MLB Top 5: Philadelphia Phillies Pitchers

This is the fifth and final article in a series that looks at the five best players at each position for the Philadelphia Phillies. In this installment are the right- and left-handed starters as well as the relief pitchers.

There is depth among the Phillies’ starting staff, especially on the right side. The starters include four Hall of Famers, including arguably two of the greatest in the game’s history. While the relievers have the capability of being a lights-out group, they also have a tendency to give up runs, leaving Philadelphia fans shaking their heads and fists

The Best Pitchers in Philadelphia Phillies History

Right-Handed Starters

Honorable Mentions – William “Kid” Gleason was a star in the early years of the franchise, spending four seasons as a pitcher at the start of his career (1888-91) and returning for a second stint as a second baseman at the end (1903-08). He joined the Phillies while playing baseball after shifts in the coal mine and, after struggling his first two seasons, he set a team record with a 38-17 mark, with his 55 starts, 54 complete games and 506 innings all ranking second in team history. Gleason won 24 games the following year, finishing with a 78-70 mark with a 3.39 earned run average with Philadelphia. He was sold to St. Louis and spent time with Baltimore, the New York Giants and Detroit, converting to the field full-time in 1895. Gleason had a few solid seasons at second base, but his playing time declined, and he retired in 1908. After two years out of baseball, he joined the White Sox as a coach, had one at-bat in 1912 and became the manager just in time for the “Black Sox” scandal in 1919. He was partially responsible for the debacle, benching star pitcher Eddie Cicotte at the behest of owner Charles Comiskey so he could not reach the 30-win mark and thus, receive a salary bonus. Gleason posted a 392-364 record in five seasons, coached with the Philadelphia Athletics during their run of three straight pennants and passed away in 1933 at age 67.

Thomas “Tully” Sparks was a hard thrower with great control who got shelled in one game for the Phillies in 1897. After bouncing around the minors and playing for four other major league clubs, he returned to Philadelphia, where he spent the rest of his career. Sparks reached double figures in wins five times in that stretch including 1906, when he went 19-16 with a 2.16 earned run average and set career highs with 29 complete games, 316 2/3 innings and 114 strikeouts. However, his best season was the following one, when he went 22-8 with an even 2.00 ERA. Despite Sparks finishing his nine-year Phillies career (1897 and 1903-10) ranked fourth in ERA (2.48), tied for sixth in complete games (150) and shutouts (18) and seventh in innings (1,698), his team was mostly a second-division club throughout his tenure, so he ended with a 95-95 record. He played in the minor leagues before retiring in 1912, worked as a miner and bookkeeper in Georgia and was the owner of an insurance agency when he passed away in 1937 at age 62.

Jack Taylor can be added to the list of players, especially on the Phillies, who died young. He played for amateur teams on Staten Island and pitched one game for the Giants in 1891 before joining the Phillies the following year. Despite an ERA of 4.34 throughout his six years in Philadelphia (1892-97), Taylor had a run of five straight years posting double-digit victory totals, including three with at least 20 wins. His best year was 1895, when he went 26-14 and threw 335 innings. Taylor is tied for sixth in franchise history in complete games (150) and ranks tenth in wins, finishing with a 96-77 mark. However, he feuded with new manager George Stallings and was traded to the league-worst St. Louis Browns, and he also spent one season with the Reds. Nicknamed “Brewery Jack” due to his penchant for drinking, his hobby got him into trouble throughout his career. Taylor’s mother passed away early in 1900 and he was gone three weeks later at just 26 years old, with the cause of death being Bright’s disease (kidney failure). He has the distinction of being involved in one of three games in which both starters had the same name. As a member of Cincinnati, he lost to Chicago’s Jack “Brakeman” Taylor in 1899. Two pitchers named George Bradley squared off in 1876, and a pair of Bobby Joneses took the mound for the Mets and the Rockies in 1999.

Roy Halladay starred as a pitcher more than 100 years after the three previous players on this list. The son of a pilot was a first-round pick of the Blue Jays in 1995 and spent his first dozen major league seasons north of the border, amassing a 148-76 record, earning six All-Star selections and finishing in the top five of the Cy Young voting five times, winning the award in 2003, when he led the American League with a 22-7 record. Using a plus fastball and changeup, Halladay struck out 200 batters three times with Toronto and continued the output in his first two seasons with Philadelphia.

Halladay’s first season with the Phillies in 2010, he was phenomenal, and he won his second Cy Young Award after leading the N. L. with a 21-10 record, nine complete games, four shutouts and 250 2/3 innings to go with a 2.44 earned run average and 219 strikeouts. His campaign included a perfect game against the Marlins in late May and a no-hitter against the Reds in the first game of the Division Series, just the second postseason no-no in major league history. The following year, Halladay was nearly as brilliant, finishing as the runner up to the league’s top pitching award after going 19-6 with a 2.35 ERA, a league-leading eight complete games and a career-high 220 strikeouts. He was plagued by shoulder issues in his last two years, retiring after 16 years with a 203-105 record. In four seasons with the Phillies (2010-13), “Doc” went 55-29 with a 3.25 ERA and 622 strikeouts in 702 2/3 innings. He tragically passed away in 2017 at age 40 when the plane he was piloting crashed in the Gulf of Mexico, with an autopsy showing that he had morphine, amphetamines, alcohol and antidepressants in his system. Halladay was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2019.

Aaron Nola is the lone active player among this list of best Phillies pitchers. The former LSU standout was drafted by Philadelphia in the first round of the 2014 draft and was a participant in the following year’s MLB Futures Game. Nola made his debut with the Phillies later that year and has become one of the most durable and successful pitchers of the last decade. His best season was 2018, when he earned his only All-Star selection to date and finished third in the Cy Young Award race after striking out 224 batters and setting career bests with a 17-6 record, a 2.37 earned run average and 212 1/3 innings. Through the 2023 season, Nola is 90-71 and ranks fifth in franchise history in strikeouts (1,592, including five seasons with 200 or more) and seventh in games started (235). He has also been solid in the playoffs with a 5-3 record, a 3.70 ERA and 50 strikeouts in 48 2/3 innings over nine starts, helping the Phillies reach the NLCS twice and the World Series in 2022.

