Are 'Big Three' the best trio in Phils' history?

Are 'Big Three' the best trio in Phils' history?

PHILADELPHIA -- They are the Big Three, and they might be the Biggest Three in Phillies history.

Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels might have the greatest pedigrees of any trio of starting pitchers on any team since the Phillies joined the National League in 1883. Halladay is a former Cy Young winner who is building a Hall of Fame resume. Oswalt is a two-time 20-game winner, perennial Cy Young contender and 2005 National League Championship Series MVP. Hamels is the 2008 World Series and NLCS MVP, and is coming into his own as one of the most dominant left-handers in the game.

The celebrated threesome will be in the spotlight starting on Monday, when the first-place Phillies face the Atlanta Braves -- who trail by three games in the NL East -- in a critical three-game set at Citizens Bank Park. Hamels is starting the series opener, and will then be followed by Halladay on Tuesday and Oswalt on Wednesday.

So, how can you compare Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels to other trios in Phillies history? It is a difficult task. But for comparison purposes, we will use Baseball Reference's Hall of Fame Monitor and Hall of Fame Standards tests.

The Hall of Fame Monitor uses a formula that "attempts to assess how likely [not how deserving] an active player is to make the Hall of Fame." A score of 100 means the player has a good possibility of enshrinement in Cooperstown.

The Hall of Fame Standards test uses similar measurements, but a score of 50 equals an average Hall of Famer.

Halladay gets a 100 and 39 in those tests, meaning he is a Hall of Fame-caliber pitcher. Oswalt (56/33) and Hamels (22/17) have lower scores, but both of them could pitch several more years and raise them substantially.

But even without comparing the numbers to other pitchers in Phillies history, some think Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels are the best because of their accomplishments and because they are pitching at peak levels.

"There are years when you've had three pitchers with good records," said Rich Westcott, a baseball historian who has written numerous books about the Phillies. "But maybe in some cases the third pitcher wasn't a star pitcher. Many times the Phillies have had two good ones, but some years they'd have a third guy come along with a good record. But he wasn't a long-term star pitcher.

"Based on their overall abilities, this one [Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels] is a pretty good trio."

Ruben Amaro Sr. has seen some of the best pitchers in Phillies history. He played for the 1964 Phillies, and served as a coach on the '80 World Series championship team. He maintains strong ties to the organization with his son, Ruben Amaro Jr., serving as general manager.

"I think this is the best," Amaro Sr. said.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum could not offer MLB.com an answer, but its research department suggested looking at the pitchers that surrounded Grover Cleveland Alexander, Robin Roberts, Jim Bunning and Steve Carlton -- four Hall of Fame pitchers who spent time with the Phillies.

Here's a look:

Alexander
Alexander (257/77) pitched for the Phillies from 1911-17 and 1930. He won 373 games in his career, ranking third in baseball history. His 2.18 ERA is the best for any Phillies pitcher with 1,000 or more innings. He leads the franchise with 61 shutouts. He also won 30 or more games from 1915-17, before the Phillies traded him to the Chicago Cubs.

His era is difficult to compare to today's era because pitchers pitched more, which meant more pitchers won 20 games. He also pitched in the Dead Ball Era, which meant ERAs were much lower. But other than Hall of Fame right-hander Eppa Rixey (75/35), who had most of his best years after he left the Phillies, Alexander did not pitch with many high-quality starters.

Erskine Mayer (23/20) won 20-plus games in 1914 and '15, but was out of baseball after '19.

"Again, the third guy in his rotations was a short-term guy that maybe had a good season," Westcott said. "You also could look in the early 1900s, but you had four-man pitching staffs and everybody was winning 20 games. There were a couple seasons like that. But in my mind, that's not really comparable to today. The game was altogether different. You had guys pitching every third day or so. You didn't have five-man rotations. You didn't have relief pitchers, either."

They also weren't as accomplished as Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels.

Roberts
Roberts (128/47) pitched for the Phillies from 1948-61. He won 199 games in the 1950s, more than any pitcher except Warren Spahn, who had 202. Roberts won 20 or more games from 1950-55. He led the league in strikeouts (1,516), complete games (237) and innings pitched (3,012) in the '50s.

Roberts helped the Whiz Kids win the 1950 NL pennant. Roberts and Curt Simmons (37/24) anchored that rotation, but they were the only accomplished pitchers in that group.

