The Philadelphia Phillies franchise has won exactly two World Series championships over the course of 137 seasons of play. Those two world titles came in 1980 and 2008.
As part of our season-long celebration of the 40th anniversary of that 1980 team championship, I am comparing those two great Phillies teams to see whether either can legitimately be considered better than the other.
I got to enjoy each of those seasons, the first as an 18-year-old in October of 1980 and the next as a 46-year-old in October 2008. As a huge Phillies and baseball fan who has followed the club all the way back to 1971, I feel extremely qualified to hold an educated opinion on the subject.
Once this evaluation series ends, I’ll do a piece that gives my opinion as to which – if either – of these two Phillies championship teams was the better all-around squad.
Now its time to continue examining whether either version can claim the title of greatest Philadelphia Phillies team of all-time with a look at their bullpen groups. The relief pitchers below are listed in order of the number of appearances they made for their respective club.
Much more-so than their starting pitching rotation counterparts, the Phillies 1980 bullpen was extremely stable. Four relievers made 40+ appearances for manager Dallas Green, who called on two other arms for 25+ appearances each. Beyond that the club used just six pitchers in relief, with three of those primarily used as starters on the mound that year. The stats shown are only for when they were used as a relief pitcher. Handedness shown in parentheses following their name.
Tug McGraw (L) – 57 appearances, 20 saves, 5-4, 1.46 ERA, 0.921 WHIP, 62 hits over 92.1 IP with 75 K. Tugger missed nearly a month at mid-season. Returning on July 19, he was phenomenal the rest of the way: 33 games, 52.1 IP, 30 H, 0.52 ERA, .169 BAA, 42/10 K:BB, 13 of 16 in save opportunities. He completely shut down the Montreal Expos in the two games that gave the Phillies the NL East crown. Aside from a pair of blips, he remained strong throughout the postseason as well.
Ron Reed (R) – 55 appearances, nine saves, 7-5, 4.05 ERA, 1.297 WHIP, 88 hits over 91 IP with 54 K.
Dickie Noles (R) – 45 appearances (also made three spot starts), six saves, 0-4, 3.41 ERA, 1.409 WHIP, 57 hits over 66 IP with 45 K. Noles became famous (infamous?) when he threw at George Brett‘s head in Game Four of the World Series, a moment widely credited with waking up the Phillies and helping lead to victories in the final two games.
Kevin Saucier (L) – 40 appearances, 7-3, 3.42 ERA, 50 hits over 50 IP with 25 K.
Warren Brusstar (R) – 26 appearances, 2-2, 3.72 ERA, 42 hits over 38.2 IP with 21 K.
Lerrin LaGrow (R) – 24 appearances, 0-2, 4.15 ERA, 42 hits over 39 IP with 21 K. LaGrow had been the Chicago White Sox closer in 1977-78. The Phillies signed him as a free agent in January 1980, but released him on July 17, ending his big-league career at age 31.
Sparky Lyle (L) – 10 appearances, 0-0 1.93 ERA, 11 hits over 14 IP with six K. One of the most underrated contributors to the club winning the NL East Division title, and thus getting their postseason shot at redemption. Lyle had been a perennial All-Star closer with the New York Yankees during the 1970’s and was the 1977 AL Cy Young Award winner. He didn’t arrive until a September 13 trade with Texas for a player-to-be-named-later, and was thus ineligible for the playoffs. In November, Saucier was sent to the Rangers as that PTBNL.
The grouping of Randy Lerch (8), Dan Larson (5), Scott Munninghoff (4), Mark Davis (1), and Marty Bystrom (1) combined to make 19 relief appearances allowing a collective 43 hits over 34.1 IP with 13 K. Lerch, Larson, and Bystrom were primarily SP’s for the club. Davis, who would win the 1989 NL Cy Young Award as the San Diego Padres closer, was a 19-year-old drafted just the year before who made one appearance in relief and one start during the month of September. Munninghoff was a 21-year-old who was the club’s first round draft pick in 1977. He appeared in three April games and once in May in what would prove to be the only big-league action of his career.
