February 22, 2013; Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves right fielder Jason Heyward (22) at bat in the first inning against the Detroit Tigers during spring training at Disney Wide World of Sports complex, Champion Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Jayson Werth and Jon Morosi Say Phillies Are Better Than Atlanta; Are They?


The Phils need a healthy Ryan Howard if they want to be better than Atlanta in 2013. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The general consensus around baseball is that the Phillies are, at best, the third-best team in the National League East.

That assumption is understandable. The Phillies are aged, not so much like a fine wine, but more like an open loaf of bread. Some hair has started to grow on the stars of this franchise, and no one is really sure how much guys like Roy Halladay, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard have left in the tank.

There are also past injuries to be worried about, a thin outfield, and questions with young players.

Meanwhile, the Nationals sure look like the deepest team in the National League on paper and the Braves added two young, talented outfielders to the mix in B.J. and Justin Upton this off-season.

Which is why it was surprising when Fox Sports’ Jon Morosi made this claim yesterday.

 

 

 

Obviously, the Phillies front office HAD to be thrilled by this news.

 

In his column, Morosi noted the return of what appears to be a healthy Chase Utley as the big reason for a Phils resurgence this year. And while a healthy Utley’s value to the team cannot be understated, there is more to the two teams than just one player, no matter how mind-blowingly awesome that player is.

But Morosi’s not alone. Today, former Phil Jayson Werth said the same thing.

 

So, are the Phillies really better than the Braves? Let’s break it down.

STARTING PITCHING:

Atlanta: Tim Hudson, Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Paul Maholm, Brandon Beachy/Julio Teheran

Phillies: Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Kyle Kendrick, John Lannan/Tyler Cloyd

On paper, the Phils appear to have the clear edge here. If Halladay is healthy, and that’s a big if, the Phils’ top three starters are light years better than Atlanta’s top three.

Hudson is 37 and turns 38 in July. That’s older than any of the Phils’ starters. Medlen had a phenomenal 1.57 ERA in 12 starts last year, but can he duplicate that kind of success over a full season? And in 30 starts last year, Minor posted a 4.12 ERA in 30 starts. Hamels, Halladay and Lee trump those three, and the back-end of the rotations are about equal, although Teheran and Beachy have much higher upsides.

ADVANTAGE: PHILS

CATCHER:

Braves: Brian McCann (back-up Gerald Laird)

Phillies: Carlos Ruiz (back-up Erik Kratz)

Ruiz will miss the first 25 games of the regular season because of his Adderall suspension, and it’s fair to wonder if he’ll be a different player when he returns. And ordinarily, it would be hard to argue that Ruiz could hold a candle to McCann offensively, given that until last year, McCann had made six straight All-Star games and won five Silver Slugger awards. However, McCann is coming off an injury-plagued season in which he hit just .230/.300/.399 and saw his bWAR drop to 0.6 last year. In fact, over the last four years, McCann’s WAR of 9.4 is five wins fewer than Ruiz’ 13.4.

However, seeing as how there are question marks surrounding both players, it’s probably fair to call this one even.

ADVANTAGE: PUSH

FIRST BASE:

Braves: Freddie Freeman

Phillies: Ryan Howard

Howard’s 2012 season was a complete and total disaster. There is no other way to describe it. Meanwhile, Freeman emerged as an above average first baseman, hitting .259/.340/.456 with 23 HRs, 94 RBIs, and 33 doubles. Those numbers virtually mirrored his stats from the year before. He’s also a bit better of a defender and runner than Howard, although not by a lot. While a healthy Howard’s power ceiling is higher, Freeman is also slightly better against left-handers, hitting .245/.313/.405 over his two-plus years in the Majors. Compare that to Howard’s career numbers of .227/.305/.434. Neither guy tears it up, but Freeman is a bit more dependable against lefties.

ADVANTAGE: BRAVES

SECOND BASE:

Braves: Dan Uggla

Phillies: Chase Utley

If Chase Utley is healthy, this isn’t even a contest. However, if the Phils are forced to field a healthy dose of Freddy Galvis at second, Uggla probably comes out on top, mostly by default.