5. Charlie Ferguson – He was born in a Virginia town that held a military hospital during the Civil War. Ferguson was a key player in the battle between entries in the National League and American Association, signing with the N. L.’s Philadelphias (at times called the Quakers) in 1884. He became a star, both on the mounds and at the plate, going 21-25 as a rookie and improving to 26-20 the following year, including running off 11 straight victories to finish the season, as well as throwing the franchise’s first no-hitter, a 1-0 topping of the Providence Grays in late August. In 1886, Ferguson posted career bests with a 30-9 record, a 1.98 earned run average and 212 strikeouts. He may have had his best all-around season the following year, going 22-10 (including 7-0 over the club’s 16-game winning streak to end the season) and batting .337 with a career-high 85 RBIs on just 89 hits.

During the offseason, while serving as a coach with Princeton, Ferguson, was the subject of trade talk, but the Phillies decided to keep him. However, in the spring, he contracted typhoid fever and succumbed to the condition on April 29, 1888, two weeks after his 25th birthday. Ferguson finished his four-year career (1885-88) ranked fourth in franchise history in complete games (165), seventh in ERA (2.67) and ninth in wins (99-64). At the plate, he batted. 288 with 277 hits and 157 RBIs in 257 games. Ferguson was named by many contemporaries as one of the top overall players of his era and the best all-around player of the 19th century. His career trajectory left many to speculate how good he would have been if he had not passed away at such a young age.

4. Jim Bunning – He is best known for his time with the Tigers, which included 118 wins, seven All-Star selections and a 1957 season in which he led the league with a 20-8 record. However, his biggest moment came with the Phillies after he was traded prior to the 1964 season. On Father’s Day in June, Bunning went to Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York then went out against the Mets and threw the fifth perfect game in major league history. He went 19-8 with a stellar 2.63 earned run average, but he could not prevent the Phillies’ collapse over the final two weeks of the season. The following year, Bunning was even better, going 19-9 with a 2.60 ERA and a career-high 268 strikeouts, and he won 19 for a third straight year in 1966, his final of nine All-Star seasons and his second with Philadelphia.

Bunning went 17-15 in 1967 while leading the league with 40 starts, 302 1/3 innings, 253 strikeouts and six shutouts. He was traded to the Pirates and spent time with the Dodgers as well before returning to the Phillies for two more seasons in 1970. Bunning finished his six-year Phillies career (1964-67 and 70-71) ranked fifth in franchise history in shutouts (23), eighth in strikeouts (1,197, including 200 or more four times) and tenth in games started (208) to go with his 89-73 record and 2.93 ERA. He served as a coach in the Philadelphia system, became a player agent and was elected as a U.S. senator and representative in his native Kentucky. Bunning was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1996 and passed away in 2017 at age 85.

3. Curt Schilling – He was a Red Sox draft pick who was traded to the Orioles and Astros before joining the Phillies before the 1992 season. Schilling won 14 games in his first campaign and 16 in the second, helping Philadelphia reach the playoffs for the first time in a decade. Despite not getting a decision against the Braves, he had a 1.69 ERA and struck out 19 batters in 16 innings to earn the NLCS MVP Award, then went 1-1 in a loss to the Blue Jays in the World Series, including a two-hit shutout in Game 5. Schilling faced elbow issues over the next two seasons, but after a solid rebound year in 1996, he had his best season in a Phillies uniform. In 1997, he earned his first of three All-Star selections after going 17-11 with a 2.97 ERA and a league-leading and team-record 319 strikeouts. The following year, he went 15-14, led the league and set a career-high with 15 complete games and struck out an N. L.-best 300 batters (which also ranks third in team history).

Schilling went 15-6 in 1999 and was posting a solid season the following year when he was traded to the Diamondbacks. He finished up his time in Philadelphia ranked sixth in strikeouts (1,554), seventh in wins (101-78), eighth in games started (226) and ninth in innings (1,659 1/3) to go with a 3.35 ERA, 61 complete games and 14 shutouts. With Arizona and later Boston, Schilling became known as one of the best “big game” pitchers in baseball, going 11-2 in 19 postseason starts. He reached the 20-win mark three times, leading the league with each club, earned three All-Star selections and finished as the Cy Young Award runner-up three times. Schilling was the MVP of the Diamondbacks’ World Series victory over the Yankees in 2001, beat the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS in what became known as the “bloody sock” game and won two championships with the Red Sox, including the “curse-breaking” sweep of the Cardinals in 2004.

Known for his preparation, including keeping meticulous notes on opposing hitters, Schilling retired in 2007 after posting a 216-146 record and amassing 3,116 strikeouts in 20 seasons. The 1995 Lou Gehrig Award winner also worked with several charitable causes, including ALS research, and both he and his wife battled cancer. However, Schilling’s political leanings and outspoken nature caused his removal from ESPN as an analyst and hindered his Hall of Fame candidacy, which endured the full 10 years on the writers’ ballot and now is in the hands of the Contemporary Era committee.

2. Robin Roberts – He was a remarkably durable pitcher who had pinpoint control and completed 28 straight games over nearly a full calendar year from 1952-53. The son of a British soldier during World War I, Roberts played basketball for Michigan State and was a walk-on for the Spartans’ baseball team. He joined the Phillies in 1948 and, after two decent seasons, the 23-year-old became one of the leaders of the “Whiz Kids” Phillies that won the pennant in 1950. Roberts clinched the pennant with a 10-inning win against the Dodgers but lost his only start in the World Series after giving up a home run to Yankees’ star Joe DiMaggio in the tenth inning of Game 2. He made his first of seven straight All-Star teams that year and won 20 for the first of six consecutive seasons.