The health and performance of the Phillies bullpen for manager Charlie Manuel was a major piece to their championship puzzle. While everyone remembers the perfect season of the team’s closer during save opportunities, the performance of the “Bridge to Lidge” setup group was equally pivotal. Also, despite their closer putting on that perfect performance, a half-dozen different relievers registered saves that year. Four pitchers made 70+ appearances out of the Phillies bullpen. Three others made 34+ and an August trade acquisition proved vital down the stretch and in the playoffs. A total of 14 pitchers saw action out of the Phillies bullpen in 2008, three of those were primarily starting pitchers during their stints with the club that year.
J.C. Romero (L) – 81 appearances, one save, 4-4, 2.75 ERA, 1.339 WHIP, 41 hits over 59 IP with 52 K.
Ryan Madson (R) – 76 appearances, one save, 4-2, 3.05 ERA, 1.234 WHIP, 79 hits over 82.2 IP with 67 K.
Brad Lidge (R) – 72 appearances, 41-41 in save opportunities, 1-0, 1.95 ERA, 1.226 WHIP, 50 hits over 69.1 IP with 92 K.
Chad Durbin (R) – 71 appearances, one save, 5-4, 2.87 ERA, 1.323 WHIP, 81 hits over 87.2 IP with 63 K.
Clay Condrey (R) – 56 appearances, one save, 3-4, 3.26 ERA, 1.507 WHIP, 85 hits over 69 IP with 34 K.
Rudy Seanez (R) – 42 appearances, 5-4, 3.53 ERA, 1.454 WHIP, 38 hits over 43.1 IP with 30 K.
Tom Gordon (R) – 34 appearances, two saves, 5-4. 5.16 ERA, 1.618 WHIP, 31 hits over 29.2 IP with 26 K.
Scott Eyre (L) – 19 appearances, 3-0, 1.88 ERA, 0.767 WHIP, eight hits over 14.1 IP with 18 K.
Les Walrond (6), J.A. Happ (4), R.J. Swindle (3), Adam Eaton (2), Kyle Kendrick (1), and Drew Carpenter (1) combined to make 17 appearances out of the bullpen, allowing a collective 43 hits over 30 IP with 29 K’s. Walrond was a 31-year-old signed in early May as a free agent. He had made one MLB appearance in 2003 with Kansas City and appeared in 10 games with the Cubs in 2006. He was called up from the minors and made his 2008 Phillies appearances in August (4) and September (2). Swindle, Carpenter, and Happ were all rookies, with Happ making four starts and appearing four times out of the pen. Kendrick made 30 starts and Eaton made 19, with the latter losing his fifth-starter role after the acquisition of Joe Blanton. None of these pitchers would appear in the postseason. Neither would Seanez or Gordon.
As much as I love the Tugger – and he was perhaps even more “lights out” than Lidge after mid-July in 1980 – the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies bullpen was a vastly underrated strength of that ball club. Led by the “Lights Out” closer and his “Bridge to Lidge” supporters, they get the nod here. Adding Eyre, who was phenomenal down the stretch, to the group of Lidge, Madson, Romero, and Durbin only made them that much deeper and more effective throughout the postseason run.
The 1980 crew got typically yeoman work from Reed, who is a legitimate Phillies Wall of Fame candidate. Noles, Saucier, and Brusstar, and the veteran Lyle down the stretch helped immensely.
In combination with the starting rotation, I’m giving not only the bullpen but the overall pitching edge to the 2008 group. The numbers may favor the 1980 Phillies pitching staff, which finished third in the NL in ERA, second in innings pitched, and third in strikeouts. The 2008 staff finished fourth in the league in ERA, seventh in inning pitched, and 11th in strikeouts.
However, the 1980 staff numbers are seriously skewed by the performances of two men – Steve Carlton in the rotation and McGraw in the bullpen. For me, the 2008 staff was deeper and more reliable. And it still had strong performers in Cole Hamels and Lidge at the top of their starting and relief groups as well.
Next week, I’ll start on the position players. We’ll begin with a comparison of the bench groups on each club, move on to the catchers, work our way around the infield, and then finish up across the outfield.
1980 vs 2008 SERIES TO DATE
3.18.20 – STARTING PITCHING
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3.12.20 – Coronavirus hits Major League Baseball
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