ADVANTAGE: PHILS

SHORTSTOP:

Braves: Andrelton Simmons

Phillies: Jimmy Rollins

Simmons is the Braves’ shortstop of the future and likely lead-off hitter this year, so not only is this a battle of shortstops, it’s also a battle of lead-off men. Simmons has a lot of promise and showed some great flashes in 49 games last year, hitting .289/.335/.416 while posting a 2.8 bWAR. Rollins, meanwhile, had a very up-and-down year at the plate. He was miserable for four out of six months last year, but when he’s on his game, he’s still as good as any shortstop in the game. Still, Rollins’ WAR of 2.3 was actually half a win less than Simmons’.

Unfortunately, we just don’t know enough about Simmons yet, so it’s probably most fair to call this one even.

ADVANTAGE: PUSH

THIRD BASE:

Braves: Chris Johnson

Phillies: Michael Young

I would like it on record that I think Michael Young is going to be OK this year. He’s not going to be a negative WAR player, like he was last year. I expect a season somewhere between 1-2 wins above replacement for Young, with an improved bat and some shaky-to-terrible defense at the hot corner. Johnson, meanwhile, is a league-average player, hitting .281/.326/.451 with 15 HRs and 48 extra-base hits in 528 plate appearances last year. Johnson’s defense is better than Young’s, but nothing to write home about either.

Young’s ceiling is probably a bit higher than Johnson, although neither guy is going to the All-Star Game. I’ll give the slight edge to Young, but it’s a tiny gap between the two.

ADVANTAGE: PHILS (slightly)

OUTFIELD:

Braves: Jason Heyward, B.J. Upton and Justin Upton (Jose Costanza, Jordan Schafer)

Phillies: Ben Revere, Delmon Young, Domonic Brown (Darin Ruf, John Mayberry, Jayson Nix)

This is where Atlanta really separates itself from from the Phils. Their outfield of Heyward, Upton and Upton is probably the best in the National League, and maybe in all of baseball. They are all young, possess great power, speed and defense. These three players could accumulate 15-20 WAR this year alone. Meanwhile, the Phillies don’t even know who is going to start in two of their three outfield positions, despite Ruben Amaro‘s plans to make Young the starter in left field. While he’s injured, Young is giving players like Ruf and Brown the chance to win a starting job in the outfield this spring. And while Brown is off to a good start through the team’s first four spring games, no one knows how this is all going to shake out.

This one isn’t even close.

ADVANTAGE: BRAVES (huge)

RELIEF PITCHING:

Braves: Craig Kimbrel, Eric O’Flaherty, Jonny Venters, Jordan Walden, Cristhian Martinez, Luis Avilan, Cory Gearrin

Phillies: Jonathan Papelbon, Mike Adams, Antonio Bastardo, Chad Durbin, Jeremy Horst, Phillipe Aumont, Justin De Fratus, Raul Valdes, others

The Phils have the chance to have a really good bullpen in 2013. There is a nice collection of young, hard-throwing arms in the mix here, with some capable veterans tasked at holding down the late innings. The Phils are not going to be Chad Qualls‘d this year, and should be much better in the later innings. That said, Atlanta’s collection of young arms is the best in baseball. There is no better closer in the game than Kimbrel, and O’Flaherty and Venters are two of the most brutal left-handed relievers in the game. The amount of firepower that can come out of the Atlanta ‘pen is unmatched in baseball.

That said, bullpens are the most volatile part of any baseball team from year to year. Relievers are more up-and-down than anyone else. So, pre-season bullpen rankings are often times useless. Not only that, the bullpen is most often the easiest part of a team to fix mid-season.

Regardless, Atlanta’s ‘pen gets the clear nod over the Phils’, no question about it.

ADVANTAGE: BRAVES

In looking at the roster as a whole, the Phils have a clear advantage in the starting rotation and at second base. Around the rest of the infield, the two teams are pretty even. In the outfield and bullpen, however, the Braves cream the Phils.

At this early stage of the 2013 season, Atlanta appears to be the superior team. But the loss of Chipper Jones, Michael Bourn and Martin Prado is going to hurt the Braves. And if players like Howard, Utley and Halladay are all fully healthy, you could see a much improved Phils’ offense in 2013. However, the Phils will need either Brown or Ruf to emerge as a legitimate everyday player, or they simply won’t be able to keep up with Atlanta.

It’s not ridiculous to think the Phils could finish ahead of the Braves in the NL East this year. But at the moment, Atlanta appears to be the more talented team.

Still, let’s not destroy Jon Morosi for his opinion just yet.

Instead, let’s embrace him as one of our own and let him take the Pat Burrell place of honor in the victory parade this October.

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