Known as one of the fastest-working pitchers, Roberts led the league in games started six times, innings and complete games five times each and wins four straight years, starting with an astonishing 28-7 mark (including wins in 20 of his final 22 starts) and 30 complete games in 1952. That year, Roberts was the runner-up for the MVP Award and the voting was so close that Commissioner Ford Frick created the Cy Young Award to give pitchers their own honor. He won 23 games each of the next three seasons and led the league in strikeouts twice, including 1953, when he set a career high by fanning 198 batters. All of that consistency and wear on his arm affected his performance later in his career, with his strikeouts dropping and his ERA rising considerably. In addition to his on-field endeavors, Roberts became the National League’s player representative, and he (along with Bunning) approached Marvin Miller, a longtime negotiator for the steel union who would play a crucial role in the advent of free agency in baseball.

After spending his 14 seasons in Philadelphia (1948-61), Roberts’ 1-10 season on a horrid team that lost 107 games led to his release. He reached double-digit victories in four straight seasons with the Orioles and ended his career split between the Astros and Cubs in 1966. Roberts is the Phillies’ all-time leader in games pitched (529), complete games (272) and innings (3,739 1/3), and he ranks second in wins (234-199), games started (472) and strikeouts (1,871) and third in shutouts (35). The 1962 Lou Gehrig Award winner also earned two fielding titles to go with his career totals of 286 victories and 2,357 strikeouts. Following his playing career, Roberts worked at an investment firm, had a radio sports show, ran a minor league hockey team and coached the baseball team at the University of South Florida for eight years. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1976 in his sixth year of eligibility. Roberts passed away in 2010 at age 83.

1. Grover Cleveland “Pete” Alexander – The Nebraska farm boy was named after a U. S. president who was still in office when he was born in 1887. Alexander used his farm chores to strengthen himself, with shucking corn proving especially helpful in the wrist strength needed to throw a devastating curveball. He was hit in the head by a throw on the basepaths during a minor league game in 1910 that knocked him unconscious, left him with double vision for months and affected him later in life. Alexander joined the Phillies the following year and had one of the greatest rookie seasons in baseball history, finishing third in the MVP voting after leading the league with a 28-13 record, 31 complete games, seven shutouts and 367 innings, setting a modern rookie record with 227 strikeouts and posting a 2.57 earned run average. While he was a stellar pitcher, he was partially at the mercy of his team, which was inconsistent in the early years of his tenure.

The Phillies began climbing in the standings in the middle of the decade and Alexander led the charge, going 27-15 with a 2.38 ERA and league-high totals of 32 complete games, 355 innings and 214 strikeouts in 1914. The following year, he had an all-time great season while leading Philadelphia to its first World Series. Alexander won the Pitching Triple Crown, leading the league with a 31-10 record, a near-unhittable 1.22 ERA (a team record) and a career-high 241 strikeouts, as well as 36 complete games, 12 shutouts and 376 1/3 innings, and he also threw four one-hitters. Against the Red Sox, he brought the Phillies their only win of the series in Game 1 then lost two days later.

For an encore, “Old Pete” won Triple Crowns in each of the next two seasons as well (although the ERA title was later taken away for 1917), topping the National League with a 33-12 record (second in team history), a 1.55 ERA, 167 strikeouts, 38 complete games, a league-record 16 shutouts and 389 innings in 1916 and posted a 30-13 mark, a 1.83 ERA, 200 strikeouts, 34 complete games, eight shutout and 388 innings the following year. He did all of this while pitching in Baker Bowl, one of the worst parks for pitchers in baseball at the time. Despite all of this, Philadelphia, fearing its star would be drafted into the military, traded Alexander to the Cubs before the 1918 season. As it turns out, the Phillies were right, he was indeed drafted after three games (but the Cubs won the pennant anyway). As a sergeant in the Army, Alexander saw battle on the front lines in Europe and was subject to mustard gas attacks. His action of firing howitzer cannons left him deaf in his left ear and caused muscle damage in his right arm. He took shrapnel in his right ear and got an infection after it was removed, which led to more health problems after his baseball career. Also, the action, coupled with the earlier baseball injury brought on epileptic seizures, which Alexander overused alcohol to mask.

Alexander returned for eight more years with the Cubs, winning 27 games and another Triple Crown in 1920. Although he was a star, he did not reach the levels he did in Philadelphia, and his alcohol use wore down the patience of his employers. Alexander was traded to the Cardinals in 1926 and turned in a fantastic pitching performance against the Yankees in the World Series, winning a pair of games as a starter. However, his greatest moment came in Game 7, coming into a 3-2 Cardinals lead in the seventh inning on no rest, possibly drunk or hung over (although he said he was sober). He struck out future Hall of Famer Tony Lazzeri with the bases loaded to get out of the jam and closed out the game for the save to give St. Louis the championship. Alexander won 21 games the following year, 16 in 1928 then nine more in his final season with the Cardinals to give him 373 for his career. He was traded back to the Phillies in 1930, lost his only three starts and was released. Alexander is the all-time Phillies leader in shutouts (61), ranks second in team history in complete games (219), third in wins (190-91), innings (2,513 2/3, including seven seasons with 300 or more) and ERA (2.18), fifth in games started (280), seventh in strikeouts (1,409, including 200 or more four times) and tenth in games pitched (338).

“Old Pete” played for minor league and semipro teams for three seasons before officially retiring as a player in 1934. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1938 and attended the first ceremony in Cooperstown the following year. However, most of Alexander’s post baseball life was spent dealing with medical issues and squandering his money on alcohol. He suffered a heart attack, injured himself in a fall during a seizure and developed cancer in his right ear. Alexander came back home after mailing a letter to his ex-wife (they were on good terms) in late 1950, then suffered cardiac failure and passed away at age 63.

Left-Handed Starters

Honorable Mentions – Cliff Lee was drafted three times before signing with the Expos in 2000, and he was sent to the Indians in the Bartolo Colon trade two years later. With Cleveland, he won 83 games in eight years and was an All-Star selection, the Cy Young Award winner (edging out Halladay) and Comeback Player of the Year in 2008, when he led the league with a 22-3 record and a 2.54 earned run average. He was sent to the Phillies at the traded deadline the following year, going 7-4 down the stretch and 4-0 in the playoffs to help his team reach the World Series. Lee split 2010 between the Mariners and Rangers and helped Texas win the pennant (although he lost two games against the Giants). He signed with Philadelphia the following year and made two All-Star teams in four seasons while also striking out at least 200 batters three times. His best campaign was 2011, when he finished third in the Cy Young voting after going 17-7 with a 2.40 ERA, a career-high 238 strikeouts and a league-leading six shutouts. Lee finished his five-year Phillies career (2009 and 11-14) with a 48-34 record, a 2.94 ERA and 813 strikeouts in 827 1/3 innings. His career ended in 2016 after sustaining several arm injuries and missing the entire previous season. Lee fell off the Hall of Fame ballot after just one year in 2020.

