Welcome to the All-Franchise Starting Lineup, where we review each of the 30 current MLB franchises to determine the best players by position in franchise history. This week, we’ll review one of the oldest teams in MLB history—the Philadelphia Phillies.
The Ground Rules
- Each player’s WAR with the franchise was the primary driver of the selections. We used two WAR calculations, one from Fangraphs (fWAR) and the other from Baseball-Reference (bWAR). When the WAR between players was similar, we considered other factors, such as stats and awards, to break the tie.
- We only considered statistics earned with the franchise in question for each player. For example, Albert Pujols wasn’t the Dodgers’ first baseman since he only played with them for part of a season near the end of his career.
- Players with multi-position eligibility can play any position they played for a reasonable period in their career.
- Outfielders can be shifted between center, left, and right as long as it makes sense defensively—especially for center field.
- Since we now have a universal DH, we will assign one per team. Doing so also allows us to get more deserving hitters who played at a log-jammed position into the lineup.
- Three pitchers will be named—one right-handed starter, one left-handed starter, and one reliever.
The Philadelphia Phillies franchise was founded in 1883 and is the oldest, continuous, same-city, same-named franchise in sports history. Unfortunately, that didn’t result in success for much of the organization’s history. The franchise’s early years were filled with losing, as the club only made two playoff appearances between their formation in 1883 and 1976.
The Phillies’ fortunes began to change in the late ’70s and early ’80s, thanks to the contributions of players like Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton, who led them to multiple playoff appearances and their first championship in 1980, when they beat the Kansas City Royals in six games. Since then, the team has made several postseason and World Series appearances and took home a second Commissioner’s trophy in 2008 after defeating the Tampa Bay Rays in five games.
Last year, the Fightin’ Phils streaked to the Fall Classic from a Wild Card spot and almost took home a third championship but fell to the Astros in six games. After upsetting the Braves in the NLDS this season, their bid for a return to the Fall Classic fell one game short after losing to the Diamondbacks in a thrilling seven-game series.
Catcher: Jack Clements
No one player stood as an obvious choice for our catcher, though J.T. Realmuto will likely assume the mantle with a few more years in Philadelphia. Darren Daulton and Mike Lieberthal have a claim, but we went with one of the original Phillies, Jack Clements, among the franchise’s top players from the nineteenth century.
Clements was known for his exceptional skills behind the plate, leading the NL in putouts three times. He was also a force at the plate and holds the distinction of being the Phillies’ all-time leader in both runs and RBI among catchers. His .289 lifetime batting average with Philadelphia ranks second among catchers with 2,000+ plate appearances, and only Realmuto and Red Dooin have more stolen bases.
In addition to his accomplishments between the lines, Clements is credited with catching gear developments, including glove and chest protector improvements. As one of the game’s early pioneers, he deserved more Hall of Fame attention than he received.
First Base: Ed Delahanty
Ed Delahanty was a contemporary of Jack Clements and one of the best hitters of the 19th century. Primarily a left fielder, Delahanty played enough first base for the Phillies to warrant his inclusion at the position, which opened up space for more outfielders. Delahanty got his first taste of Philadelphia in 1888 but didn’t settle in as a regular until 1891. From 1892 through his final year with the franchise in 1901, “Big Ed” dominated National League pitching.
During this ten-year stretch, Delahanty averaged 40 doubles, 14 triples, 120 runs, 114 RBI, and 33 stolen bases while slashing .368/.438/.544. He eclipsed .400 thrice, highlighted by his league-leading .410 average in 1899. In addition, while in Philly, Big Ed led the league in doubles, OPS, and SLG four times, RBI three times, home runs twice, and hits, triples, and OBP once. Unfortunately, his prowess with the bat couldn’t get the Phillies to the World Series. The best the club finished during this stretch was second place in 1901, his final season in Philadelphia.
In 1902, Delahanty jumped to the upstart American League, joining the Washington Senators. He led the league in doubles, BA, OBP, SLG, and OPS that season and was off to a solid start in 1903 when tragedy struck. Haunted by demons and alcohol, Delahanty either jumped or drunkenly stumbled off a bridge over the Niagara River, ending his life at only 35 years old. The Old Timers Committee elected Delahanty to the Hall of Fame in 1945.
