March 3, 2015

Phillies Top 20 Individual Seasons,#1:
Steve Carlton, 1972

Stats and Ranks

Some Interesting Stats and Facts

  • 2nd highest WAR of any pitching season in MLB history (Walter Johnson, 1913)
  • Won 27 games, while entire team won only 59 on the season
  • 19 of his starts were 9+ innings, allowing 1 run or less
  • Had 2 games where he pitched 11 innings, 1 where he pitched 10 innings (a shut-out)
  • 6 more wins, 57 more innings, 61 more strikeouts and 7 more complete games than any other NL pitcher in 1972.
  • One of only 8 seasons since 1920 where a pitcher pitched 300+ innings with an ERA under 2.00 and a WHIP under 1.00. Carlton pitched the most innings of any of the 8.
  • Opposing hitters had a combined .548 OPS for the season (1,350 PA)
  • The opposing clean-up hitter hit only 1 HR off him the entire season (152 PA)
  • With 2 outs and RISP, he held hitters to a .147 BA on the year.

Why He’s Here

For as tough as it was to rank all these seasons, it wasn’t tough at all to pick #1.

When you talk about the best pitching seasons in baseball history, the conversation will almost always include Carlton’s 1972 campaign.

The thing that is talked about most is his wins compared to the teams total, which is an incredible stat, but really more of a fluke than anything else. I can expand in the comments if you wish, but won’t do so here.

Really – this season would have been number 1 regardless of win total.

Because Roy Halladay’s season is fresh in our minds, I keep going back to it for comparisons and will do so again here. Halladay started 33 games this year, Carlton started 41 in ’72, 32 of those starts were on 3 days rest. He had 4 more starts than anyone in the NL and only 9 pitchers had more starts than Halladay’s 33.

Halladay finished 9 of his 33 games, averaging 7.6 innings per start. Carlton finished an incredible 30 of his 41 games, included 3 extra inning games. He averaged 8.4 innings per start. Halladay had 4 shutouts, Carlton twice as many.

Despite pitching almost 100 innings more than Halladay, he only allowed 8 more runs, keeping his ERA under 2.

He struck out 310, one of only 11 pitchers to reach that mark in a single season.

According the most all-encompassing, advanced metric we have available, WAR, this was the 2nd best pitching season in MLB history. If you include hitting seasons, this would measure as the 11th best season, by any player, in MLB history. The only players with a better season are Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds, Walter Johnson, Rogers Hornsby and Mickey Mantle. Truly one of the greatest ever, and certainly the greatest in Phillies history.

So that’s it for this project, I guess. Obviously this list started at 20, but has morphed to 22 due to Halladay and the separating out of the pre-1900 folks. It’s possible I will move this out to 25, and add 3 more to get to an even number. If you have any suggestions for who would be in consideration for those 3 spots, please feel free to share in the comments.

Previous Seasons

#2. Pete Alexander, 1915

#3. Mike Schmidt, 1980

#4. Chuck Klein, 1930

#5. Ryan Howard, 2006

#6. Robin Roberts, 1952

#7. Jim Bunning, 1967

#8. Roy Halladay, 2010

#9. Sherry Magee, 1910

#10. Dick Allen, 1966

#11.  Jimmy Rollins, 2007

#12.  Billy Hamilton, 1894

#13.  Ed Delahanty, 1895

#14.  Curt Schilling, 1997

#15 - Lefty O’Doul, 1929

#16 - Brad Lidge, 2008

#17 - Chris Short, 1964

#18 - John Denny, 1983

#19 - Tug McGraw, 1980

#20 - Greg Luzinksi, 1977

#21 - Gavvy Cravath, 1913

#22 - Lenny Dykstra, 1993

Five pitchers that just missed (and criteria for rankings)

Five hitters that just missed

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  1. Adam B says:

    wow… these numbers are just insane. I think the most mind blowing stat is the starts on three days rest. Compare that to today – an agent would never let a star player such as Carlton even think about starting 10 times on three days rest, especially on a struggling team.

  2. Ken Bland says:

    You could find a spot for Ashburn somewhere, I’m sure.  Thome hit 30 plus one year, not sure how his other numbers were.  Callison’s 1964 included  31/104, forrget the average, but if you include the shot off Radatz at Shea in the AS game, it was a great season even if the avaerage or some othere number was short.  Utley’s had some good nominations, too, Bedrock won a CY, Konstanty an MVP.

    If I’m cutting it back to 20, Lidge and Tug simply get cut. 

    Lists always are controversial.  No matter how you resolve it, it’s easy to second guess.  Considering there is no right answer, and it was a terrific, unique idea as was, I’d move on to my next project and be proud of this one. 