5. Eppa Rixey – While many ballplayers in the early 1900s came from rough upbringings, his father was a banker, and the 6-foot-5 former basketball star played for the University of Virginia and earned two master’s degrees in the offseason while with the Phillies. Rixey’s eight-year career with Philadelphia (1912-20 with a year off in 1918 for military service) was noted for his inconsistency. After two decent seasons, he went 2-11 in 1914, had a respectable showing the following year but took the loss in relief in his only World Series appearance in the deciding Game 5. Rixey joined Alexander to create a formidable top two starters for the Phillies, going 22-10 with a 1.85 earned run average and 20 complete games in 1916 but led the league with 21 losses the next season.

Rixey missed the entire 1918 season while serving in World War I, using his chemistry background as part of the Chemical Warfare Division in Europe. He returned have two subpar seasons, including 1920, when he went 11-22 and led the league in losses for a second time. The Phillies traded Rixey to the Reds the following year and his career took off. He reached double figures in wins in each of the next nine seasons and won 20 or more games three times, including a league-best 25-13 record in 1922. Rixey went 87-103 with Philadelphia with a 2.83 ERA, 110 complete games and 1,604 innings (tenth in franchise history). Although his ERA was half a run higher with Cincinnati, he went 179-148 in 13 seasons. Rixey finished his career in 1933, posting a 266-251 record, with both totals setting league records for left-handers. His win total was broken by Warren Spahn in 1959 while his loss record still stands. After his playing days, Rixey worked in his father-in-law’s insurance agency. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1963 but was the first player to die in between election and induction after suffering a fatal heart attack in late February and passing away at age 71.

4. Curt Simmons – He was a talented high school player who signed with the Phillies in 1947 after his high school team faced them in an exhibition game. He won his only start that year in a late-season callup, then had a pair of rough seasons before being a major part of the 1950 “Whiz Kids” team. Although he went 17-8 with 11 complete games, Simmons was unable to take part in the run to the pennant. At the end of August, his National Guard unit was activated for service during the Korean War, and he did not pitch in the World Series (he was ruled ineligible despite being on a ten-day pass from the military at the time). He missed all the following season as well but returned to earn three All-Star selections and post double-digit victories five times.

Simmons went 14-8 and led the league with six shutouts in 1952 and the team stayed in contention for the early part of the decade before fading, thanks to a depleted farm system. His later years with the Phillies were affected by a sore shoulder and elbow surgery, and he was released during the 1960 season and signed by the Cardinals. Simmonds ranks fifth in franchise history in wins (115-110) and innings (1,939 2/3), sixth in games started (263), tied for sixth in shutouts (18) and ninth in strikeouts (1,052) to go with a 3.66 ERA. His best year with St. Louis was 1964, when he went a career-best 18-9 and went 0-1 in the World Series against the Yankees. Simmons also played for the Cubs and Angels, retiring in 1967 with 193 wins in his 20-year career. He spent one season as a minor league instructor with the Phillies and ran his own golf course in Pennsylvania before passing away in 2022 at age 93.

3. Chris Short – He began his career working mostly as a reliever during his first four seasons due to his inconsistent outings as a starter. Short went 11-9 in 1962 and 9-12 the following year, but he lowered his earned run average to 2.95, the first of six straight seasons below the 3.00 mark. He began the 1964 season in the bullpen, but injuries forced his move to the starting rotation. He responded with his first All-Star selection, a 17-9 record, a career-best 2.20 ERA and 181 strikeouts. However, the Phillies made the mistake of breaking the old saying, “Don’t count your chickens before they’ve hatched.” Philadelphia had a 6 ½-game lead with just 12 to play and was starting to print World Series tickets. Despite starting Short and Bunning eight times, the team ended up two games back of the Cardinals in the standings at the end of the season.

After developing a devastating curveball, Short spent the rest of his Phillies tenure as a full-time starter, going 18-11 with a personal-best 237 strikeouts and 297 1/3 innings in 1965 and posting a career-high 20-10 record the following year. Despite a 9-11 record and missing six weeks with a knee injury, he made his second All-Star team in 1967 and followed that with a 19-13 mark, a 2.94 ERA and 202 strikeouts. Short made just two starts in 1969 before his season ended due to surgery to remove a herniated disk in his back. He had two more inconsistent seasons, one as a starter and one as a reliever, before he was released by Philadelphia. Short ranks third in franchise history in games started (301), fourth in wins (132-127), innings (2,253), strikeouts (1,585) and shutouts (24) and fifth in games pitched (459) along with a 3.38 ERA and 88 complete games. He joined the Brewers for his final season in 1973, then worked in the insurance business and played for local amateur teams after his professional playing career. Short suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm in his office in October 1988, slipped into a coma and never regained consciousness, passing away in 1991 at age 53.

2. Cole Hamels – He was part of a dominant rotation that led the Phillies to back-to-back pennants in 2008-09. Hamels was drafted in the first round in 2002 but faced injuries throughout his time in the minor leagues. After a 9-8 record as a rookie in 2006, he ran off six straight seasons with double-digit win totals, three of which included All-Star selections. Hamels went 15-5 in 2007 then went 14-10 with a 3.09 earned run average and 196 strikeouts before having an all-time great postseason. He threw eight scoreless innings in his only start of the 2018 Division Series against the Brewers and won both the opening and clinching games against the Dodgers in the NLCS. Hamels started twice in the World Series against the Rays, winning Game 1 and leaving Game 5 with the lead only to see the Rays tie the score before the Phillies came back to win. He won the Babe Ruth Award (for best playoff performance) and became the ninth player to win MVP Awards for both the LCS and World Series in the same year.

