As we head towards the 139th season in Phillies franchise history, a question from a commenter prompted some searches into baseball-reference.com for the biggest performers in Phils’ Opening Day games.
We’ll look at career leaders in Opening Day stats, as well as some of the biggest single game performances, covering pitchers today, and hitters tomorrow.
Stats are since 1901, when baseball-reference begins tracking game-level details.
Over those past 120 years, 63 different pitchers have taken the mound for the Phillies on Opening Day.
- 44 of them only had one OD start, from Cy “not Joe” Blanton in 1941, to Jim Kaat (1976), Bruce Ruffin (1990), and Cliff Lee (2014).
- 8 pitchers started two Opening Day games, guys like Art Mahaffey (1962-63), Cole Hamels (2013, 2015), and even Jeremy Hellickson (2016-17). Clearly it’s easier to be named the Opening Day starter when your rotation mates are Jerad Eickhoff and Clay Buchholtz (and a young Aaron Nola), than when they’re Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee.
- 11 started three or more openers, and those 11 pitchers account for 60 games, or exactly half, with the other 60 started by the 52 pitchers with one or two.
As John Stolnis wrote last week, Nola has been named the Opening Day starter for Thursday. It will be his fourth OD start, making him only the sixth pitcher in Phils franchise history with that many, and the first to start four straight since Steve Carlton (10 straight in 1977-86).
After Thursday this will be the list of starters with the most Phillies OD starts by their 28th birthday:
- 5 by Robin Roberts
- 4 by Aaron Nola
- 2 by Brett Myers, Art Mahaffey, Pete Alexander, George McQuillan
Each stat is ranked further down the page, but here are top line numbers for Phillies pitchers with at least two Opening Day starts:
Hall of Famers Carlton and Roberts dominate the Phillies’ counting stats for Opening Day, though both had losing records in openers, and ERAs north of 4.20.
Chris Short maintained a stellar 1.54 ERA over six Opening Day starts in the late 1960s and early ‘70s. Game Score is an imperfect tool since it’s not adjusted for the player’s era, but it’s a quick-and-dirty indicator of a start’s quality, and Short has the two highest Game Scores in Phillies Opening Day history. Both were 4-hit shutouts, one with 11 Ks and 3 walks in 1965, and the other with 10 Ks and no walks in 1968.
The third and fourth highest Game Scores are Curt Schilling’s starts in 1997-98 which both scored 86’s: both went 8 innings, with only 2 hits allowed in each, and with 11 and 9 strikeouts.
Below are all Opening Day Game Scores for selected starters, ranked from best to worst for each pitcher (graphical view on the right):
The ERA ranking below is for the 19 pitchers with two or more starts, and Short’s 1.54 is the third lowest, behind two recent ones:
- Roy Halladay started three openers for the Phils in 2010-12, and gave up 1, 1, and 0 runs, in a combined 21 innings, for a 0.86 ERA.
- Jeremy Hellickson only pitched a combined 11 innings in 2016-17. He gave up two runs, but only one was earned, giving him a 0.82 ERA.
As with ERA, the WHIP rankings are for the 19 starters with 2 or more games. Halladay and Hellickson are also at the top there, along with Schilling:
Carlton is way out in front in career K’s on Opening Day, but the most strikeouts in a single opener are 11, in two games mentioned above: by Chris Short in 1965, and Curt Schilling in 1997. Carlton’s high was 9, in 1983.
Complete Games and Shutouts
There have been 44 total complete games by Phillies pitchers on Opening Day, nine of which were shutouts.
However there has only been one complete game by a Phil in the last 40 years, by Terry Mulholland in 1993. The one prior to that was in 1980 by Carlton.
In addition to the two gems mentioned above, Chris Short also had a third OD shutout (a five hitter) in 1970 — he’s the only Phils starter with more than one.
Over the last 70 years, Phillies starters have pitched three shutouts on Opening Day — every one of them by Chris Short.
