There's no doubt that we are in a golden age of individual Phillie performances. In Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Pat Burrell, we have four of the best Phillies to ever play the game at their position. If it weren't for Steve Carlton's Hall of Fame career, most of it with the Phils, we might be able to say the same about Cole Hamels in the position of lefty starter, but that would be getting ahead of ourselves as he's only started 71 games in the majors.
And yet, with these four all-time great Phillies, we have 3 playoff games and 0 playoff wins. If that number doesn't significantly change over the course of the next few years, blame lies completely and solely at the foot of management. Not complementing these four players with enough talent to get to the playoffs and succeed is a crime against every Phillies fan.
Back to the quartet. Just how good are Howard, Utley, Rollins, and Burrell? Let's look at their stats compared to other Phillies who have played their positions. There's no doubt Howard, Utley, and Rollins are the best ever to play their positions in a Phillies uniform. Left field has been a better position historically for the Phils than first, second, or short, so Burrell falls short of the "best ever" label, but he's still in the top five. Consider the charts below the fold that make the case.
All of these charts list players who have had over 1500 plate appearances as a Phillie at the particular position. The stats in the charts are just for the games playing the given position for the Phils. Thus, even though Pat Burrell has 241 career home runs, 18 of those have come while being a designated hitter or first baseman, so he's listed as having only 223. The only entire-career stat listed is career OPS+ (labeled "OPS+ C" in the chart), because I couldn't get an OPS+ just for the player's time at the position. The charts are ranked by this career OPS+. The last column, "OPS+ PH", is the highest OPS+ the player had for a single year as a Phillie. In other words, this column shows the player's peak Phillies performance level.
|1B||TPA||R||HR||RBI||SB||AVG||OBP||SLG||OPS||OPS+ C||OPS+ PH|
As we can see from this chart, Ryan Howard has the highest career OPS+ for any Phillie first baseman. He's hit a home run every 14 plate appearances; the closest competitor is Rico Brogna at one every 31 plate appearances. The counting numbers show Howard already leading in home runs and behind only Fred Luderus and Don Hurst for RBI. Of course, so much of this comparison has to be context-specific, which is why OPS+ is useful. Howard leads in that category. And only Dolph Camilli's excellent 1937 campaign betters Howard's best year in 2006.
|2B||TPA||R||HR||RBI||SB||OBP||SLG||AVG||OPS||OPS+ C||OPS+ PH|
Chase Utley is head and shoulders above the competition here. He is joined only by Juan Samuel in having a career OPS+ above average (by definition, 100). But, Utley's career OPS+ of 128 is light years ahead of Samuel's 101. And his counting numbers are already toward the top, if not at the top, of the field. Utley is not only the best second baseman to ever play for the Phillies, but he is on target to be one of the best to ever play the game.
|SS||TPA||R||HR||RBI||SB||AVG||OBP||SLG||OPS||OPS+ C||OPS+ PH|
Jimmy Rollins is the best shortstop to play for the Phillies, although this isn't as much of a run-away as Utley and Howard at their positions. Rollins' career OBP+ is at the top, but is the same as Dave Bancroft, who played for the Phils from 1915 to 1920. But this is where peak OPS+ for the Phils comes in. Rollins has been an all-star, MVP, and had a peak OBP+ of 118 last year. Rollins' fielding is slick, if not at the same level of Larry Bowa. It's impossible to compare his fielding to Bancroft's, as he played in an era when he could make between 40 and 60 errors a year and keep his job. Rollins' longevity also plays a role here, as he's played at this comparatively high level for the second-longest amount of time among Phillies' shortstops. Bowa has the most plate appearances as a Phillies shortstop and he is a fan favorite, of course, but his hitting was so lousy that his fielding and persona can't possibly make up for it. Rollins is the Phils' best shortstop ever.
|LF||TPA||R||HR||RBI||SB||AVG||OBP||SLG||OPS||OPS+ C||OPS+ PH|
This is where we finally get some stiff competition. As good as Pat Burrell has been, and there's no doubt he's been very good, with his 120 career OPS+, 151 OPS+ this year, and 223 career home runs as a left fielder, the Phils have had some great left fielders through the years. Ed Delahanty is in the Hall of Fame, Sherry Magee probably should be, and Greg Luzinski and Del Ennis combined for 7 All-Star appearances. Burrell will never touch Delahanty and Magee, but with a few more years like this year (if he sticks with the Phils, a big if), he could rival Luzinski as the best modern-era left-fielder.
It's quite clear looking at these charts. The Phils have four positions the best, or close to the best, that they've ever been in the franchise's history. There's simply no excuse for not winning with this talent.