“Hollywood” faced injuries during the 2009 season and went 1-2 in four playoff starts as the Phillies lost to the Yankees in the World Series. He rebounded to win 43 games over the next three years, including 2012, when he had career highs with a 17-6 record and 216 strikeouts. Hamels was plagued by a lack of run support over the remainder of his time in Philadelphia, but he had his share of special moments. He threw an immaculate inning (nine pitches, three strikeouts) against the Reds in May 2014 and threw six hitless innings against the Braves in September to combine with three relievers for a no-hitter. In 2015, the Phillies were disbanding their pennant-winning teams and Hamels was rumored to be traded at the deadline. He made what would be his last start on July 25 against the Cubs, walking two batters and striking out 13 while pitching a complete game no-hitter, and he was traded to the Rangers six days later.

Over 10 seasons (2006-15), Hamels ranks third in franchise history in strikeouts (1,844), fourth in games started (294) and sixth in wins (114-90) and innings (1,930) to go with a 3.30 ERA and 14 complete games. The changeup specialist was an All-Star with Texas in 2016 and played with the Cubs and Braves, last pitching in the COVID-shortened 2020 season. After attempting comebacks with the Dodgers and Padres, he officially retired in 2023. Hamels created a foundation to uplift communities through education and donated his home for use by a charity that runs camps for children with chronic illnesses.

1. Steve Carlton – He was a solid pitcher early in his career with the Cardinals, but he took his game to another level when he added a slider to his repertoire. Carlton earned three All-Star selections during his seven seasons in St. Louis, went 17-11 in 1969 with 210 strikeouts, including a major league record 19 against the Mets in September and posted a 20-9 mark two years later. He held out before the 1972 season and was traded to the Phillies for righty Rick Wise, a trade that would end up being one of the most one-sided in baseball history. Carlton paid immediate dividends for his new team, winning the Triple Crown and the Cy Young Award after leading the league with a 27-10 record, a 1.97 earned run average, 310 strikeouts (second in team history), 346 1/3 innings and 30 complete games. He won his final 15 decisions, and his win total was nearly half that of his team, which went 59-97. Carlton had an off year, leading the league with 20 losses the following season before bouncing back to post two solid campaigns, including 1974, when he was named to the All-Star team, won 16 games and struck out an N. L.-high 240 batters.

“Lefty” once again showed why he was the best pitcher in baseball at the end of the decade, helping the Phillies win four division titles in five years and winning at least 20 games three times in that span, beginning with a 20-7 mark in 1976. He won his second Cy Young Award and was an All-Star the following year with a 23-10 record and a 2.64 ERA but had three poor outings in the playoffs in those two seasons. Carlton won 18 games and earned his first of four straight All-Star selections in 1979, but Philadelphia missed the playoffs. The team rebounded the following year and Carlton won a third Cy Young Award, thanks to league-high totals of a 24-9 record, 286 strikeouts and 304 innings to go with a 2.34 ERA. He went 3-0 in the postseason and won two starts in the World Series against the Royals, including 4-1 decision in Game 6 that gave the Phillies their first championship.

Carlton went 13-4 to finish third in the Cy Young voting while also winning his only gold glove in the strike-shortened 1981 season. The following year, he became the first pitcher to win four Cy Young Awards after leading the league with a 23-11 record, 286 strikeouts, 295 2/3 innings, 19 complete games and six shutouts. As a member of the “Wheeze Kids” in 1983, Carlton went 15-16, but led the N. L. with 275 strikeouts and 283 2/3 innings to help the Phillies make the playoffs. He won both starts against the Dodgers in the NLCS and pitched well in a loss to the Orioles in the World Series. At the end of the season, he won his 300th career game and passed Walter Johnson for the top spot on the all-time strikeout list, but he was soon passed by Nolan Ryan. He spent three more years with the Phillies before being released in 1986. He reached 4,000 strikeouts after joining the Giants, and he also pitched for the White Sox, Indians and Twins before retiring in 1988 with 329 wins (11th on the all-time list) and 4,136 strikeouts (fourth).

The lefty is the all-time franchise leader in wins (241-161), games started (499), strikeouts (3,031), and he ranks second in innings (3,697 1/3) and shutouts (39) and third in complete games (185) to go with a 3.09 ERA. He struck out 200 or more batters seven times with Philadelphia and won 20 or more games five times. Following his playing career, Carlton spent his time skiing and riding motorcycles and dirt bikes. The 10-time All-Star was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1994, his first year of eligibility.

Relief Pitchers

Creating a list of best Phillies closers is a difficult endeavor. While most teams have a least one reliever at the top of the list who has been dominant for several seasons, that has not been the case for the Philadelphia franchise. Nearly all of the players on the team’s saves list have weaknesses, from inconsistency on the mount, issues off the field or shortness of time spent with the franchise. There was a thought to just listing the pitchers and letting the reader rank them, but the format will stay the same. Either way, there will be plenty of discussion over who makes the list and where each closer ranks in the minds and hearts of Phillies fans.

Honorable Mentions – Ryan Madson was a ninth-round pick of the Phillies in 1998 and spent nine seasons (2003-11) as arguably the best setup man in the team’s history. Despite a career-worst 5.69 earned run average in 2006, he had a personal-best 11-9 record in 50 games, 17 of which were starts. Madson found his niche as a workhorse in the later innings. When Brad Lidge got injured, he took over as the closer and posted a 2.37 ERA and a career-high 32 saves. In postseason play, he appeared in 33 games, going 2-1 with two saves and 43 strikeouts in 35 innings, helping the Phillies win two straight pennants. When Philadelphia reneged on a contract in the 2011 offseason, “Mad Dog” signed with Cincinnati but did not play a game, either for the Reds or the Angels the following year, after undergoing Tommy John surgery. When he did not get any contract offers in 2014, he retired and was a youth baseball coach for a year. He returned to the majors with the Royals and was a setup man on a team that won the World Series in 2015. Madson spent two seasons with the Athletics, saving 30 games in 2016, then finished his career with the Nationals and Dodgers. With the Phillies, he went 47-30 with a 3.59 ERA, 52 saves, 547 strikeouts in 630 innings and 491 games, which ranks third in franchise history.

