillies lacked starting pitching beyond Roberts and Simmons; the other four starters combined to go 31-32. Also, the bench was weak, with no player hitting above .250. The team, under manager Eddie Sawyer, finished 91-63 and won the National League by two games over Brooklyn before the Yankees beat them in the World Series in four straight.

Next up: the surprise of the bunch, the 1976 Phillies, a team loaded with highly talented players at divergent stages of their careers. A whopping 14 players on the roster would make an All-Star team at some point in their career, from 40-year-old reserve Tony Taylor (an All Star in ’60) to 25-year-old Greg Luzinski, in the middle of four straight All-Star seasons. Every starter (Bob Boone, Dick Allen, Dave Cash, Larry Bowa, Mike Schmidt, and Luzinski) except Garry Maddox and Jay Johnstone would be selected at some point.

The pitching staff featured six eventual All Stars and two Cy Young winners in Steve Carlton (’72, ’77, ’80, ’82) and 34-year-old Jim Lonborg (’67 with Boston), whose 18 victories that season would be one less than he’d collect in his final three seasons combined. Jim Kaat, Ron Reed, Tug McGraw, and Wayne Twitchell were the other All Stars.

Manager Danny Ozark’s ’76 team went 101-61 and won the division by nine games before running into the Big Red Machine. Cincinnati beat the Phillies in three straight before demolishing the Yankees in four straight in the World Series.

Schmidt, Luzinski, Maddox, Carlton, and Lonborg had standout seasons. Bowa (.248), and aging vets Allen (15 HR, 49 RBI) and Kaat (12-14) didn’t. The bullpen was phenomenal with Reed, McGraw, and Gene Garber putting together the first of two straight seasons that Baseball Prospectus would rank second all-time in baseball history.

The ’76 team had a solid bench (Bobby Tolan, Tim McCarver, Ollie Brown), but only a so-so rotation beyond Carlton and Lonborg (Kaat, and 22-year-olds Larry Christenson and Tommy Underwood). As a result of its average starting pitching and off years by a few regulars, the ’76 group is just a notch below the 1980 and 2009 teams, whom I’ll profile tomorrow.

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