History

Race to the Bottom: #2 1928 Phillies

Klein had a great start to his Hall of Fame career in 1928 but it barely made a dent.

Klein had a great start to his Hall of Fame career in 1928 but it barely made a dent in the team’s fortunes. Photo: Baseball Hall of Fame

This is the fourth entry in the countdown of the five worst teams in Phillies history. For the introduction and criteria used for this series, please check out the first entry here.

Team: 1928 Phillies

Record: 43-109 (T-4th least wins in any season, T-2nd least wins in seasons with 140 games played or more)

Winning Percentage: 30.1% (4th worst winning percentage in any season, 3rd worst winning percentage in seasons with 140 games played or more)

Run Differential: Minus 297

Burt Shotton managed the Brooklyn Dodgers to 326-215 record across parts of four seasons, good for a 60.3% winning percentage and two pennants. Shotton’s big moment came just three games into the 1947 season: Shotton was appointed manager, taking over for Clyde Sukoforth who was the interim replacement for Hall of Famer Leo Durocher, and successfully navigated the Dodgers to the pennant following the addition of Jackie Robinson and the outpouring of racism that followed Robinson and the team.

But it wasn’t always so easy for Shotton. Shotton’s first managerial gig came in 1928 with the Philadelphia Phillies, beginning a six-year run as the team’s skipper. Shotton’s Phils squads went 370-549, good for a 40.26% winning percentage. It all started with one of the worst Phillies’ teams of all time, the 1928 edition.

The offense wasn’t horrible. While their are reasons that work in their favor, their 660 runs scored was 12th out of 16 in the Majors and sixth out of eight in the National League. Catchers Walt Lerian (.272/.385/.381)  and Spud Davis (.282/.343/.350) played well in split time behind the plate while Don Hurst had a pretty excellent rookie year as a 22-year old first baseman (.285/.391/.508 with 19 HR) and a 23-year old named Chuck Klein would begin his Hall of Fame career (.360/.396/.577, 11 HR in 275 PA). They would even get solid contributions from 40-year old outfielder Cy Williams (.256/.400/.445, 12 HR in 303 PA) and 26-year old second baseman Fresco Thompson (.287/.333/.390, 3 HR, 19 SB).

These Phillies likely could have been much worse had they played anywhere but the Baker Bowl. Hurst, Klein, and Williams, all lefties, no doubt saw a power increase at home, where the right field porch was less than 300 feet from plate. This is evident in their wRC+, a ballpark neutral measurement of runs created. Their rank their? 15th with a 79.

While the short fence was a boon for the hitters, it was a nightmare for the pitchers. The Phillies easily had the worst ERA in baseball (5.50) as well as the worst FIP (4.88) while also being the least lucky team in baseball (.311 BABIP) in ’28. Not surprisingly, they led baseball in homers allowed and HR/9 IP, while also leading the league in hits and walks against. Ray Benge led the team in wins (8), losses (18), innings pitched, and complete games (12), appearing in 40 games, 28 of which were starts.

The pitching squad, aside from Benge was nearly in complete disarray. It featured Russ Miller (0-12, 5.42 ERA, 12 starts, 13 games finished, 33 appearances), Les Sweetland (3-15, 6.58 ERA, 18 starts, 10 games finished, 37 appearances), and Jimmy Ring (4-17, 6.44 ERA, 25 starts, 35 appearances), a man who won 18 games for the Phillies in 1923. Seven players made 11 starts or more while ten made five starts or more and poor Marty Walker ended the year with just one game started and an infinite ERA.

Of the players on this team, Klein, of course, would slug his way to Cooperstown and Hurst would garner some MVP votes while the others were less than remarkable. Their manager, Shotton, would win two pennants with the Dodgers and is believed to be the last manager in baseball to wear street or dress clothing to manage from the dugout (he and Connie Mack both managed a game on September 1, 1950. Shotton’s game ended later.).

Similarity to the 1928 Phillies: Medium. The closest similarities fall in the patchwork pitching staffs, having one, young offensive standout (if Maikel Franco has half the career Klein did, we’re in for a real treat), the second basemen Thompson and Hernandez are pretty similar offensively, and an aging slugger seeing semi-regular playing time (the comparison here being Williams to Howard). That being said, the comparison falls apart at the rest of the offense, having a bonafide number one, and the bullpen. This year’s Phillies’ team lacks the firepower the ’28 squad had but also has a legitimate number one, for now, in Cole Hamels, and a reasonably-solid bullpen.

 

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