Phillies' all-time Top 5 relievers: Zolecki's take

June 9th, 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 ranking of the Top 5 relief pitchers in Phillies history.

Phillies' Top 5: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF | CF | RF | Bench | RH SP | LH SP

1) Tug McGraw (1975-84)
Key stat: 1.46 ERA in the 1980 championship season

McGraw standing on his tiptoes and raising his arms into the air after recording the final out to clinch the 1980 World Series championship remains one of the most iconic sports images in Philadelphia history. Seriously, how many times have we seen that highlight whenever there is a montage about Philly sports or just Philly in general?

McGraw pitched brilliantly in 1980. He went 5-4 with a 1.46 ERA and 20 saves in 92 1/3 innings. He finished fifth for the National League Cy Young Award and 16th for the NL MVP Award. But it was more than just one season for McGraw. He brought stability to the bullpen and personality to the clubhouse in his 10 seasons with Philadelphia. He then stayed and lived in Philly. McGraw’s combination of talented, good and lovable -- why don’t more pitchers name their pitches like McGraw: Cutty Sark (it sailed), John Jameson (hard and straight), Peggy Lee (Is That All There Is) and Frank Sinatra (Fly Me to the Moon) -- makes him one of the most popular players in Phillies history, even today.

McGraw also brought his “Ya Gotta Believe” mantra to Philadelphia, which resonates. Remember a few years ago when the Phillies put McGraw’s words on a wall inside the Phillies' clubhouse at Spectrum Field in Clearwater? It upset more than a few Mets fans because they still think “Ya Gotta Believe” is theirs and theirs alone. It is not. It is Philly’s, too.

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2) Jim Konstanty (1948-54)
Key stat: 1950 NL MVP Award winner

Konstanty had one of the more unique seasons and careers in Phillies history. He went 16-7 with a 2.66 ERA and 22 saves in 152 innings in 1950. He pitched exclusively out of the bullpen that season, until he started Game 1 of the World Series against the Yankees -- he allowed one run in eight innings in a 1-0 loss. Konstanty remains one of the more unusual MVP choices in baseball history. Thirty-six players received MVP Award votes that year. He ranked 19th in WAR, according to Baseball Reference. Robin Roberts (6.9 WAR) and Del Ennis (4.7 WAR) ranked higher.

But Konstanty’s 9.3 cumulative WAR ranks third among relievers in Phillies history. Despite his MVP Award and role on the Whiz Kids’ NL title team, he is not on the team’s Wall of Fame. He probably should be.

3) Brad Lidge (2008-11)
Key stat: 48 for 48 in save opportunities in 2008

We just referenced McGraw’s iconic moment in Philadelphia sports history. Lidge falling to his knees to celebrate the final out of the 2008 World Series is up there, too. Lidge went 2-0 with a 1.95 ERA and 41 saves in the regular season. He posted a 0.96 ERA and seven saves in the postseason.

Lidge struggled with injuries in his final three seasons with the Phillies (4.73 ERA in 142 appearances). But that one incredible season lifts him above other Phillies relievers because he helped the club win a championship.

4) Jonathan Papelbon (2012-15)
Key stat: Franchise’s all-time saves leader

Oh, yes, Pap absolutely makes this list. He said himself several years ago that he knows he will not be invited back to Phillies alumni weekend. He criticized the organization and disrespected the fans too much for that. But we are looking at Papelbon’s on-field contributions here. He had 123 saves in his three-plus seasons with the Phillies. He had a 2.31 ERA and a 167 ERA+. Papelbon fan or not, he was really good with the Phillies.

5) Ron Reed (1976-83) and Ryan Madson (2003-11)
Key stats: Key relievers on championship teams

Reed and Madson tie for the No. 5 spot because they held such important roles in the bullpen during the team’s best two runs in franchise history. Reed’s 9.5 WAR with the Phillies ranks second among relievers. Madson’s 8.9 WAR ranks fourth.

Honorable mention
Turk Farrell (1956-61, '67-69) made four All-Star teams in his career, including one with the Phillies. His 11.1 WAR with the Phillies is best among relievers. … Mitch Williams (1991-93) closed for the ’93 NL title team. … Kent Tekulve (1985-88) pitched really well on some mediocre Phillies teams. … Steve Bedrosian (1986-89) won the 1987 NL Cy Young Award. Seven other pitchers received votes that year, but Bedrosian ranked last with a 2.3 WAR. Back then voters seemed to focus on 20-game winners and saves. There were no 20-game winners that season, so they chose Bedrosian, who led baseball with 40 saves. In light of that, Lidge’s one big season and the careers of Papelbon, Reed and Madson outranked him.