Ron Reed was a star pitcher and basketball at Notre Dame and played two seasons in the NBA with the Detroit Pistons before signing with the Braves in 1965, becoming one of just 13 players to appear in both the NBA and MLB. He was used exclusively as a starter in his decade with Atlanta and split 1975 with St. Louis before being traded to Philadelphia. Reed took to his new role in the bullpen, posting double-digit saves four times, including his first three years. While he may not have been a star with a team that made six playoff appearances in eight years, he had 23 strikeouts in 30 1/3 innings over 21 games and had a save in Game 2 of the 1980 World Series, helping the Phillies beat the Royals for their first title. Nicknamed “Slinky” for his pitching delivery, Reed played eight seasons with Philadelphia (1976-83), going 57-38 with a 3.06 earned run average and 90 saves (seventh in franchise history) in 458 games (sixth). He finished his career by posting 12 saves with the White Sox in 1984, giving him 103 over 19 seasons.

Very few times will someone who ranks in the top five on a team’s all-time saves list fail to make this countdown. Jose Mesa‘s best days were in Cleveland, where he earned the only two All-Star selections of his 19-year career, finished second in the Cy Young voting and won the Rolaids Relief Award in 1995 after leading the American League with 46 saves. He had four saves in the World Series against the Marlins two years later but allowed the tying run to score in Game 7 in a contest that Florida won in the 11th inning. The blown save was a rough end to a year that began with sexual assault and gun charges (although both were eventually dismissed).

Mesa played for eight teams in his career and spent four seasons with the Phillies (2001-03 and ’07), with his 112 saves ranking second in franchise history. His total includes a club-record 45 in 2002 and 42 the year before, which ranks second in team history. However, Mesa blew nine saves in 2002 and saw his earned run average balloon more than 3½ runs a game to 6.52 the following year. He moved on to Pittsburgh and then Colorado, where he got suspended after hitting former teammate Omar Vizquel for comments the shortstop made about him in his book. Mesa returned to the Phillies for his final season in 2007 and pitched in 40 games, including the 1,000th of his career. In addition to the saves, he went 13-18 with 188 strikeouts in 242 innings, but his ERA was 4.05, which is uncharacteristic of someone who ended his career with 321 saves. Mesa has spent his retirement coaching little league in the Atlanta area.

Jonathan Papelbon was best known for his role with the Red Sox during the 2007 postseason. The hard-throwing righty had seven scoreless outings and had four saves for Boston including three in the World Series against Colorado, helping his team to a second title in four years. After seven years, four All-Star selections and 219 saves, Papelbon joined the Phillies in 2012 and was an All-Star after recording 38 saves and striking out 92 batters in just 70 innings (an 11.8 rate). An injured hip caused his save total to drop to 29 the following year, but he had another elite year in 2014, amassing 39 saves to go with a 2.04 earned run average.

Although Papelbon had a stellar season statistically, including a perfect inning in relief during a combined no-hitter on September 1, his final month was the beginning of the end of his tenure in Philadelphia. The always outspoken pitcher blew a save against the Marlins and was thrown out of the game after making an obscene gesture to the fans, who were booing his performance. Papelbon confronted the umpire who threw him out and was suspended for seven games. The following year, he got into an argument with a commentator in the clubhouse. Despite being the club’s all-time saves leader, Papelbon was sent to the Nationals at the trade deadline. In addition to his 123 saves, he went 14-11 with a 2.31 ERA and 252 strikeouts in 237 2/3 innings. Papelbon had more issues with Washington and was released in August 2016. He failed to reach five percent of the vote in the 2022 Hall of Fame election and fell off the ballot.

Jim Konstanty was a minor league pitcher and teacher, leaving education to play with the Reds in 1944. After spending the following year in the Navy playing baseball at a base in upstate New York, he was traded to the Braves and learned to perfect a slider and a changeup while in their minor league system. The Phillies purchased his contract and used him almost solely as a reliever over his seven years with the club (1948-54). Konstanty was dominant as a veteran presence on the 1950 “Whiz Kids” team, going 16-7 with a 2.66 earned run average in 152 innings while leading the league with 74 appearances and 22 saves (although it wasn’t an official major league statistic at the time). He was nearly unhittable in the second half of the season and, with the Phillies depleted by injury and Simmons being unavailable due to military services, he was called upon to start Game 1. Konstanty allowed just one run and four hits in eight innings but, as with the rest of the series, the Phillies could not score, and he lost 1-0. After the season, the writers voted him as the National League MVP, the first time in major league history that a relief pitcher won the award.

Konstanty and the Phillies cooled off after the pennant-winning season, with his ERA ballooning more than a run per game and he failed to reach double digits in saves after his MVP season. He won 14 games as a starter in 1953 but was acquired by the Yankees off waivers the following year. Konstanty saved 12 games with New York in 1955 and finished his career with St. Louis the following year. During his time with Philadelphia, he went 51-39 with a 3.64 ERA and 54 saves in 314 games. Konstanty kept busy after his playing career as a high school and college basketball referee, sports goods store owner, minor league pitching coach with the Yankees and Cardinals and athletic director at Hartwick College in Oneonta, NY. He was diagnosed with liver cancer and passed away in 1976 at age 59.

5. Mitch Williams – Before Charlie Sheen’s character Rick Vaughn in the 1989 movie Major League there was Williams, who earned his “Wild Thing” nickname as a member of the Rangers thanks to his control issues and strange delivery in which he fell to the third base side of the mound. He was moved to the closer spot in 1988 and traded to the Cubs the following year, earning his only All-Star selection after posting a 2.76 earned run average and amassing 36 saves. Two years later, Williams was moved to the Phillies and had a career year going 12-5, including eight wins in August to go with 30 saves, 84 strikeouts in 88 1/3 innings and a career-best 2.34 ERA. Williams saw that number jump over the next two years, but he continued to rack up saves, totaling 29 in 1992 and 43 the following year, which is the second-highest single-season mark in franchise history. Philadelphia went from worst to first, then won the 1993 NLCS against the Braves, Williams played a part in every Phillies victory, posting two wins and two saves in the series.