Second Base: Chase Utley
It took a while for Chase Utley to establish himself as a major leaguer. He debuted with the Phils in 2003 but wasn’t their full-time second baseman until 2005 when he was 26 years old. He was worth the wait, and despite the relatively late start, Utley holds one of the highest WARs in franchise history.
Utley did a bit of everything. He had excellent power, slugging as many as 33 HRs. He could run, stealing a career-high 23 bags in 2009. He hit for average, drew walks, and played excellent defense. Utley was a grinder and wasn’t afraid to take an HBPa category he led three consecutive years from 2007 to 2009. The Phillies were good during Utley’s prime, and he was a massive part of their success. He was a six-time All-Star and a four-time Silver Slugger winner on a team that made five consecutive playoff appearances from 2007 to 2011. Philadelphia went to the World Series twice during this run, beating the Rays in 2008 and falling to the Yankees the following year.
Utley hit ten postseason dingers for the Phillies, stole ten bases, scored 38 runs, and drove in 25. Philadelphia’s fortunes began to turn in 2012; by 2015, they were a last-place club. The franchise dealt him to his hometown Dodgers in August, where he started tasting the postseason again. He retired three years later, after the 2018 season. Utley became eligible for the Hall of Fame this year and generated 28.8% of the vote on his first ballot. He’s got an excellent chance to make it and ranks high on Jay Jaffe’s “JAWS” metric among second basemen.
Shortstop: Jimmy Rollins
Jimmy Rollins was Utley’s double-play partner for most of his tenure in Philadelphia. The 1996 second-round pick debuted in 2000 at 21 years old and was the club’s shortstop for the next 14 seasons. Rollins was an iron man, leading the league in at-bats four times and playing in at least 154 games during his first seven seasons as a starter. He was the club’s sparkplug, and he was fast. Rollins led the league in stolen bases with 46 in 2001 and led the NL in triples four times. In addition, Rollins represented Philadelphia at the All-Star game three times, won four Gold Gloves, and brought home the MVP and Silver Slugger in 2007. That season, the shortstop played in all 162 games, led the league with 139 runs and 20 triples, slugged 30 HRs, stole 41 bases, and drove in 94 with a .296/.344/.531 slash line.
Like Utley, Rollins was a considerable part of the Phils’ playoff clubs from 2007-2011 and their two World Series appearances. He can boast of scoring 27 runs, hitting three dingers, stealing 11 bases, and driving in 15 postseason runs with the franchise. Also, like Utley, Rollins was a Dodger in 2015, having been traded to Los Angeles during the offseason. The following season, he signed with the White Sox, retiring mid-way through. Rollins has been on the Hall of Fame ballot for three years, growing his voter share yearly.
Third Base: Mike Schmidt
Most consider Mike Schmidt the greatest of all Phillies. He is the franchise leader in games, plate appearances, home runs, runs, RBI, and WAR. He’s also the best third baseman of all-time in our rankings. “Schmitty” played his entire 18-year career in Philadelphia, with numerous accolades. Schmidt won three MVPs, ten Gold Gloves, six Silver Sluggers, and was a twelve-time All-Star. He led the NL in homers eight times, SLG and OPS five times, RBI and BB four times, OBP three times, and runs once. His honors extend to the defensive side, where he led the league in assists and TZR (total zone runs) seven times, double plays six times, range factor four times, and fielding % once. Put simply, Schmidt was one of the top players of his generation.
During the middle part of his career, the Phillies were regular postseason participants. Schmitty’s Phils made the playoffs six times from 1976 to 1983, advancing to the World Series twice. In the 1980 championship, Schmidt took home MVP honors after Philadelphia took down Kansas City in six games. He slashed .381/.462/.714 in that series, slugging two homers, scoring six runs, and accumulating seven RBI.
Schmidt played at a high level nearly his entire career, not slowing down until injuries caught up with him over his final two seasons. His last game came at the end of May 1989, and the Phillies retired his jersey one year later. Unsurprisingly, Schmidt was a near-unanimous selection to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.