  3. Stu says:

    Where does Cliff Lee, 2011 rank?

  4. Ken Bland says:

    Speaking of Carlton working on 3 days rest with regularity and awesome sucess, that of couse was more normal back then, with 4 man rotations.  Post season 2 day rest stops were probably still the norm then, too.  It’s well documented hiow Sandy K won Game 7 of the ’65 Series on 2 days rest, I’m not sure when 2 day rests became outdated, and it’d be an interesting trivia question as to who the last starter to work a post season game on 2 days rest was.  I wouldn’t be surprised if it was before 1972 based on the world being shocked by Billy Martin’s stretching his 1981 A’s rotation to pitch 9 innings most every night.  So the “babying” of pitchers, for lack of another word probably startedright around 1972.  I( don’t remember Lefty ever pitching a post season  game for the Phils on 2 days rest, which would only encompass 1980 since all other years were short series, and short playoff seasons.

    I thought of another Top 20 list that sparked some mental retention for a couple minutes.  Top 20 plays in Phils history.  Pete backing up Boone on the foul pop in the 80 Series, Aaron Rowand introducing himself to the fence, John Wesley Covington catching any fly ball, surely some gems from the shortstop position with guys like Wine, Bowa and Jimmy over the years.  And since plays include offense, Jimmy versus Braxton, Matt Stairs, Shane versus CC, Del Unser’s triple.  You’d probably have to eliminate some good stuff to get that down to 20 as well. 

  5. jjg says:

    For the sentimental, Stan Bahnsen’s 1.35 ’82 night-song was sweet; whiffed 9 in 13 innings, allowed only 8 hits.  Full disclosure:  I hadn’t remembered either; still don’t.

    Stan was a 21-16 starting stanchion on Tanner’s ’72 WSox, Allen MVP year w/.420 OBP, .603 SLG, 1.023 OPS.  Sox finished 2nd in West, 5.5 behind A’s … if only Carlos May, Lee May’s fine hitting bro, hadn’t reported to Camp Pendleton in Aug ’69, losing part of his thumb, or Pat Kelly, rightfielder, Simon Gratz HS & Cleveland Brown’s Leroy Kelly’s bro, had hit a little better, or A’s MGR Dick Williams hadn’t been so cunning and mean. 

    Nominations for top plays:  infield single at Vet by the late Bo Diaz; Jeff Stone discovering moon’s interstate applicability. 

  6. tk76 says:

    “The thing that is talked about most is his wins compared to the teams total, which is an incredible stat, but really more of a fluke than anything else. I can expand in the comments if you wish, but won’t do so here.”

    Care to expand on this?

  7. Pete says:


    Sure. People who still think that wins are one of the top stats you should use to evaluate pitchers often point to this season as “proof” that a pitcher can win games with a bad offense and should be responsible for winning the games regardless of what the offense does.

    I’m not going argue that winning 27 games wasn’t a fantastic accomplishment that should be completely ignored.

    But the “fluke” aspect of this is as follows…

    • The offense did not play like as 59-win offense when Carlton was pitching. He actually got decent run support (3.8 runs per game). By comparison, Cole Hamels got 3.6 runs per game this year for a 97-win team this year. Felix Hernandez got 3.0 runs per game this season.
    • When Carlton didn’t pitch, they scored only 3.0 runs per game a 21% drop from when he did. It might not seem like a lot, but if you think about Felix Hernandez and the historically bad Seattle offense, it gives you an idea how bad that is.
    • Add that 3.0 runs per game to some pretty bad starting pitching, and the Phillies lost the vast majority of the games he didn’t pitch, leading to the horrible overall record.
    • When the team scored 0-2 runs, Carlton had just a 9-7 record. When they scored 3-5, he was 13-3. Carlton was going to pitch 8-9 innings, and allow 1-2 runs every game, it was up to the offense whether that meant he got a win or not.
    • It’s also fluky because he never won more than 24 games for the rest of his career, even when pitching with explosive Phillies’ offenses.
  8. Ken Bland says:

    Talk about the offense being better is only part of it.  Common sense tells you the players were better focussed and motivated when Lefty pitched that year, both home and road attendance had to be higher, creating a more focussed environment.  That would suggest all facets of the game, including defense and baserunning might have represented similar improvements when Carlton pitched.

    I’d be curious about Detroit in 1968.  McClain was 31-6, Tigers were World Champs.  Wonder what the Tigers performance levels offensively and defensively were when he pitched for a first place club versus Lefty 4 years later for our 59 win club.

