Each week, Phillies Nation Editorial Director Tim Kelly will answer reader questions as part of the Phillies Nation Mailbag. Questions can be submitted by tweeting at @PhilliesNation, @TimKellySports or e-mailing your question to TSK@TimKellyMedia.com.
This probably is a vague question, but that should make it fun. In the last 15 years, since the Phillies moved into Citizens Bank Park, who is the most underrated Phillie? – Jeff in the Northeast
Friday night – minutes before we learned that Phillies managing partner John Middleton had flown to Las Vegas to meet with Bryce Harper’s camp – I tossed this question out on Twitter, because while I had one name that immediately came to my mind, I always appreciate the responses from the peanut gallery.
The name that came to my mind first was Ryan Madson. If you excuse the failed attempt to convert Madson into a starting pitcher in 2005, the Phillies got excellent production from the 6’6 right-hander across parts of eight seasons. His most notable work came in 2008, when, as part of the “bridge to Brad Lidge,” Madson posted a 3.05 ERA, 3.33 FIP and 1.3 fWAR across 76 games. In 11 postseason appearances in the Phillies World Series run that same season, Madson posted a 0.87 WHIP. Though he wasn’t able to seize the closer’s role when Lidge faltered in 2009, Madson closed 32 games with a 2.25 FIP in 2011, the most successful regular season in franchise history.
Frankly, Madson has had a remarkable career arc. After successfully becoming a closer in 2011, Madson priced his way out of Philadelphia, with the club deciding it would rather spend major money on Jonathan Papelbon than Madson, who signed a one-year/$8.5 million deal with the Cincinnati Reds. Madson never pitched for the Reds, as he was forced to have Tommy John Surgery during Spring Training. A year later, he never appeared in a game for the Los Angeles Angels.
Madson didn’t pitch from 2012-2014, with injuries appearing to have ended his career. However, the Kansas City Royals signed him to a minor league deal ahead of the 2015 season and he made the club. The story of how Madson found his way back to baseball is well worth a read. Madson would post a 2.13 ERA in 68 regular season games for the Royals in 2015, helping the club to win a World Series title that October. He’s since pitched for the Oakland Athletics, Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported earlier this month that Madson, now 38, may decide not to pitch in 2019. But ESPN‘s Jeff Passan reported in late January that Madson was “generating a lot of interest,” so if he decides, he’ll play in 2019. He’s had a career worth a documentary, and was a very underrated Phillie.
Another very underrated Phillie that many passed my way on Twitter was Placido Polanco. In a way, Polanco was always an afterthought. He was the key piece that came back when the Phillies traded Scott Rolen to the St. Louis Cardinals in July of 2002. Nearly three years later, Polanco was traded to the Detroit Tigers to open second base on a full-time basis for franchise icon Chase Utley. But Polanco was worth 10.4 fWAR in his first stint in Philadelphia. Half a decade later, when Polanco was more comfortable with the idea of playing third base, he returned to Philadelphia on a three-year/$18 million deal. Polanco would win a Gold Glove Award at third base in 2011, while joining four of his Phillies teammates at the All-Star Game. Granted, Polanco wasn’t a full-time third baseman for large chunks of his career, but among qualified third baseman, his .9834 fielding percentage at third base is the best in baseball history. He also finished his career with a minuscule 6.8 percent strikeout percentage.
Polanco’s second stint in Philadelphia came after Pedro Feliz spent two years manning the hot corner. While Feliz, rather curiously, never hit for as much power with the Phillies as he did with the San Francisco Giants, he proved to be a crucial addition by Hall of Fame general manager Pat Gillick ahead of the 2008 season. Not only did Feliz have one of the strongest throwing arms that the game has ever seen, but his presence at third allowed Greg Dobbs to slide into a utility role, with Dobbs hitting .329 in 76 pinch-hit at-bats in 2008. Feliz eventually knocked in the winning run of the 2008 World Series as well.
The final of a group of potentially overlooked names is Raul Ibanez, who spent three seasons with the Phillies. In his age-37 season, Ibanez made his first All-Star team in 2009, his first season with the Phillies. Ibanez became an immediate fan-favorite as Pat Burrell’s successor, as he hit .309 with 22 home runs and 60 RBIs in the first-half of the 2009 campaign, a season in which the Phillies would ultimately win a second consecutive National League pennant. In a Phillies Nation Mailbag late last year, I predicted that Ibanez, now 46, could be the next person with Phillies connections to be a major league manager.
Then there was a second group of submissions: players that made All-Star teams with the Phillies but still perhaps weren’t as appreciated as they should have been.
One of the things that strikes you if you go back and watch Game 1 of the 2008 World Series is that Jayson Werth actually hit second in Charlie Manuel’s lineup. In four seasons with the Phillies, Werth hit 95 home runs and the Phillies won the National League East title every season. In an organization that has employed Mike Schmidt, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, it’s Werth that is the franchise’s all-time leader in postseason home runs. His time with the Washington Nationals perhaps clouded the perspective of some Phillies fans, but the standing ovation he received last summer when the organization celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the 2008 World Series shows that there is a high level of appreciation for what Werth did in his time with the Phillies.
Shane Victorino hit sixth in Game 1 of the 2008 World Series, a sign of how deep the Phillies lineup was during that era. Victorino made two All-Star teams with the Phillies and won three of his four Gold Glove Awards in Philadelphia. He and Carlos Ruiz, another name floated in my direction in response to this question, may have been overlooked at times, but they are two of the most popular players in franchise history, won World Series titles and will end up on the Wall of Fame. From here, they are pretty fairly appreciated. Though it took some time, the same goes for Bobby Abreu, who appears to be the overwhelming favorite to be elected to the Phillies Wall of Fame in 2019.
Of note is that Ruiz is the only of these underrated options that has played for the Phillies in the last five years. Polanco is the only of those mentioned that didn’t play in a World Series with the Phillies. This list speaks to the remarkable first decade of the 21st century that the Phillies had. It also speaks to how the second decade, save for 2011, has been lackluster thus far.
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