Left Field: Chuck Klein
Narrowing down the Phillies All-Time outfield to three players was no easy task. For this reason, we already moved Ed Delahanty to first base, even though he was primarily a left fielder. The most glaring omission was Sherry Magee, who lined up in left field for Philadelphia from 1904 to 1914. Chuck Klein played right field primarily and had a lower WAR than Magee, but much of that was because it was dragged down over his waning years. During his prime, Klein was dominant.
As it says on his Hall of Fame plaque, Klein was the “only player in (the) 20th Century to collect 200 or more hits in each of (his) first five full major league seasons,” all of which were in Philadelphia. Over this stretch from 1929 to 1933, Klein averaged 224 hits, 46 doubles, nine triples, 36 HRs, 132 runs, 139 RBI, and a .359 batting average. He led the league in homers four of the five seasons, runs/SLG three times, games/hits/doubles/RBI/OPS twice, and stolen bases/batting average/OBP once. He won the NL MVP in 1932, was runner-up in 1931 and 1933, and represented the Phillies at the first All-Star game in 1933. That season, he also took home the Triple Crown.
Despite Klein’s efforts, Philadelphia didn’t finish above fourth place in his first tenure with the club. The country was also mired in the Great Depression, so in 1933, the nearly bankrupt franchise traded its superstar to the Chicago Cubs. Klein played well for Chicago, but a leg injury sapped his power, which never fully returned. Three years after the trade, Klein was sent back to Philadelphia, where he remained until his release in June 1939. He spent the rest of that season in Pittsburgh, where he had a brief resurgence, and returned to the Phillies the following season. Aided by depleted rosters due to World War II, Klein played until 1944 before ultimately retiring.
Klein passed away in 1958, long before the Veteran’s Committee inducted him into the Hall of Fame in 1980. Many critics credited his success to the short right field at the Baker Bowl, where the Phils played at the time, though many stadiums had funky dimensions at the time. In 2001, the Phillies placed a “P” on the outfield wall of Veteran’s Stadium to honor Klein, who wore several numbers during his time with the franchise.
Center Field: Richie Ashburn
Old-timers Billy Hamilton and Roy Thomas earned consideration for center field, but Richie Ashburn, the durable lead-off hitter who paced the Phillies in the 1950s, gets the nod. Ashburn debuted in 1948 and immediately made his mark. He was an All-Star, led the league in stolen bases, and finished third in the Rookie-of-the-Year voting. Over the next 11 seasons, Ashburn lined up in center for the Phillies 1,677 times, missing only 24 contests. He was an iron man playing a physically demanding position.
In part due to his incredible stamina and, in part, due to an excellent batting eye, Ashburn led MLB in hits during the 1950s. Ashburn led the league in hits three times during his career, walks/OBP four times, and took home batting titles in 1955 and 1958. He also represented the Phillies at four All-Star games. Defensively, Ashburn was special, though overshadowed by the mighty Willie Mays. He led the NL in Range Factor ten times, putouts nine times, assists/TZR/double plays three times, and fielding % twice.
Ashburn only saw the postseason once during his career. His Phillies made it to the 1950 World Series but were unceremoniously swept by the New York Yankees. In January 1960, Philadelphia traded their center fielder to the Cubs. He played two years in Chicago and one with the Mets in their inaugural season, where he played in a pair of All-Star games. After hanging up his cleats, Ashburn moved to the Phil’s broadcast booth, where he provided analysis until dying of a heart attack in 1997. Fortunately, Ashburn lived long enough to enjoy seeing his #1 retired by the club in 1979 and his induction into the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1995.
Right Field: Bobby Abreu
Bobby Abreu isn’t a Hall of Famer, and his number isn’t likely to be retired by any of the six franchises he played for. He didn’t win many awards and rarely led the league in a particular category. However, he was an excellent, durable ballplayer who could do a bit of everything, a true five-tool player in his prime.
Abreu began his career in Houston but was selected by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the 1997 expansion draft after playing only 74 games over two seasons for the Astros. The Rays flipped him to Philly, and he became a fixture in right field for the next eight and a half years. Like Richie Ashburn, Abreu rarely missed a game. From 1998 through 2005, Abreu sat out only 41 contests, averaging 157 games per year, including all 162 twice. He was a threat all over the field. During this stretch, Abreu averaged 23 home runs, 29 stolen bases, 40 doubles, 104 runs, and 94 RBI with a .305/.415/.519 slash line. On defense, Abreu had a cannon of an arm, accumulating 89 assists in his Philadelphia tenure.
