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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Retired Numbers Series: Philadelphia Phillies

I suppose I wasn’t totally lost when I ran my poll (a forever ago) on what team to cover next in my Retired Number Series. I have a list of possible teams to cover next sitting on my notes, and the Phillies have been towards the top of the list for a while now. So, when they tied at the top of the poll for which team to write about next, I gave this de facto tie breaker to them.

I don’t really have any specific feelings for the Phillies one way or the other, I guess. I do think that they are similar to the Mariners, though, in that they have many intriguing candidates on the horizon.




Notes on the Numbers
Some quick notes on the stats: the two most prominent stats I used are similarly named. Both are called WAR, or Wins Above Replacement. They both try to account for every part of a player’s game, including, but not limited to: offense, defense, position, and playing time. So, it is a counting stat, like hits or home runs (with the small difference that bad seasons can actually decrease your WAR, if you are worse than a replacement player). WAR credits a player with how many wins they have provided to their team. They aren’t perfect, but for my purposes (a single number showing roughly how good a player has been), they work perfectly.

There are two major sites that provide WAR, Baseball-Reference (henceforth called bWAR) and Fangraphs (fWAR). The two are mostly the same, with the biggest difference coming from the different fielding stats the two use. Fangraphs has a fairly good summary of what makes up WAR and how it is calculated (for those wanting a more general summary, the introduction works just fine). Pitching is slightly different: Fangraphs’ WAR for pitchers only goes back to 1974, so for my purposes, I stuck to just bWAR for them.


The Already Retired Numbers
Currently, the Phillies have retired seven “numbers”, although that’s counting two honored players who don’t have official uniform numbers set aside for them. Grover Cleveland Alexander (or Pete Alexander, as he was also known) played prior to the introduction of uniform numbers, while Chuck Klein played when uniform numbers were much more fluid, wearing more or less a different number every season (also, a side note, he apparently wore gold and blue jerseys for some of his years in Philadelphia and red jerseys for his years in Pittsburgh, both of which I find slightly confusing). Alexander posted 55 of his 105 career bWAR in Philly. Meanwhile, Klein accounted for 31 of his 39 career bWAR and 38 of his 47 career fWAR there.

That leaves five numbers that are actually no longer issued. The first to be taken out of circulation was Robin Roberts’ 36 in 1962. Maybe I shouldn’t blindly trust Wikipedia on this, but that means that his number was actually retired four years before he retired (although he left the Phillies the year before, so it might be counting from the point he left on). In any case, Roberts posted 65 of his 81 career bWAR in Philadelphia, which dated back to 1948.

Next chronologically is outfielder Richie Ashburn, who played from 1948 to 1962 (although he was only in Philly until 1959). In his twelve years with the team, he was worth 52 of his 58 career bWAR and 61 of his 68 career fWAR. The Phillies waited until 1979 to retire his number.

The Phillies waited another decade, then retired another pitcher-hitter pair. First was Steve Carlton’s 32 in 1989, the year after he retired. Carlton pitched from 1965 to 1989, and spent 1972 through 1986 with the Phillies. In that time, he accumulated 64 of his 84 career bWAR.

Mike Schmidt retired that same year, meaning that his number 20 got the same honor the next year. Schmidt, a career Phillie, started in 1972 and racked up 108 bWAR and 111 fWAR.

The final player with a number retired in Philadelphia is pitcher Jim Bunning, who had his 14 retired in 2001. Bunning pitched from 1955 to 1971, and had two tours with the team, the first from 1964 to 1967 and the second from 1970 to 1971. Despite his short time with the team, he recorded 32 of his 60 career bWAR there.


Compared to the League
Comparing the team to the rest of the league can be done with three variables. I can compare using bWAR or fWAR, value contributed in total or just to the franchise, and in median value or mean value.

Through all methods, the Phillies generally rank at the top of the second quartile, which essentially means they are in the bottom of the top 10 most selective teams when it comes to retiring numbers. This also puts them towards the middle of the pack among the original sixteen teams.

The Phillies have retired seven numbers overall, tied for seventh most overall.


So Who’s Next?
The Phillies best unhonored players, going by WAR, seem to be primarily towards their start and more recent times, with only a small handful in between.