Harvey Haddix (30/20) pitched for the Phillies from 1956-57, but he had his best seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals before he arrived in Philadelphia. Roberts and Simmons pitched with Jack Sanford (37/18) in 1957, when he won NL Rookie of the Year honors. That team finished 77-77 and fifth in the league.

Other pitchers in Roberts' rotations included names like Russ Meyer (10/8), Bob Miller (2/4), Bubba Church (2/3) and Murry Dickson (27/16), who led the NL in losses from 1952-54.

Bunning
Bunning (98/42) pitched for the Phillies from 1964-67 and 1970-71. He ranked third in baseball in wins (74) in his first four seasons with the Phillies. He also led the big leagues in strikeouts (992) and shutouts (23) and ranked fourth in ERA (2.48).

Bunning and Chris Short (31/15) anchored the 1964 team, which infamously blew a 6 1/2-game lead with 12 games to play to lose the NL pennant. Dennis Bennett (0/7), Art Mahaffey (13/6) and Ray Culp (16/17) also started that season.

Short won 135 games in his career, including a 20-win season in 1966. But there was not a No. 3 to compare to Hamels. Culp had some good seasons, but only when he joined the Boston Red Sox later in his career.

"We had Mahaffey and Ray Culp," Amaro Sr. said. "But they did not have the same pedigrees as these guys."

Bunning and Short also pitched with former All-Star Larry Jackson (46/26) in 1966-67, but he was at the end of his career.

Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels actually would have had some competition had the Phillies not traded Ferguson Jenkins (132/53) and two others to the Cubs to get Jackson and Bob Buhl in April 1966. The Cubs converted Jenkins from a reliever to a starter in '67, when he went 20-13 with a 2.80 ERA. It began a run of six consecutive 20-win seasons for Jenkins.

Bunning and Short also pitched with Rick Wise (35/22) in 1967, but before Wise had established himself.

"Short and Bunning were probably two of the best," Westcott said of top pitching duos in franchise history.

But again, they never had a No. 3 who could be an ace like Hamels.

Carlton
Carlton (266/58) pitched with the Phillies from 1972-86. He had an incredible 11-year stretch from 1972-82, when he won four Cy Young Awards. He led the league in wins (208), strikeouts (2,483) and complete games (176) and ranked third in ERA (2.96) in that span.

"Carlton never really had an outstanding No. 2 guy that worked with him," Westcott said.

Carlton pitched with guys like Jim Lonborg (44/18), Jim Kaat (130/44), Larry Christenson (9/10), Dick Ruthven (13/7) and John Denny (25/13). Kaat obviously had a Hall of Fame-caliber career, winning 283 games, but he was at the end of his career when he joined Carlton. Lonborg had a fine career, but Oswalt outshines him. Christenson won 19 games in 1977, but he had trouble staying healthy. Ruthven won 17 games in 1980, but it is unlikely anybody would take him over Oswalt or Hamels. Denny won the Cy Young in 1983, but Carlton and Denny had Charles Hudson (5/5) as their No. 3 that season.

"They had Ruthven, Christenson and some young pitchers to save [us]," Amaro Sr. said of the '80 world championship team. "Ruthven was a tremendous pitcher. But in our franchise, Carlton was in a class by himself. He had good help with guys like Christenson, but these guys [Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels] are on the top of the rung right now."

Are there any other possibilities?

Curt Schilling (171/46) won 16 games on the 1993 NL champion team. He is a potential future Hall of Famer.

Tommy Greene (7/13) went 16-4, Danny Jackson (34/6) went 12-11 and Terry Mulholland (14/9) went 12-9 in 1993. But while Schilling certainly matches up with Halladay, it is unlikely a general manager would take two of the other three pitchers (Greene, Jackson and Mulholland) over Oswalt and Hamels.

"It would be hard to lump those guys in with Roberts and Simmons and Short and Bunning," Westcott pointed out.

Amaro Sr. said he has seen teams with trios like the 2010 Phillies, but he thinks this is one of the best.

"Other than the Dodgers in my time -- they had [Sandy] Koufax and [Don] Drysdale and [Don] Sutton [in 1966] -- in this day, in the last 30 years in baseball, I don't think there's anybody better than those three," Amaro said of Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels.

Those talents do not guarantee a fourth consecutive National League East championship, much less a World Series championship. But that does not change the fact they look like the most gifted Phillies trio in 128 years. Alexander, Roberts, Bunning and Carlton probably would have agreed.

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.