Despite his accomplishments and consistency, Abreu went to only two All-Star games, and the only postseason awards he captured were the Silver Slugger in 2004 and a Gold Glove in 2005. His 2005 appearance in the Midsummer Classic was memorable—not for the game itself but the Home Run Derby the day before, which Abreu won with a then-record 41 homers.
Despite his personal success, the Phillies never reached the postseason during his tenure with the club. At the 2006 trade deadline, the club shipped him to the contending Yankees. Abreu bounced around during the final years of his career, playing for several clubs and even the Venezuelan League for a season. He retired in 2014 at the age of 40. Abreu ranks high on the all-time Phillies lists in BBs (second), doubles (fourth), runs (tenth), and HRs/RBI (eleventh).
Designated Hitter: Dick Allen
On the surface, Dick Allen’s stats don’t appear overwhelming. However, he played his entire career in the so-called “second deadball era.” During Allen’s prime, from 1964 to 1974, he was one of baseball’s most feared hitters. Only the great Henry Aaron had a higher OPS over this 11-year stretch, and not by much.
Allen debuted with the Phillies in 1963, playing in a handful of September games. In 1964, he was the club’s third baseman and led the NL in runs, triples, and total bases en route to being named the Rookie of the Year. Allen was an All-Star over the next three seasons, leading the league in SLG and OBP once and OPS twice. Though he struck out often, he compensated by drawing walks and hitting for power. His best season in Philadephia was 1966, when the slugger posted a .317/.396/.632 slash line with 40 dingers, 112 runs, and 110 RBI.
Despite his prowess in the batter’s box, Allen was not popular in the Philadelphia clubhouse or with the fans. Playing in Philly during the racially charged sixties was not easy for him, and he was often booed despite his production. Allen fought with teammates, held out for more money, and arrived late for games. After one such occurrence in 1969, he was suspended and decided to stay away from the team for nearly a month. Eventually, he reconciled with the club on the condition they would trade him after the season, which they did, sending him to the Cardinals.
Allen didn’t stop hitting after leaving Philadelphia. He put up solid numbers in St. Louis, Los Angeles, and especially Chicago with the White Sox, where he played from 1972 to 1974. Allen won an MVP, was a three-time All-Star, and a two-time AL HR king with the Chisox. However, Allen was playing in pain and told the Sox he would retire after the 1974 season. Later, he changed his mind and eventually, to everyone’s surprise, made his way back to the Phillies. Injuries were taking their toll on him, though, even though he was only 33. He played two more years in Philadelphia and one in Oakland before hanging it up for good in 1977. Allen mended his relationship with the organization over those final two seasons and was inducted into the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame in 2010. He passed away ten years later, a few months after the Phillies retired his #15. Many still clamor for his induction into Cooperstown.
Left-Handed Starter: Steve Carlton
Steve Carlton debuted with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1965 and played seven successful seasons there, making three All-Star appearances. However, he is remembered as a Phillie, as his time in the City of Brotherly Love was truly special. After a contract dispute and a holdout in 1971 over $5k, the Cards traded him to Philadelphia. The decision haunted Cardinals fans for years to come.
Carlton was already 27 when he joined the Phillies and had put together a good, but not great, career thus far. As it turns out, he was just getting started. In his first season in Philly, he won the pitching Triple Crown with 27 wins, 310 strikeouts, and a 1.97 ERA. He continued to be magnificent over the next 13 and a half seasons. The lefty won three more Cy Young awards, played in seven All-Star games with the Phils, finished fifth in the MVP vote twice, and took home a Gold Glove to boot. Carlton led the NL in strikeouts/innings five times, starts/wins four, complete games three, and ERA once. From 1972 through 1984, his age 39 season, Carlton averaged 36 games, 14 complete games, 271 innings, and 225 strikeouts with a 3.01 ERA.
Carlton made 13 postseason starts for Philadelphia, including three in the 1980 and 1983 World Series. In the Phillies’ 1980 championship, Carlton went 2-0 with a 2.40 ERA and averaged 10.2 K/9. In 1985, he strained his rotator cuff and made only 16 starts. After struggling to start the 1986 season, the Phillies released him in June. Carlton wasn’t done, though. He played for several teams over the next two years before finally retiring in early 1988. The following season, Philadelphia retired his #32. Carlton didn’t have to wait long to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, making it in on his first opportunity in 1994.
