Phillies Best Ever, by Position

MLB Network recently aired an episode (likely a re-run) of Prime 9 where they looked at the best players at each position during the 1980’s. The usual candidates were mentioned: Gary Carter at catcher, Don Mattingly at first base, Ryne Sandberg at second, Cal Ripken at shortstop, Mike Schmidt at third — just to name a few. Since I have been beating the “Utley is super duper awesome” drum so loudly for a while, I was interested to see where the present-day second baseman ranks among his peers in Phillies franchise history.

Rk Player WAR From To Age PA OPS
1 Chase Utley 38.7 2003 2010 24-31 4324 .894
2 Tony Taylor 11.9 1960 1976 24-40 6424 .668
3 Placido Polanco 11.5 2002 2010 26-34 2112 .772
4 Dave Cash 10.9 1974 1976 26-28 2238 .719
5 Juan Samuel 9.8 1983 1989 22-28 3780 .749
6 Otto Knabe 9.8 1907 1913 23-29 4057 .643
7 Manny Trillo 6.1 1979 1982 28-31 2022 .689
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/26/2010.

In chart form:

Utley, over the course of his career, has been three times as valuable to the Phillies as the franchise’s second-best second baseman, Tony Taylor.  He also has the five best single seasons (and six of the top-ten) by a Phillies second baseman.

Rk Player WAR/pos Year
1 Chase Utley 7.7 2009
2 Chase Utley 6.6 2008
3 Chase Utley 6.6 2007
4 Chase Utley 6.2 2005
5 Chase Utley 5.7 2006
6 Dave Cash 4.7 1974
7 Granny Hamner 4.4 1954
8 Dave Cash 4.3 1975
9 Chase Utley 4.2 2010
10 Tony Taylor 4.0 1963
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/26/2010.

Prorating WAR to 700 PA, Utley ranks sixth among all Major League second baseman dating back to 1901.

Rk Player WAR WAR
700 PA
1 Rogers Hornsby 127.8 9.4
2 Jackie Robinson 63.2 7.6
3 Eddie Collins 126.7 7.4
4 Nap Lajoie 84.4 7.2
5 Joe Morgan 103.5 6.4
6 Chase Utley 38.7 6.3
7 Joe Gordon 54.9 5.9
8 Bobby Grich 67.6 5.8
9 Charlie Gehringer 80.9 5.5

While the above is simply overkill on a dead horse that has been beaten thoroughly, it does lead to an interesting question: who are the Phillies’ best players all-time by position? I sped to Baseball Reference’s Play Index to find out.


Darren Daulton: 21.9 WAR


Range between 1st and 2nd place: 4.2 WAR

First Base

Ryan Howard: 20.9 WAR


Range between 1st and 2nd place: 1.2 WAR

Third Base

Mike Schmidt: 108.3 WAR


  • Dick Allen: 37.1 WAR (2nd)
  • Scott Rolen: 28.3 WAR (3rd)

Range between 1st and 2nd place: 71.2 WAR


Jimmy Rollins: 30.3 WAR


Range between 1st and 2nd place: 13.2 WAR

Left Field

Sherry Magee: 47.6 WAR


Range between 1st and 2nd place: 15.9 WAR

Center Field

Richie Ashburn: 52.3 WAR


Range between 1st and 2nd place: 22.5

Right Field

Bobby Abreu: 46.6 WAR


  • Johnny Callison: 35.0 WAR (2nd)
  • Chuck Klein: 30.9 WAR (3rd)
  • Jayson Werth: 15.4 WAR (6th, with between one-third and one-half the PA of other qualifiers; trails only Abreu on a per-700 PA basis)

Range between 1st and 2nd place: 11.6 WAR

Starting Pitching

  • Robin Roberts: 67.8 WAR
  • Steve Carlton: 63.5 WAR
  • Pete (Grover Cleveland) Alexander: 54.6 WAR
  • Chris Short: 36.0 WAR
  • Curt Schilling: 34.6 WAR

The big takeaway from this is that the Phillies’ best first baseman, second baseman, and shortstop since 1901 (about 110 years) played in the 2007-2010 “post-season era”. All three were home-grown, to boot.  Throw in Werth, arguably the franchise’s second-best right fielder, some historically-great base running, consistently-elite defense, and solid pitching, and you have a  tasty recipe for playoff success.