According to both Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference, the best non-Schmidt position player is Ed Delahanty, an outfielder who played with the team from 1888 to 1901 (minus a one-year stint in the Players’ League in 1890; he also played in 1902 and 1903, but with Washington). Despite his 58.2 bWAR and 62 fWAR with the team, he didn’t ever wear a uniform number. Seeing as the team already has two honored numberless players (only the Phillies and the Giants have more than one, with two each), I doubt they’d honor Delahanty, although he is one of the more interesting numberless players who could be honored.

The two sites have the same fourth and fifth best position players ever, but in opposite orders. Baseball-Reference lists Sherry Magee fifth with 45.7, while Fangraphs lists him fourth with 60 fWAR. Like Delahanty, he was an outfielder who played his entire career without a uniform numbers (1904 to 1919, with 1904 through 1914 coming as a Phillie), which is a huge strike against his chances. He also isn’t even in the Hall of Fame like Delahanty (although he should be), so his chances are obviously even worse.

The player who is more or less neck-and-neck with Magee is much more interesting, though: Chase Utley. In about 1500 fewer at-bats (from 2003 through 2011), he’s managed to get very far up the Phillies’ all-time list, putting up 50.4 bWAR and 51 fWAR. I would imagine he has fan support as well, being a huge part in the team’s recent surge to success. He’s definitely the first player here I would mark down as “likely”.

Both lists again agree on another modern player in sixth place: Bobby Abreu, who played with the team from 1998 through 2006. B-R gives him 45.4 WAR for his time with the team, while Fangraphs puts him with 50 WAR. I have no definitive proof, but I feel like he isn’t remembered as rosily in Philly as his contemporaries who managed to stick around a few extra years. Added to that, Abreu has always been rather under-appreciated, something I think will continue after he retires. The team may retire his number, but it won’t be as high a priority as several other players.

After that, the lists sort of descend to a gaggle of assorted players. Jimmy Rollins shows up in both top tens, though, and he has as good a case as anyone. From 2000 to present, he’s been worth 38.1 bWAR and 45 fWAR. Neither numbers are Hall of Fame worthy, but added to his popularity and his importance to the team’s rebirth, it’s likely more than enough to get his number 11 retired.

Roy Thomas and Johnny Callison represent the last two mutual top ten players. Both are now-largely forgotten outfielders (center and right, respectively) due to being good at things that are rather overlooked (drawing a lot of walks and being decent at everything, more or less). On top of that, Thomas didn’t even wear a uniform number (he played from 1899 to 1911, with every year but 1909 and part of 1908 coming in Philadelphia), further dooming his chances. Callison, who played 1958 to 1973 (1960 to 1969 as a Phillie) did wear a number...6, which doesn’t help, considering he’s gone on to be totally overshadowed by another number 6.

There are some interesting players outside of the top tens, though. Dick Allen rates highly under both systems. The borderline Hall of Famer spent nine years in Philadelphia (1963 to 1969, 1975 to 1976), accumulating 34 bWAR and 42 fWAR. He never endeared himself to fans or the media, though, something that has hurt him in several ways. If the Veterans Committee decides to induct him, he could see his number retired as another form of retroactive recognition, but the honor probably needs some form of outside impetus. For his career, number 15 was worth 55.6 bWAR and 67.9 fWAR.

Hall of Fame outfielder Billy Hamilton also fares well under both systems, with 35.7 bWAR and 38 fWAR coming with the franchise. That’s the upside. The interesting part? All of that came in only six seasons. The downside? Those six seasons were 1890 to 1895. Yep, we have another numberless wonder in the outfield. Hamilton was a fine player, but that makes him fourth in line among Phillies numberless outfielders. Probably not happening.

After that, there’s a sort of clumping, where it gets harder for players to stand out. So, before we move on to current unmentioned players, let’s quickly look at the top pitchers list. The top three are all already honored (Roberts, Carlton, and Alexander), leaving fourth place the top non-retired number. And that number is Curt Schilling’s 38. In nine seasons, the team’s former ace 35.1 bWAR (and, although I didn’t use it for pitchers, 41 fWAR). They may wait to retire his number, say, until he makes it into Cooperstown (which SHOULD eventually happen), but I think it happens either way. For his career, Schilling was worth 76.9 bWAR (and 86.1 fWAR).