  9. Ken Bland says:

    McClain 1968 versus Carlton 1972

     DM                                                                                        SC

     336                                       IP                                            346
     .91                                     WHIP                                         0.99
     6.5                                       H/9                                           6.7
    31-6                                     W-L                                        27-10

    The 2 pitching lines on the whole look ridiculously similar.  The duifference is 4 full games better in Denny’s favor.  For a world championship team, versus the lousy Phils.  None of this answers the question as to if defense et al were better when Carlton pitched, but it superfuicially is interesting that McClain crossed 30 while Carlton didn’t.

  10. tk76 says:

    I’ve heard the reverse reasoning when great pitchers fail to get run support.

  11. Ken Bland says:

    I’ve heard the reverse reasoning when great pitchers fail to get run support.>>

    It does seem more common the other way.  Case in point, the Phillies last year, with Hamels, Halladay, and Oswalt.  Kendrick, on the other hand, more often than not got good support, or at least seemed to.  But 2 examples of guys that got more support than the others on their clubs were Jim Merritt of the Reds, around 1971, and Roger Pavlick of the 1995ish Texas Rangers.  Merritt won 20 with an ERA of around 4.08, and Pavlik, in the first half of the year he won 11, and made the all star team somehow sported an ERA that was eithetr around, or exceeded 5.  A 4.08 ERA in the early 70s would equate to at least 4.75 now, niot what you’d expect as an attachment to a 20 game win card.

  12. Ken Bland says:

    Some lowlights from the 72 Phils squad….

    The 4 man rotation included…

    Ken Reynolds     2-15
    Billy Champion   4-14
    Woody Fryman  4-10 

    Chris Short was on that club.  Relieved 19 times, didn’t start at all.  He was 34 yearsm old.  I’d have thought he’d have been gone by then.

    If you look over that roster, it’s not like the 62 Mets as an example, which offered some talent from different years, there actually were a decent amount of guys who were a minimum of pretty decent players at one time or another.  Even the pitching staff was like that.

    Pope replaced Lucchesi as manager intra season.  The next time he did that was when he replaced Pat Coralles (sic for sure) after a 42-40 start, which was good for first place.  Pretty sure that was the 83 club. 

  13. grahamcstrouse says:

    I don’t know how much this factors into the equation & I haven’t looked into Lefty’s hitting stats for some time but one of the many advantages of having Carlton pitching was the fact that he could also hit the ball too. In any given mach-up Lefty was assuredly better as a hitter then the vast majority of opposing pitchers he’d face. He wasn’t in Don Newcombe’s league, or Rick Ankiel’s, but Lefty was a very good hitter as a pitcher. Fun fact: Back in the early 80s (’82 I think–I’m not sure), my parents & I went to a Phillies game at the Vet with my Mom’s British friends. They were trying to explain the nuances of American baseball to our British friends & they were just bringing up the subject of how pitchers in American baseball weren’t supposed to be able to hit the ball when Lefty came up with the bases loaded–Carlton, obviously keened in to the irony of the situation hit a long grand-slam. 

    I can’t argue with your choice for #1 season ever, I confess. I’d be inclined to put Schmidt at #2, though, rather then Alexander, although I can see the argument the other way.

    I think part of the problem is that Schmidt’s “counting stats” from ’80-’81 don’t look nearly as impressive by today’s standards as Carlton’s “counting stats”. And honestly, Lefty’s ’72 numbers are outrageous by any comparison. Throwing 346.1 innings, winning 27 games on a 59 win club, throwing 30 complete games & winning the triple crown with a WHIP under 1.00–that’s just insane in ANY era. I’ll take Lefty’s ’72 over Pedro’s ’99 any day of the week. Pedro was THE MAN…for seven innings. But he couldn’t close games out, pitch on short notice or (as is the case with the only lefty I’d take over Lefty all-time) Randy Johnson, be able to come in & provide emergency shutdown relief. Carlton’s ’72 campaign was a season for the ages. And this really is a pretty damn good list. Good show, sir!   

  14. grahamcstrouse says:

    Also, an interesting sidenot; Lefty was the last MLB pitcher to throw 300 innings in a season (304.2 in 1980). 

  15. mark steirer says:

    About the run support, keep in mind that the presence of Carlton in the lineup made the Phils a better offensive team.  In 1972, at the age of 6, in my first year as a real baseball fan, I saw him pitch in Dodger Stadium.  For 40 years I recalled hom throwing a one-hitter and knocking in the game’s only run with a triple.  It recently occurred to me to chexk the boxscore online, and it turns out I was right about everything … except it was a two-run triple.

    I just looked it up — his batting average was .197 that year to match his revised 1.97 ERA.  What perfect symmetry!