Williams saved Game 2 of the World Series against the Blue Jays but gave up Toronto’s final three runs as Philadelphia blew a 14-8 cushion in the eighth inning of Game 4. Three nights later, the Phillies held a 6-5 lead in the ninth looking to tie the series in Game 6, but Williams served up a title-winning three-run homer to Joe Carter. “Wild Thing” never recovered, recording just six saves in the rest of his career with the Astros, Angels and Royals before retiring in 1997. He finished his three seasons with Philadelphia (1991-93) with a 20-20 record, a 3.11 ERA, 102 saves (fourth in franchise history) and 218 strikeouts in 231 1/3 innings. Following his playing career, Williams operated a bowling alley, played and coached for an independent team and worked for Comcast SportsNet and MLB Network.

4. Billy Wagner – He spent his minor league career with the Astros as a starter before he was moved to the bullpen due to injuries. Wagner overcame a rough childhood, being in the head by a line drive in 1998 and elbow surgery two years later to become one of the best closers in the league. He used an overpowering fastball and developed a complementary curve which helped him average 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings over his 16-year career. “Billy the Kid” earned three All-Star selections in nine seasons with Houston, but the team bowed out in the Division Series four times in five years. When he complained about the lack of progress, he was traded to the Phillies before the 2004 season.

Although Philadelphia was stockpiling young talent, the club missed the playoffs in Wagner’s first year, and injuries limited him to 21 saves. He returned to form with 38 saves, a career-best 1.51 earned run average and 87 strikeouts in 77 2/3 innings while finishing a league-high 70 games, but when the Phillies missed the playoffs, he signed with the Mets as a free agent. Wagner ended his two-year stint in Philadelphia (2004-05) with an 8-3 record, a 1.86 ERA, 59 saves and 146 strikeouts in 126 innings. He earned two All-Star selections and saved 101 games with the Mets, recovered from Tommy John surgery, then spent time with the Red Sox and Braves, ending his career as an All-Star with 37 saves for Atlanta in 2010. Following his playing his career, the seven-time All-Star spends his time running his Second Chance Learning Center charity, as well as his family alpaca farm.

3. Steve Bedrosian – He began his career as a reliever and occasional starter with the Braves, totaling 41 saves in his first four years but struggling in a loss to the Cardinals in the 1982 NLCS. Three years later, he had a solid but inconsistent season as a starter on a struggling Atlanta team and was traded to Philadelphia. Bedrosian struggled to adjust to his return to the bullpen at first but finished with 29 saves. The following year, he was selected to the All-Star team for the only time in his 14-year career and made a run-saving play in a game the National League won in extra innings. “Bedrock” ended the 1987 season with a league-leading 40 saves and five victories, winning the Rolaids Relief Award and earning the Cy Young Award in a tight race.

Bedrosian struggled more over the next two seasons due to a lack of work with a poor Phillies team, plus a bout of walking pneumonia in 1988. He was traded to the Giants and had some initial success but struggled with San Francisco and Minnesota, although he was a part of the Twins’ championship team in 1991. Bedrosian took the following year off due to numbness in his pitching hand, and when the condition went away, he signed back with Atlanta, where he spent the final three years of his career in short relief. Although he did not make the Braves’ postseason roster, he did receive a ring after his team beat the Indians in the World Series. “Bedrock” finished his Phillies career with a 21-18 record, a 3.29 earned run average, 241 strikeouts in 287 1/3 innings and 103 saves, which topped the all-time list when he left but is now third in franchise history. Following his 1995 retirement, he was a pitching coach in the Braves’ organization, was a Board of Education member and assistant baseball coach in Georgia and followed his son, Cam, who had an eight-year major league career and shared his father’s nickname.

2. Brad Lidge – The Phillies have won two championships in their 142-year history, and relievers from Notre Dame have been a part of both. Reed starred on the 1980 team Lidge capped the title victory in 2008. Lidge started with the Astros in 2002 as a short-inning reliever behind Wagner and earned the closer role two years later. He made his first All-Star team in 2005 after posting a 2.29 earned run average, a career-best 42 saves and 103 strikeouts in 70 2/3 innings (an astonishing 13.1 rate). In the NLCS, Lidge saved three games but gave up a game-winning home run to Albert Pujols in Game 5. He lost twice in the World Series as the Astros fell to the White Sox.

After a disastrous 2006 season and an injury-plagued campaign the following year, Lidge was traded to Philadelphia in 2008 and used his fastball and slider to dominate opposing hitters. He was named an All-Star and the Comeback Player of the Year, went 2-0 with a 1.95 ERA, 92 strikeouts in 69 1/3 inning and 41 saves in as many chances. Although he gave up a run in an outing against the Brewers in the Division Series, Lidge was perfect in seven save chances in the postseason, striking out Eric Hinske to end Game 5 and give the Phillies their second title. He played through elbow and knee issues during an atrocious 2009 season but rebounded the following year. Lidge missed more than half of 2011 after having surgery on a partially torn rotator cuff and lost his closer role in the meantime. After a season with the Nationals, he retired in 2013. “Lights Out” finished his Philadelphia career with a 3-11 record, a 3.73 ERA, 100 saves (fifth in franchise history) and 228 strikeouts in 193 innings. He hosts a show on Sirius XM Radio, is a guest instructor at Phillies rookie camps and spring training and has gotten into archaeology.

1. Frank “Tug” McGraw – His career can be split into halves, with the first being as a closer and spot starter (including a no-hitter in his minor league debut) for a Mets team that won two pennants in his nine years in the blue and orange, while his second came after moving on to a division rival. Although he didn’t pitch at all in the 1969 World Series, he was instrumental in the Mets’ comeback from the East division basement to first place in the final month of the season four years later, with his “Ya Gotta Believe” mantra becoming the slogan for the team. New York topped Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine” in the NLCS but fell to Oakland in seven games in the World Series, with McGraw appearing five times, including a win in the second game and a save in Game 5.