After Schilling is Bunning, and then a clump of pitchers with similar WAR totals in which few stand out. That means it’s probably time to move on to the current players. Of that group, one player stands far above the rest. Ryan Howard is who most Phillie fans probably associate with 6 now (rather than Johnny Calliston), as he’s a fan favorite. He’s somewhat overrated in most discussions on his abilities, but that’s rather irrelevant when discussing more emotion-driven things like being a fan favorite. Since 2004, he’s been worth 18.0 bWAR and 23 fWAR. Even if his WAR totals are a little low, I still think he gets his number retired (unless the rest of his current contract somehow turns the entire Phillie fan-base against him).

On the subject of home-grown stars, Cole Hamels, number 35, is currently eighth among Phillie pitchers in bWAR (24.5), with a chance at to take over seven place by 2012’s end. However, his contract status could affect this; if he resigns, there’s a good chance he’ll stick around long enough to earn a retired number. As is, he probably hasn’t done enough, so leaving would more or less end his chances. The World Series MVP and seven years have been good, but look rather lacking compared to the resumes of Roberts, Carlton, Alexander, and Schilling. However, they aren’t too far off from Bunning’s numbers; however, Bunning also didn’t see his number retired for three decades. Take that as you will.

As for their other two aces, Roy Halladay has been impressive in his three seasons in Philadelphia, racking up 13.7 bWAR to date. However, he’s only signed through next year, meaning he’ll have to resign with them AND maintain his dominance. It can happen, but keep in mind he just turned 35 (and, in any case, he should have already locked up a retired number with the Blue Jays anyway; getting a second team would be exceedingly difficult).

Cliff Lee should be around for longer (through 2015 or ‘16), but like Halladay, his recent addition to the team means he has a bit of a hole to climb out of. So far, he stands at 10.9 bWAR. A strong finish to the deal could get him to about where Hamels is now. But, even then, he’s already 33, going on 34. A strong finish to the career isn’t out of the question, but it’s still too early to call him likely.

Shane Victorino has been good in his eight years with the team, totaling 21.8 bWAR and 25 fWAR. However, he’s to be a free agent this offseason, and even if he does resign, his next deal will start at the age of 32. Again, if he resigns with them AND he manages to stave off the effects of aging, he might have a case. Neither of those is guaranteed, though.

Carlos Ruiz is also a fan favorite, but he’s only been worth 13.8 bWAR and 16 fWAR; that doesn’t even match up to Darren Daulton. And, as a 33 year old catcher, I can’t see him improving much.

I can only think of two other recent players to throw into the discussion. One is Pat Burrell. Number-wise, he probably wasn’t worthy (14.8 bWAR and 19 fWAR in his nine years in Philadelphia), but I figured he was worth mentioning in case he was a fan favorite. The other player is Scott Rolen, who was great in his seven years with the team (28.1 bWAR, 31 fWAR). As a fan of Rolen, I would like to see his number retired somewhere, and I’m not sure the Cardinals will do it. Realistically, the Phillies have just as good a case for retiring his number. However, I get the feeling he isn’t exactly loved. Maybe like Dick Allen, when he makes the Hall (and, like Schilling, it should definitely be a “when” in Rolen's case and not an “if”), the team will reconsider. For his career, Rolen has been worth 65.8 bWAR and 74 fWAR.


So, In Closing...
As of right now, the players that I think are most likely to get their numbers retired by the Phillies in the future are, in order:

Chase Utley-26
Jimmy Rollins-11
Ryan Howard-6
Curt Schilling-38
Cole Hamels-35
Bobby Abreu-53
Cliff Lee-33
Roy Halladay-34
Dick Allen-15
Scott Rolen-17
Ed Delahanty
Shane Victorino--8
Carlos Ruiz-51
Pat Burrell-5
Sherry Magee
Johnny Callison-6
Billy Hamilton
Roy Thomas

1 comment:

  1. One day later and I'm already second-guessing. After hearing from some Phillies fan, I switched the top three from "Howard-Rollins-Utley" to "Utley-Rollins-Howard". Really, I think of all of them as a trio, and I think they'll all see their numbers retired eventually. I guess that, together with Schlling, they form a top "Likely" tier of retired number candidates.

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