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  1. sean

    November 26, 2010 12:02 PM

    if hamels somehow stays in philly and close to healthy he’ll be on the list for SP. currently he’s at 17.0 bWAR with 2 more years left on his deal. he puts up average(for Cole) years of 4 WAR for the next two he’s around 25 WAR. he’d need a few more years but Cole is looking up to the task of being on that list as well

  2. Matt

    November 26, 2010 12:20 PM

    Wow. I’m a young fan and admittedly hadn’t spent much time on John Kruk’s BBR page. But is it really true to say that Ryan Howard has never had a 3 year stretch of value like Kruk did from 91-93? That’s sure to ruffle some feathers the next time I drop that fact.

  3. Bill Baer

    November 26, 2010 12:27 PM

    Yeah, Kruk was an extremely good hitter — an on-base machine. His power wasn’t anywhere near as prolific as Howard’s but he also didn’t play in an offensively-potent era.

  4. Dan

    November 26, 2010 01:17 PM

    This is why I love Chase Utley. Also, I wasn’t really surprised by any of the names on this list, although Werth making it so high in such a short time is somewhat surprising. I think it’s safe to say we won’t be getting a 3B with as much value as Schmidt at any point in our lifetimes. I am very curious as to where Utley, Hamels, and possibly one of our young arms (DeFratus, Worley, etc.) will stand when their careers are over. I’d definitely say it’s a great time to be a Phillies fan. Actually a Philadelphia fan in general, save for the 76ers (even though I’m a Redskins fan… ugh).

    /random thoughts.

  5. Shamus

    November 26, 2010 04:12 PM

    How would you go about making a batting order out of these 8 guys?

    I’m thinking: Magee, Ashburn, Utley, Schmidt, Howard, Abreu, Rollins, Daulton.

  6. Bill Baer

    November 26, 2010 05:34 PM


    Just off of the top of my head: Ashburn, Abreu, Utley, Schmidt, Howard, Rollins, Daulton, Magee

    I’d be interested to hear what others think.

  7. Kyle

    November 26, 2010 05:46 PM

    This might be my first time posting on here but I’d go:

    Ashburn, Magee, Utley, Schmidt, Howard, Abreu, Rollins, Daulton.

    It would be interesting to see where this type of list for the Phillies would rank compared to other teams.

  8. Heather

    November 26, 2010 07:20 PM

    How is WAR calculated for Nap Lajoie or Grover Cleveland Alexander or any of these guys who played in the 1910s,20s or thereabouts?

    For the position players especially—how on EARTH do you calculate the defensive component of their play into WAR?

  9. Bill Baer

    November 26, 2010 11:03 PM

    If I recall correctly, the hitting is based on linear weights (which is what wOBA is based on), pitching is comprised of BaseRuns and a Pythagorean adjustment, and defense is TotalZone. All of that info is able to be calculated using RetroSheet’s play-by-play data.

    Linear Weights:




    Retrosheet: Here’s an example of their play-by-play data from a 1921 game.

    Baseball Reference’s WAR (a.k.a. Rally WAR) is calculated in a very similar fashion as FanGraphs WAR

  10. Shamus

    November 27, 2010 12:49 AM

    When someone asked about comparing this team to other teams’ “Best Ever, by Position,” I looked at the Yanks. From what I could see on Baseball Reference, the team would be:

    C: Berra (62.1), 1B: Gehrig (118.4), 2B: Willie Randolph (49.8), SS: Jeter (70.1), 3B: A-Rod (40.9), LF: Roy White (44.5), CF: Mantle (120.2), RF: Ruth (149.6)

    For the Red Sox, it’d be:

    C: Fisk (37.7), 1B: Foxx (33.6), 2B: Bobby Doerr (47.7), SS: Nomar (40.9), 3B: Boggs (71.5), LF: Williams (125.3), CF: Tris Speaker (56.2), RF: Dwight Evans (61.1)

    One quick note for the Sox: Yaz had 765 games played at first and 1913 in left. If counted as a first baseman, his WAR (88.7) is higher than Foxx’s. Counting him as a left fielder doesn’t put him past Williams though.

    Next to these line-ups, the Phils don’t compare that well at all.

  11. Heather

    November 29, 2010 12:46 AM

    From my understanding though, a 5.0 WAR season for Nap Lajoie doesn’t equal a 5.0 WAR season for Chase Utley. That seems non-intuitive, but let me explain:

    I checked out the Total Zone weblink that you provided and although I agree it could be a good starting point for understanding LAjoie’s defense, I do not believe that our information about the dead era is equivalent to our information on today’s players. The information you get out of Total Zone is only as good as the information you put in…and I think just by the gaps in records, flaws in official scoring, etc, the information from that era is not comparable to today’s.

