Phillies’ Top 5 LH starters: Zolecki’s take

June 2nd, 2020

Few people love a good debate like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. Love this list? Hate it? If you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite at this position.

Here is Todd Zolecki’s s ranking of the top left-handed starting pitchers in Phillies history. Next week: relief pitchers

1. (1972-86)
Key stat: Four National League Cy Young Awards

The only question here is where Carlton ranks among the best left-handed pitchers in baseball history. You just know he fits somewhere among Sandy Koufax, Warren Spahn, Randy Johnson and Clayton Kershaw.

“When he pitched, we used to call it 'Win Day,'” Gary Matthews said a few years ago.

Carlton had an incredible 13-year stretch with the Phillies from 1972-84. He led the big leagues with 236 wins, 185 complete games and 3,522 1/3 innings in that span. He ranked second with 2,921 strikeouts and fourth with 39 shutouts. He posted 65.4 WAR, according to Baseball Reference. Only Phil Niekro (72.8) and Bert Blyleven (66.7) ranked better. He had one of the most dominant seasons in baseball history in '72, going 27-10 with a 1.97 ERA. Those numbers are impressive on their own, but consider the Phillies finished just 59-97 that season. He won a record 45.8 percent of his team’s games. He was just the fifth pitcher to win 20 games for a last-place team.

Phillies' All-Time Team: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF | CF | RF | Bench | RH starter

Besides the wins, strikeouts and Cy Young Awards, Carlton threw one of the nastiest sliders in history. Carlton had immense physical talents, but he also realized the importance of the mental side of the game.

“He was ahead of his time with visualization,” Tim McCarver once said. “I used to think he was napping, but he was visualizing. He told me a lot later, much later after he retired, that the more he thought about the outside and inside lanes of the plate, the more he would stay away from the middle. And because of that, he did. He was reading really heavy stuff back in those days, and nobody really could keep up with him.”

2. (2006-15)
Key stat: 2008 World Series and NL Championship Series MVPs

The Phillies lacked enough quality pitching for the first several seasons of the 21st century, which explains why they fell short in their postseason pursuits from 2001-06 and got swept in the '07 NL Division Series. But when the '08 postseason started, Hamels played the role of ace to perfection. He tossed eight scoreless innings against the Brewers in Game 1 of the NLDS. He went 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA in two starts against the Dodgers in the NLCS, earning the win in the Game 5 clincher at Dodger Stadium. He went 1-0 with a 2.77 ERA against the Rays in the World Series, allowing two runs in six innings in terrible conditions in the title-clinching Game 5.

Hamels established himself as one of the best starters in baseball during his Phillies career. He posted 42 WAR from 2006-15. Only Kershaw (48.1), Félix Hernández (47.2), Justin Verlander (44.3) and Zack Greinke (44.2) were better.

3. Chris Short (1959-72)
Key stat: 17-9 with a 2.20 ERA in the famous 1964 season

Manager Gene Mauch tried to stop the Phillies’ historic collapse in the final days of the 1964 season by having Jim Bunning and Short each pitch twice on just two days' rest. It did not work, but it was easy to see why Mauch placed so much faith in Short. He went 132-127 with a 3.38 ERA in his Phillies career. He ranks second in wins among Phillies lefties, second in innings (2,253) and third in strikeouts (1,585).

4. Curt Simmons (1947-60)
Key stat: 17-8 with a 3.40 ERA for 1950 "Whiz Kids"

Simmons helped the Phillies win the pennant in 1950, but he never pitched in the postseason because he joined the National Guard on Sept. 10. He pitched for the '64 Cardinals, who passed the Phillies in the final days of the season, to win the NL pennant en route to a World Series title.

5. (2009, '11-14)
Key stat: 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA in 2009 postseason

The Phillies wanted Roy Halladay at the July 2009 Trade Deadline, but when they would not meet the Blue Jays' demands, they pivoted and acquired Lee from the Indians instead. It worked well. Lee helped the Phillies win their third consecutive NL East title and almost helped them win their second consecutive World Series. The Phillies traded Lee that December to the Mariners, but he re-signed with the Phillies before the '11 season. He returned because he believed the Phillies would win another World Series. They never did, although he posted a 19.4 WAR from '11-13.

Honorable mention
Eppa Rixey (1912-20) is in the Hall of Fame, but his best seasons came with Cincinnati. … (1999-2006) made the '03 NL All-Star team. … (1989-93, '96) threw a no-hitter in '90 and made the '93 All-Star team, helping the Phillies win the NL pennant.