Phillies' Top 5 RH starters: Zolecki's take

May 26th, 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 right-handed starting pitchers in Phillies history. Next week: left-handed starters

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

1. (1948-61)
Key stat: 28 consecutive complete games from 1952-53

Phillies fans know Roberts, but late in life he joked that the most famous Robin Roberts was the co-host of “Good Morning America.” The humble right-hander never minded.

But the hitters who faced Roberts in his prime never forgot him.

“He was that top pitcher at that time,” Willie Mays said.

In an era that included Warren Spahn, Early Wynn, Whitey Ford, Bob Lemon and Don Newcombe, Roberts pitched as well as anybody. He won 199 games in the 1950s, second in the National League only to Spahn’s 202. He led the league in strikeouts (1,516), complete games (237) and innings pitched (3,011 2/3). His 30 shutouts ranked second to Spahn’s 33. His 3.32 ERA ranked fourth. He started for the NL in the 1950, '51, '53, '54 and '55 All-Star Games, a true measure of his stature and dominance in the league.

Roberts won 20 or more games in six consecutive seasons from 1950-55. He won 28 games in '52, the first pitcher to win 28 games in a season since Dizzy Dean in 1935. No pitcher has won 28 in the NL since.

Roberts never won a Cy Young Award, but that is only because the award first came into existence in 1956. Roberts won The Sporting News’ Pitcher of the Year Award in '52 and '55. He finished in the top 10 in NL MVP Award voting five times in the decade.

“I just assumed that I was going to pitch a complete game,” Roberts said. “I did a lot of times. And in the ones I came out, they pinch-hit for me late in the game. So a number I could have finished, but didn’t. But there also were a number of them I shouldn’t have finished, and I did.”


2. Grover Cleveland “Pete” Alexander (1911-17, 1930)
Key stat: Won the pitching Triple Crown three consecutive seasons from 1915-17

It is difficult to compare pitchers from different eras, particularly those pitchers from the early 20th century. It seemed like everybody back then started every other day and threw a complete game every start. Consider these three seasons from Alexander from 1915-17, when he led the league in wins, ERA and strikeouts each time: 31-10 with a 1.22 ERA and 241 strikeouts in ‘15; 33-12 with a 1.55 ERA and 167 strikeouts in ‘16; and 30-13 with a 1.83 ERA and 200 strikeouts in ’17.

Alexander would make $50 million a season if he pitched today. (Maybe that’s a little low?)

“His sinking fastball seemed fashioned from cement,” Roger Kahn wrote in the book “The Head Game: Baseball Seen from the Pitcher's Mound" “No one consistently hit it into the air.”

Apparently minimizing launch angle was a thing back then.

3. (1992-2000)
Key stat: 2.59 ERA in four postseason starts in 1993 established him as big-game pitcher

If and when Schilling makes the Hall of Fame, the highlights before his induction ceremony will center on his postseason dominance. He won World Series with the Red Sox and D-backs, but it started with the Phillies in 1993. He had a 1.69 ERA in two starts in the NL Championship Series against the Braves. After Schilling got hit hard in Game 1 of the World Series against the Blue Jays, he pitched a five-hit shutout in Game 5, extending the series another game.

“I wanted the ball,” Schilling said. “I wanted the responsibility. I’ve said before, if you don’t want the ball in these situations, why show up? You want your teammates to count on you at times like this.”

4. (1964-67, 1970-71)
Key stat: Tossed a perfect game on Father’s Day 1964

Jim Fregosi went 0-for-6 in his first four big league games as a rookie in 1961. He faced Bunning and the Tigers in his fifth game. He went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts.

“I called my mother and said, ‘I’ll be home soon,’” Fregosi said. “He was nasty. I tell you what, it was a day’s work when you had to face him.”

Bunning ranked third in the big leagues with 74 wins from 1964-67. Only Juan Marichal (82) and Jim Kaat (76) had more. Bunning led baseball in strikeouts (992) and shutouts (23) in that four-year span. He ranked fourth with a 2.48 ERA and sixth in complete games (60). Everybody remembers Bob Gibson as the game’s great intimidator, but nobody messed with Bunning. He hit 58 batters in that four-year stretch, 11 more than the Dodgers’ Don Drysdale and 30 more than Gibson.

“My heart was always there, but my ass was never there,” Fregosi said about standing in the box against Bunning.

5. (2010-13) and (2015-present)
Key stats: Halladay threw a perfect game and postseason no-hitter in 2010; Nola posted a 10.2 bWAR in '18

Halladay had two incredible seasons with the Phillies, particularly in '10, when he won the NL Cy Young Award, tossed the 20th perfect game in baseball history and tossed the second postseason no-hitter in baseball history. Halladay had an 8.8 bWAR in '11, when he finished second to Clayton Kershaw (6.8 bWAR) for the NL Cy Young Award.

Nola has quietly established himself as one of the best pitchers in the NL while pitching for mostly bad teams. He has not pitched meaningful games in September or October yet, but there is no reason to think he will not rise to the occasion.