    I’m not arguing Chase Utley is not good; certainly, he is. But arguing Utley > Lajoie or vice versa is not something I feel comfortable with if you are going to base the determination on WAR, simply because of the limitations of the metric when it comes to evaluating players from bygone eras.

    Also, on a somewhat unrelated point, to my understanding, WAR does not calculate things such as an additional base taken on a sac fly, legging out singles from first to third, etc. Also to my understanding, WAR does not count such things as the significance of such things as stolen bases (stealing home in a tie game is a lot more significant than stealing second), putting the ball in play when a sacrifice is called for, etc.

    If WAR does not do this (and please feel free to correct me if I am misunderstanding) this could cause WAR to underrate several players who do these things well. Ty Cobb comes to mind as possibly one of the greatest examples of the tactically smart baseball player. Chase Utley happens to be another.

  12. Heather

    November 29, 2010 12:48 AM

    “One can really understand why the Phillies were so embarrassingly bad for so long.”

    The old chestnut about the Phillies and LifeBuoy soap comes to mind….

  13. Bill Baer

    November 29, 2010 06:31 AM


    I really appreciate your critical eye towards Sabermetrics. People like you are why these stats get better and better!

    To answer your points:

    I do not believe that our information about the dead era is equivalent to our information on today’s players.

    Yes, absolutely. Information from 2010 is leaps and bounds better than information from 1920. As much as I’d like otherwise, I don’t think this is something we’ll be able to ever get around.

    WAR does not calculate things such as an additional base taken on a sac fly, legging out singles from first to third, etc.

    From Tango’s Wiki:

    rWAR also includes measures of value for baserunning (including non-SB baserunning), avoiding double plays, and reaching base on error.

    And from Baseball Reference, on their WAR (Rally WAR, or rWAR):

    Rough Sketch of How We Do This

    –Rbsr, Baserunning events like stolen bases, advancing on passed balls, going first to third on a single. For 2010, this is currently just SB and CS data.

    WAR is not a perfect metric by any means and I’ve said as much frequently on the blog. It’s good to make some general points, but I don’t think one can say with any degree of confidence that Joe Morgan is specifically 0.1 WAR better than Chase Utley on a per-700 PA basis.

  14. Richard

    November 29, 2010 08:47 AM

    Heather reminds me of something that’s bothered me for a while. Given the problematic nature of all defensive metrics, how on earth does, for example, Fangraphs determine fielding runs above or below average for older players?

  15. Richard

    November 29, 2010 09:09 AM

    Right, so do you have any idea how fielding runs is determined for players prior to 2002?

  16. Bill Baer

    November 29, 2010 09:58 AM

    I could be wrong, but I think it’s based solely on play-by-play data and then compared to league averages.

    The fielding runs for Bonds, particularly from 1987-1991 look funny — that’s probably why.

  17. Heather

    November 29, 2010 04:09 PM

    Thanks for responding to my post, Bill. I love to read your column and hope you keep up the good work.

    Another thought about WAR as it relates to old-time players: every calculation I’ve seen of WAR for players from 1900s-1940 has Babe Ruth absolutely DESTROYING the competition in WAR. Ty Cobb is next, but significantly behind, with Honus Wagner usually 3rd.

    So when then, if Babe Ruth was absolutely that dominant, did his peers (usually) rate Cobb more highly than Ruth, and Ruth about equivalent to Wagner? (The HOF selection comes to mind, although there are many other examples.) It certainly wasn’t a popularity contest, as many of Cobb’s peers hated the man.

    I mean, it could certainly be some kind of psychological selection bias thing (either mine or theirs), but it’s certainly a big red flag (to me anyway) to question all WAR figures for players of that era.

    I just find the whole subject to be thought provoking….

  18. bill

    November 29, 2010 06:42 PM

    The “rating” thing is just more about people valuing different things at different times, but I’m not sure that people truly thought Cobb was better than Ruth.

    Anyway, that aside, Mike Schmidt was insanely good, wow.

  19. Heather

    November 29, 2010 07:04 PM

    Bill, I’ve read a few different things with contemporaries rating Cobb ahead of Ruth…it’s a shame I didn’t write these down, but a quick internet search reveals quite a few telling votes among contemporaries where Cobb finished ahead of Ruth.

    I can mine them if you’re interested, but to contemporaries, it doesn’t seem like the open and shut case that it is now.

    Again, I just find it telling that quite a few contemporaries at least were undecided about who was better, with many nods going to Cobb.

    Again, it at least raises the question in my mind of whether it clearly is the case that Ruth was light-years better.

