A short while back I did a bio on Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Sam Leever and then followed that up with a breakdown of his stats, which to me showed his strong case for the Hall of Fame. After last week when I wrote about all of the future Hall of Famers in baseball in 1906, I felt it was a good time to do the same thing for Deacon Phillippe as I did for Leever. If you use baseball-reference, which I recommend for everyone, you know that they have a similarity score for each player. It shows who in baseball history is the most similar to that particular player and in the case of Phillippe, his most similar pitcher is none other than Sam Leever. In an odd coincidence, and it truly shows just how similar they really are, the batter with the closest career numbers to Phillippe is also Leever.
Before I start into the stats, just who was Deacon Phillippe you might ask. He didn’t make it to the majors until age 27 which really cost him a chance to build on his already strong career numbers. The reason though, is that he played semi-pro ball for many years before he ever moved away from his home which was in South Dakota, not exactly a hotbed of talent or a well scouted area. He didn’t begin to play minor league ball until age 25 and no major league team gave him a look until 1899 when the Louisville Colonels took him in the rule V draft. The fact that he didn’t play in the majors until age 27 likely helped his overall winning percentage because he was already in his prime years before he threw a major league pitch but it also kept his career win total under 200, a stat that likely hurts his Hall of Fame case.
Phillippe was a great control pitcher, to put it simply, he threw a lot of strikes. No other pitcher in baseball history, who played since 1893 when the pitching distance became the current 60 feet 6 inches, has had as good of control as Deacon. Five times he led the NL in the lowest amount of walks allowed per nine innings and his career mark of 1.25 BB/9 is the lowest of any pitcher since 1894 with the next closest being another longtime Pirates pitcher, Babe Adams. He also had an amazing run from early in 1904 until May of 1906 when he went 57 straight starts without allowing a home run
Phillippe had a career ERA of 2.59 which ranks 52nd all-time now, although with just 1000 innings needed to qualify for that stat, Deacon is well over the minimum at 2607 innings. He is hurt by the fact he never led the league in any major pitching categories unless you count 1903 when he led the league in WHIP and 1910 when he led the league in winning percentage. He also had eye problems which caused him to not only struggle in 1904 but also miss a large part of the season just one year after he went 25-9. Arm problems in 1906 began to cut down his workload and in 1908 he missed almost the entire year with a should injury and broken finger. While he was still effective after that, his innings were limited to save wear on his arm
Now for the breakdown year by year, I will post his record compared to his team’s overall record as well as show how he did against the other big pitchers and teams of his day when they went head-to-head.
1899: As a rookie for the Louisville Colonels, Deacon went 21-17 3.17 with a career high 321 innings pitched. The Colonels were a losing team with a 75-77 record so they were obviously better with Phillippe on the mound. He threw a no-hitter that season on May 25th against the New York Giants. He faced off against four future HOF pitchers and went 4-1 beating Cy Young, Kid Nichols and future Pirates teammates Vic Willis and Jack Chesbro, while losing to Willis once. He faced off against Leever twice(the only time that would happen) and lost both of those matchups. Against teams that finished over .500 he went 14-12 with 26 of his 38 starts coming against these teams. Overall you would have to say this season looks better now than just the stats would indicate.
1900: His first year with the Pirates, Pittsburgh finished with a 79-60 record while Deacon went 20-13, which again means the team was better with him on the mound. He was 2nd in the NL in wins this season and 5th in ERA. He faced HOF pitchers nine times going 5-4 including three wins over Cy Young. He lost all three times he faced Joe McGinnity, lost to Nichols and beat Willis twice. Against teams over .500 he went 6-5 meaning he had 22 starts against teams under .500 but that is slightly misleading because the worst team in baseball that year finished 60-78, so it wasn’t like he was beating up on real bad teams.
1901: The Pirates won their first NL title this year, and first title in franchise history dating back to 1882 in the American Association. Phillippe went 22-12 with a 2.22 ERA. He was third in the NL in wins and second in ERA. The team went 90-49 giving them the exact same winning percentage when Deacon was on the mound as when someone else started. They also had Leever,Chesbro and Jesse Tannehill that year, guys who combined for a career record of 589-349 so Phillippe was pitching with some great hurlers in that Pirates rotation. He faced just two HOF pitchers, beating Willis and losing his first matchup against the great Christy Mathewson. In 1901 there were five teams that finished .500 or better and three very bad teams. In Deacon’s 32 starts the Pirates went a surprising 4-4 against those bad teams but that also means he had 24 starts against the other four good teams and won 18 of them, which definitely favors Deacon’s case.
1902: Likely the best Pirates team ever, they added another starter to the four mentioned above. Ed Doheny went 16-4 as the team’s fifth best starter. Deacon went 20-9 with a career low 2.05 ERA meaning the team was better with someone else on the mound for the first time despite his .690 winning percentage. He faced HOF pitchers three times, beating Willis again and splitting with Joe McGinnity. Against the .500 teams he went 9-4 so 17 of his starts were against teams under .500 although he went 4-3 against the Cubs who were only under .500 by one game, technically meaning they were a .500 team against the rest of the league.