Right-Handed Starter: Pete “Grover Cleveland” Alexander
Choosing between Robin Roberts and Pete Alexander was the most challenging decision in filling out our lineup. Roberts was a seven-time All-Star for the Phillies in the 1950s, a Hall of Famer, and had a higher WAR than Alexander. On the other hand, Grover is one of the Ten Best Pitchers of All-Time, and though he played only seven seasons in Philadelphia, they were among his best. Both deserve the slot, but only one could make it, and we opted for the more dominant of the two.
Alexander debuted with the Phillies with little fanfare when he was 24 years old. By the end of his rookie season, though, he was a star after leading the NL in wins (28), complete games (31), shutouts (7), and innings (367) while posting a 2.57 ERA. He finished third in the MVP vote in 1911 and didn’t slow down from there. Over the following six seasons, the remainder of his Philadelphia tenure, Alexander continued to be magnificent. In his seven seasons with the Phillies, Grover led the league in innings six times, wins/strikeouts/shutouts/complete games five times, and ERA thrice. He took home back-to-back-to-back Triple Crowns from 1915-1917, and Alexander’s fWAR over this seven-year stretch was nearly double that of Rube Marquard, who ranked second.
Like many Phillies, personal success didn’t lead to any championships in Philadelphia, though they did reach the World Series in 1915. Grover pitched twice in the losing effort, winning and losing one, despite a paltry 1.53 ERA over two complete games. Two years later, with war raging in Europe, the Phillies traded Alexander to the Cubs. Rumor has it that management thought he’d be drafted and wanted to get something for him while they could. Pete never went to war, though, and spent the next twelve seasons in Chicago and St. Louis before returning to Philadelphia for his final season in 1930 at the age of 43. After nine ineffective appearances that season, he was released and subsequently retired.
Alexander was the only player inducted in the third Hall of Fame vote in 1938, putting him into elite company as only eight others joined him in the inaugural ceremony in 1939. The Phillies retired a “P” in his honor in 2001, along with Chuck Klein. Despite only seven seasons in Philly, Alexander still holds the franchise record for shutouts with 61.
Reliever: Tug McGraw
Several relievers had a strong case for our lineup. An argument could be made for Ron Reed, Tug McGraw, Ryan Madson, Jonathan Papelbon, Gene Garber, and Hector Neris. Ultimately, we felt it came down to Reed and McGraw, teammates for eight seasons from the mid-70s to early 80s. Reed was the righty, McGraw the lefty, and their numbers with Philadelphia were remarkably similar. McGraw had four more saves, and Reed had a slightly lower ERA, WHIP, and WAR. The decision came down to the 1980 World Series, in which McGraw threw seven and two-thirds innings and saved two games compared to Reed’s two innings and one save. This one was indeed a flip of the coin.
McGraw had a nice career going with the Mets when he was traded to the Phillies after the 1974 season. A starter initially, McGraw thrived in the bullpen from 1969 to 1974. Despite having offseason shoulder surgery, he was an All-Star and saved 14 games in his first season with the franchise. McGraw was a 70s-style closer, often throwing two to three innings to close out games. He averaged 91 innings per year during his first six years in Philly, not scaling back until after their 1980 championship. That season was arguably his finest. McGraw threw 92 and 1/3 innings during the regular season with a 1.46 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 20 saves, and 7.3 strikeouts per nine—a high number for the time. He finished fifth in the MVP voting.
He didn’t slow down during the postseason. Tug threw in all five games of a tight NLCS and four of the six in the October classic, tallying 15 and 2/3 playoff innings. Unsurprisingly, injuries hampered him the following season. McGraw played four more seasons after 1980 in a less prominent role, still posting solid numbers. Both he and Reed retired after the 1984 season. McGraw’s numbers don’t do justice to his impact.
Next up, we’ll head across the state of Pennsylvania and review the Pittsburgh Pirates, another franchise with a long history. Keep an eye out for it this offseason. If you like this content, you can find much more in my archive or by searching “all-time” on the site.