McGraw’s performance in 1974 was affected by a shoulder injury and he was traded to the Phillies in a deal involving catcher John Stearns and was the first in a long line by the Mets to dismantle their pennant-winning team. He left New York with a 47-55 record, a 3.17 earned run average and 86 saves. In his first season with Philadelphia, McGraw was named an All-Star after going 9-6 with a 2.98 ERA and 14 saves. The Phillies went to the playoffs in each of the next three years, including two seasons with 101 wins, but fell in the NLCS each time. In the 1977 series, he saved Game 1, which was the first postseason win by Philadelphia since 1915.

Following a poor season, both by him and the team, in 1979, everything came together the following year, with the Phillies regaining their spot atop the division and McGraw posting a career-best 1.45 ERA to go with 20 saves. He appeared in all five games of the NLCS against the Astros, losing Game 3 but saving two others. In the World Series against the Royals, McGraw went 1-1 with a pair of saves, striking out Willie Wilson to end Game 6 and give the Phillies their first championship. He pitched for more years with Philadelphia, with his role and usage decreasing each season, before retiring prior to the 1985 campaign. McGraw used his stellar screwball to go 49-37 with a 3.10 ERA and 94 saves (sixth in franchise history) in 463 games (fourth).

McGraw spent his post-playing career working on a comic strip Scroogie (with the main character named after his favorite pitch) and as a television reporter in Philadelphia. He began spending more time with a son named Tim, who he basically denied as the child grew up. The two reconciled while Tim was in college, and he went on to become a country music superstar. McGraw was diagnosed with brain cancer after a malignant and inoperable tumor was discovered in 2003, and he passed away less than a year later. After finding out about his cancer, he started a foundation to help others going through similar issues, and his book named after his famous saying was published after his death.

The next team to be featured will be the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Upcoming Stories

Philadelphia Phillies Catchers and Managers
Philadelphia Phillies First and Third Basemen
Philadelphia Phillies Second Basemen and Shortstops
Philadelphia Phillies Outfielders
Philadelphia Phillies Pitchers

Previous Series

A look back at the Oakland Athletics

Oakland Athletics Catchers and Managers
Oakland Athletics First and Third Basemen
Oakland Athletics Second Basemen and Shortstops
Oakland Athletics Outfielders and Designated Hitters
Oakland Athletics Pitchers

A look back at the New York Yankees

New York Yankees Catchers and Managers
New York Yankees First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters
New York Yankees Second Basemen and Shortstops
New York Yankees Outfielders
New York Yankees Pitchers

A look back at the New York Mets

New York Mets Catchers and Managers
New York Mets First and Third Basemen
New York Mets Second Basemen and Shortstops
New York Mets Outfielders
New York Mets Pitchers

A look back at the Minnesota Twins

Minnesota Twins Catchers and Managers
Minnesota Twins First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters
Minnesota Twins Second Basemen and Shortstops
Minnesota Twins Outfielders
Minnesota Twins Pitchers

A look back at the Milwaukee Brewers

Milwaukee Brewers Catchers and Managers
Milwaukee Brewers First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters
Milwaukee Brewers Second Basemen and Shortstops
Milwaukee Brewers Outfielders
Milwaukee Brewers Pitchers

A look back at the Miami Marlins

Miami Marlins Catchers and Managers
Miami Marlins First and Third Basemen
Miami Marlins Second Basemen and Shortstops
Miami Marlins Outfielders
Miami Marlins Pitchers

A look back at the Los Angeles Dodgers

A look back at the Los Angeles Angels

Los Angeles Angels Catchers and Managers
Los Angeles Angels First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters
Los Angeles Angels Second Basemen and Shortstops
Los Angeles Angels Outfielders
Los Angeles Angels Pitchers

A look back at the Kansas City Royals

Kansas City Royals Catchers and Managers
Kansas City Royals First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters
Kansas City Royals Second Basemen and Shortstops
Kansas City Royals Outfielders
Kansas City Royals Pitchers

A look back at the Houston Astros

Houston Astros Catchers and Managers
Houston Astros First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters
Houston Astros Second Basemen and Shortstops
Houston Astros Outfielders
Houston Astros Pitchers

A look back at the Detroit Tigers

Detroit Tigers Catchers and Managers
Detroit Tigers First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters
Detroit Tigers Second Basemen and Shortstops
Detroit Tigers Outfielders
Detroit Tigers Pitchers

A look back at the Colorado Rockies

Colorado Rockies Catchers and Managers
Colorado Rockies First and Third Basemen
Colorado Rockies Second Basemen and Shortstops
Colorado Rockies Outfielders
Colorado Rockies Pitchers

A look back at the Cleveland Guardians

Cleveland Guardians Catchers and Managers
Cleveland Guardians First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters
Cleveland Guardians Second Basemen and Shortstops
Cleveland Guardians Outfielders
Cleveland Guardians Pitchers

A look back at the Cincinnati Reds

A look back at the Chicago White Sox

Chicago Cubs Catchers and Managers
Chicago Cubs First and Third Basemen
Chicago Cubs Second Basemen and Shortstops
Chicago Cubs Outfielders
Chicago Cubs Pitchers

A look back at the Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox Catchers and Managers
Boston Red Sox First and Third Basemen
Boston Red Sox Second Basemen and Shortstops
Boston Red Sox Outfielders and Designated Hitters
Boston Red Sox Pitchers

A look back at the Baltimore Orioles

Baltimore Orioles Catchers and Managers
Baltimore Orioles First and Third Basemen
Baltimore Orioles Second Basemen and Shortstops
Baltimore Orioles Outfielders and Designated Hitters
Baltimore Orioles Pitchers

A look back at the Atlanta Braves

Atlanta Braves Catchers and Managers
Atlanta Braves First and Third Basemen
Atlanta Braves Second Basemen and Shortstops
Atlanta Braves Outfielders
Atlanta Braves Pitchers

A look back at the Arizona Diamondbacks

Arizona Diamondbacks Catchers and Managers
Arizona Diamondbacks First and Third Basemen
Arizona Diamondbacks Second Basemen and Shortstops
Arizona Diamondbacks Outfielders
Arizona Diamondbacks Pitchers

0 0 votes
Do you agree with this article? Let's see your vote!
0 0 votes
Do you agree with this article? Let's see your vote!
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x