1903: The first World Series team in Pirates history, they won their 3rd straight pennant this year despite losing both Chesbro and Tannehill. Phillippe went 25-9 2.43 this season. He finished third in the NL in wins, fourth in ERA and sixth in complete games with 31. He went 11-2 against the three teams that were under .500 which helps his winning percentage but it still favors the record against the good teams, giving him 20 starts and a 13-7 record against those teams, one of his wins was in relief. Deacon was said to always want the ball against the best pitchers but this season doesn’t prove that when comparing against HOF pitchers. He faced just two, beating McGinnity and Willis once each. Two of the better pitchers that season were Jake Weimer and Noodles Hahn, each were 20 game winners and both finished among the top in ERA. Phillippe went 3-2 against those two in 1903. The real value adder to his season was his WS performance. Due to injury and the loss of Doheny, Deacon started five of the eight games and pitched his heart out, winning three of them
1904: Deacon suffered from an eye ailment caused by an earlier illness. He made just 19 starts and was not the same pitcher as he had been his first five seasons, which were all 20 win seasons. He went 10-10 on the year and 1-4 against HOF pitchers with a loss to Willis and a 1-3 record against McGinnity. The Pirates were 87-66 so they obviously performed better without Phillippe, who at .500 posted his lowest career winning percentage. He also had a 6-2 record against the three really bad teams that year, giving him a losing record against .500 teams for the first time.
1905: The Pirates won 96 games this year and Phillippe went 20-13 with a 2.16 ERA, giving him a winning percentage slightly under the team’s mark. He went 2-4 against the HOF pitchers with an 0-3 mark against Christy Mathewson and for the first time, facing Mordecai Brown, he split two games. He also beat Willis in their only game. Against the three bad teams, St Louis, Boston and Brooklyn, who all lost at least 96 games, Deacon went 11-3 meaning he was just 9-10 against the better teams. He really did beat up on the very bad teams this season which takes a little luster off a great looking season going just by stats.
1906: The Pirates went 93-60 on the year and Phillippe went 15-10 which basically means they were the same with or without him. This was the first year the team had Vic Willis, and first full season for Lefty Leifield so along with Leever they again had a very deep pitching staff. Phillippe posted a 2.47 ERA this season but it was actually the fifth best ERA among starters on the team. Of his 24 starts this year, he went 1-1 against another HOF pitcher, getting his first win against Mathewson while also taking a loss to him. The Pirates had six games against Mordecai Brown but Phillippe missed him every time. The Giants and Cubs were the only other .500 teams that year and both were powerhouse teams. Deacon went 2-6 against them which means he went 12-3 in starts against other teams, he had one tie game and two decisions in relief
1907: The Pirates had a .591 winning percentage in 1907 and at 14-11 Phillippe had a .560 mark. He made 26 starts but also nine relief appearances so some of his decisions were in relief. In his starts the Pirates went 13-13 and he faced just two HOF pitchers, beating McGinnity and losing to Mathewson. Against .500 teams the Pirates went 5-6 in his starts. I’ll skip the 1908 seasons because he didn’t start any of the five games he pitched and only threw a total of 12 innings.
1909: The Pirates regained the NL crown after a six year layoff and they took the World Series over the Tigers. Phillippe went 8-3 2.32 in 22 games, 13 as a starter so again, I’ll use the team record in his starts. He had a great .727 winning mark but the team was 110-42 on the year for an overall .724 winning percentage. For the first time, not counting 1908 when he didn’t make a start, he did not face off against another HOF pitcher in one of his starts. He also made just two starts against .500 teams, winning both. He also pitched six scoreless relief innings in the WS leaving him with an outstanding postseason resume.
1910: Phillippe was mostly pitching in relief this season, he started just eight games but finished the year with a 14-2 record and an NL leading .875 winning percentage. In his starts the Pirates went 7-1 so he still pitched well when called upon to start but he did not face any HOF pitchers again and just three of his starts, including the one loss, was against .500 teams. Deacon pitched three games in relief in 1911 for the Pirates which was the end of his career.
So what we have over a 13 year career is a pitcher who won 20 or more games in six seasons and who posted a career .634 winning percentage but for the most part, he was on teams that won 90 games a year, so do those numbers really stand out? He went 19-17 in starts against future Hall of Fame pitchers, a good way to see how he matched up against the best of his day. Leever went 24-13 against those pitchers in his 299 career starts. With 289 career starts for Phillippe, it means they basically faced HOF pitchers at the same rate. With 194 wins for Leever it is basically a wash as Phillippe won 189 games in 10 less starts, but also in those less starts he lost 9 more games than Leever playing for basically the same teams during their whole career.
Against .500 teams Phillippe went 83-65 in his starts for a .560 winning percentage, well below his percentage in starts against the bad teams each year but he does get credit for making more than half of his career starts against the better teams, a fact that stands out because the Pirates were winning every year so there were less .500 teams for him to face. Leever made three less career starts against .500 teams but also had a .590 winning percentage against them. When you break down the stats you can see why these guys were so similar in their careers. Another amazing similarity between the two is they finished with the same career .956 fielding percentage.
I would give Leever the edge in regular season play, better winning percentage, lower ERA but when you add in the fact Leever lost his only two postseason appearances while Phillippe started five games one series and pitched great in the other, a series that Leever wasn’t used in, you might just have to call these guys even and say if one goes into the Hall of Fame, the other should too. It would definitely be a fitting honor for the two who were teammates for 11 years.