Other notable games
Two starts have gone past 9 innings: In 1966 Chris Short threw 92⁄3 in a game that ended in the 12th, but the most innings by far in an opener were 12 by Robin Roberts in 1957 in a complete game loss. Tracking of pitch counts is sporadic from that period, but Roberts is recorded as having thrown 190 pitches in this game. The next highest count that we have a record of on Opening Day was 139 the year before (also by Roberts). We do have fairly complete records of the number of batters faced, and in that 190-pitch game he did also face more batters than any other Phils OD starter (51, or five more than the second highest total).
Then there was the 1907 opener. Frank Corridon threw the only one-hitter by a Phils starter on Opening Day, against the Giants at New York’s Polo Grounds: an 8-inning complete game shutout, albeit with 8 walks. Why did it end after only 8 innings? Because it’s also the only Opening Day forfeit in major league history:
Then in the ninth inning the fans began to throw snowballs at each other. The commotion distracted from the game. Security was called in to handle the situation but could not. The snowball fight spread as fans rushed the field. There was nothing that Klem could do so he ordered the game forfeited with Philadelphia’s 3-0 lead the final score.
That covers many of the best starts on Opening Day — now for some of the worst:
- Elmer Jacobs (1919): 9 innings, 15 hits, 10 runs (6 earned)
— both the hits and runs are the most ever by a Phils Opening Day starter
- Jon Lieber (2006): 4 1⁄3 innings, 9 his, 8 runs
- Cliff Lee (2014): 5 innings, 11 hits, 8 runs
- Cole Hamels (2015): 5 innings, 5 hits, 4 runs, but 4 of the hits were homers, making Hamels the only Phils pitcher to allow 4 home runs in an opener
Also, in 1981, in a messy if effective start, Steve Carlton allowed just one run in 7 innings. But he also gave up 9 hits, walked four, and threw three (!) wild pitches (the only Phillie with more than one on Opening Day).
A total of 135 different Phillies have pitched in relief on Opening Day, but there have only been seven saves in Phillies Opening Day history, and no reliever has more than one:
Ray Culp, 1966
Joe Hoerner, 1972
Ricky Bottalico, 1997
Jeff Brantley, 1999
Jose Mesa, 2003
Jonathan Papelbon, 2012
Jeanmar Gomez, 2017
Seven is by far the lowest number of saves among the original 16 franchises. The other 15 teams range from 14 by the Braves (across their three home cities), to 28 by the White Sox. Most of the 14 expansion teams also have more OD saves. The only ones with fewer than seven are the Rockies (4), Marlins (4), and Rays (2).
The high of 82⁄3 innings all came in one game. On April 18, 1901, Phillies starter Jack Dunn only got one out, while giving up 5 runs, before he was pulled. Bill Duggleby, in his first game in the majors since he had a cup of coffee three years earlier, finished out the game, giving up 7 more runs on 13 hits. Duggleby’s SABR bio is worth a read — one bit of trivia there: in 1898 he had become the first player to ever hit a grand slam in his first major league at bat.
120 years later, the 13 hits is still the most given up by any Phillies reliever in all of his opening day appearances combined. The 7 runs have been tied, but not surpassed. And his six strikeouts weren’t tied until 82 years later, and Ron Reed needed four appearances to do it.
Hector Neris is one of only three pitchers to allow multiple Opening Day homers, along with Ryan Madson, and Art Decatur of the 1920s. Decatur’s claim to fame though is he’s the only Phils reliever to allow two in a single Opening Day game.
The most perfect innings in relief were thrown by Wayne LaMaster, all in 1937, in one of the Phils’ best OD performances. He came into a 1-1 game in the bottom of the ninth, with two on and one out, and got out of that jam and pitched two more clean innings to get the win.
Also worth noting, last year Ramon Rosso became the first Phils reliever in 111 years to throw two wild pitches on Opening Day.
With a bullpen that should be significantly improved, let’s hope they make one of these lists in a positive way.
Coming tomorrow: Phillies Opening Day Stat Leaders: Hitters
Who has been the best Opening Day pitcher in Phillies history?
This poll is closed
Other (specify in the comments)