    If we’re supposed to use WAR in conjunction with informed baseball opinion (scouts, other players, managers, etc), and informed baseball opinion of that time was undecided, but WAR has an absolutely monster gap…again, that raises a question in my mind of the reliability of WAR for these players.

    Perhaps there’s something with WAR that makes comparisons, especially between dead ball and live ball players, difficult? You wouldn’t think so, as WAR takes into account the player’s wOBA versus the league’s wOBA, but I’m not that smart with the math to spot any potential points of difficulty.

    I guess I’m smart enough to ask the questions but not to arrive at answers.

  20. Richard

    November 29, 2010 09:57 PM

    One thing to remember, I think, is that Ruth represented a sea change in baseball. Many players, Cobb included, hated the more homer-centric baseball age that Ruth ushered in. I wouldn’t be surprised if much of the disparity had to do with that. It took awhile for some of the older guard to accept that the homerun was as valuable as it is, if they ever did.

  21. Heather

    November 30, 2010 12:16 AM

    Richard, I agree with you about there being a sea-change in baseball between the dead ball and live ball eras (for whatever reasons they happened, I don’t think there is a consensus, but certainly I think as much attribution can be given to equipment and rule changes and park changes as to just the Bambino effect.)

    I guess what I am tentatively saying is that WAR comparisons betweeen dead ball and live ball eras will fail because fundamentally what is valued in baseball has changed. WAR is a metric for what we value in baseball today. Offensive production, especially offensive production for power, defense, and a bit of baserunning.

    However, from what I understand of the dead ball era, speed was king, and such things as bunting, moving the runner over, the sacrifice, being able to go from first to third on an infield out, etc were extremely valuable and probably contributed more to team wins in an era where the winning team probably scored about 3 runs.

    Realistically though, these things aren’t factored into our WAR very much (from my reading of Fangraphs’ WAR, they consider basrunning solely from a successful steal/caught stealing basis!) and to the extent that they are, I question the possibility of determining these things accurately from that era due to a dearth of information.

    Forgive me if these issues have already been covered, and in detail. I believe I am beginning to stumble my way from basic rudimentary knowledge to a greater familiarity of these sabermetric concepts, so if these issues have been addressed somewhere else, let me know. A simple Google search using terms like “calculating WAR” and “dead ball era” haven’t given me much illumination.

  22. CH Phan

    November 30, 2010 02:23 PM

    Bill: As always, thanks for the hard work, the unique article, and the stats.

    It’s also really nice that you respond to specific questions b/c like Heather, I feel as if I’m at a rudimentary level with the sabermetrics. (maybe my elementary school phobia of numbers) I’ve always thought I was much more of an “emotional” fan. The more I see & understand of sabermetrics, the more tangible evidence I have of exactly why I like & enjoy the players I do, Utley being one of them. I never felt I had anything except adjectives before, now I have numbers too.

    Also, I can’t help myself … These numbers are only more proof that Jayson Werth is even better than we always thought he was. He’s in danger of becoming a “great player”. It’s always interesting to remember that he’s reached these numbers (and his records, both Phillies & NL) in less playing time than most other players his age.

    Wow Ruben, sign him already.

  23. Scott G

    November 30, 2010 04:44 PM

    I think you’ll meet some opposition on that front, CH Phan. Not from me, but I’ve had arguments against signing Werth thrown at me when I mention it on this site. It’s affordable in that they could fill out there roster without passing the break even point after signing him. I’m tired of hearing it’s not a smart business move for them to re-sign him.

  24. Heather

    November 30, 2010 11:17 PM

    Bill, I don’t know if you are still reading this thread, but if so, could you point me to any good sabermetric oriented books/articles regarding dead ball era players?

    There just doesn’t seem much there, or perhaps I’m not looking in the right places.

    Even if you could point me in the right direction, I would be very appreciative. Thank you if you can.

  25. Sol

    December 02, 2010 03:09 PM

    How does my second-favorite (and favorite that I’ve actually seen in action) Phillies center fielder rate? I’m talking about Gary Maddox, of course. I can’t believe you didn’t mention his name.

  26. SJHaack

    December 03, 2010 01:36 PM

    Wow, best conversation I’ve seen in a while.

    Good call Sol, the Secretary of Defense put up 27.0 WAR with his time on the Phillies.

    rWAR agrees that he was damn good on defense too, putting his defensive value at 1/3 of his total WAR (9.2). Doesn’t sound like much but that’s quite a high amount. Mike Schmidt, aka best defensive 3rd baseman of all time, is worth 13.9 dWAR and Ozzie Smith is worth 21 WAR.

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