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Something Resembling Hope for the 2015 Phillies

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After trading away a number of their productive players, the Braves have gotten significantly worse since the end of last season. Might the Phillies be better than them, i.e., the Braves, in 2015?

Dom Brown sees hope. Do you?
Dom Brown sees hope. Do you?
Denis Poroy/Getty Images

On Wednesday, the Braves traded Evan Gattis to the Astros in exchange for three prospects, only one of whom, Mike Foltynewicz, profiles to contribute to the major league efforts of the Braves organization in 2015. This is the latest in a series of Braves moves this offseason in which they traded away established veteran players for prospects or less established players.

First, they traded Jason Heyward, a defensive wizard and under-appreciated player, and reliever Jordan Walden to the Cardinals for Shelby Miller, a young but essentially average starter, and Tyrell Jenkins, a prospect yet to pitch above High-A. They continued to break up their outfield in December when they traded Justin Upton to the Padres for four prospects, good prospects, but not ones that are likely to figure prominently in Cobb County next year.

Now, they traded another starter from the 2014 club for prospects unlikely to help the Braves win many games in 2015. I was in Houston for Mike Foltynewicz's debut, in which he pitched a clean inning of relief and flashed a fastball that touched 100 MPH. He was exciting to watch, but scouts are unsure whether he has enough control over his pitches to start. He's talented, but it will take some more time before he will be na impact major league pitcher.

Earlier in the offseason, however, the Braves signed outfielder Nick Markakis, throwing a hitch in the narrative of trading established players for prospects.  Markakis is an underrated player, particularly regarding his defensive abilities, but he's 31 and recently underwent surgery on his neck. The Braves insist they aren't worried about the neck, but neck surgery certainly doesn't inspire confidence.

All this is a long way of setting up the following claim I'd like to explore: the Phillies could very likely win more games than the Braves in 2015.

I haven't devised a projection system for this, so we'll have to resort to a step-by-step comparison of the Phillies and Braves 2015 rosters, as of today. The way both teams' offseasons are going, it seems more likely than not that theses rosters will not be the same come April. Regardless, I'm sensing a bit of hope for the Phillies, albeit the pathetic hope that they'll manage to not finish last, so I'm going to seize it and not let practical concerns, such as future moves, stand in the way of this ray.

So let's compare the Phillies and Braves depth charts in 5 steps--starting rotation, infield, outfield, bullpen, bench. I've included Fangraph's 2015 Steamer600 projections for WAR (RA9-WAR for pitchers) next to each player and pulled the players from the depth charts available on the team websites with the exception of removing Gattis from the Braves.

Starting Pitchers (2015 Steamer600 Projections)

Phillies

Braves

Cole Hamels (2.7)

Julio Teheran (1.9)

Cliff Lee (2.5)

Shelby Miller (0.9)

Aaron Harang (-0.3)

Alex Wood (2.2)

David Buchanan (-0.5)

Mike Minor (1.1)

Jerome Williams (-0.2)

David Hale (-0.8)

The Phillies clearly have the best pitcher between the two staff and maybe the second best as well, depending on how optimistic you are about Cliff Lee's ability to bounce back from elbow troubles. The Braves have more depth, which is absolutely necessary, as every team typically relies on at least six starters making significant starts throughout the season. At the end of the day neither rotation jumps out over the other.

VERDICT: PUSH

Infield


Phillies

Braves

Catcher

Carlos Ruiz (2.7)

Christian Bethancourt (0.8)

First Base

Ryan Howard (-0.9)

Freddie Freeman (3.8)

Second Base

Chase Utley (3.1)

Alberto Callaspo (0.9)

Third Base

Cody Asche (1.7)

Chris Johnson (0.2)

Shortstop

Freddy Galvis (0.3)

Andrelton Simmons (4.1)

Both infields have the same structure--two good players surrounded by below-average regulars. The Phillies look a lot better if Franco replaces Howard at first, as the former is projected to produce 1.3 wins. Similarly, the Braves have newly acquired Jace Peterson, who is not as well-regarded by Steamer, but could supplant Callaspo or Johnson at  some point.

Neither infield appears to have the stuff of greatness, but the Braves are younger in addition to being a little better, which is why I would prefer them over the course of next season.

VERDICT: BRAVES

Outfield


Phillies

Braves

Left Field

Dom Brown (0.3)

Zoilo Almonte (-0.3)

Center Field

Ben Revere (0.9)

B.J. Upton (0.6)

Right Field

Grady Sizemore (-0.1)

Nick Markakis (1.0)

Yikes! Steamer doesn't like any of these players. The saddest part is that this seems about right, at least for the Phillies. As for the Braves, the dreams of a great Upton, Upton, Heyward outfield look comical now, as their stuck with an outfield that Steamer holds in lower regard than that of the Phillies. Based on the Steamer projections, the Phillies get a slight edge, plus Dom Brown has the biggest breakout potential of any of these six players.

VERDICT: PHILLIES

For the following areas of focus, I'm going to ditch the Steamer600 WAR projections, so as not to mislead about the impact of these players. Instead, I will offer the Steamer ERA projection for pitchers and wOBA for hitters.

Bullpen

Phillies

Braves

Jonathan Papelbon (3.43)

Craig Kimbrel (1.91)

Jake Diekman (3.05)

Jim Johnson (3.51)

Mario Hollands (3.75)

Shae Simmons (3.23)

Justin DeFratus (3.88)

James Russell (3.80)

Ken Giles (2.81)

Mike Foltynewicz (4.12)

Cesar Jimenez (4.08)

Luis Avilan (3.87)

Luis Garcia (3.75)

Arodys Vizcaino (3.54)

Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez (4.22)

Jason Grilli (2.67)

These are two of the better bullpens in baseball. I hate myself for picking against the young, upsidy Phillies bullpen and the likes of Ken Giles, Jake Diekman, and, well, mostly Ken Giles, really, but I'm going to. Kimbrel is arguably the best reliever in baseball, and, aside from trading Jordan Walden, the Braves have seemingly made a point of adding quality pieces to their bullpen. This is another close call, but, unlike the other close calls, I don't feel like I'm picking between the apple with a giant bruise and the one with 3 small bruises.

VERDICT: BRAVES

Bench

Phillies

Braves

Cameron Rupp (.260)

A.J. Pierzynski (.282)

Cesar Hernandez (.281)

Phil Gosselin (.276)

Darin Ruf (.310)

Joey Terdoslavich (.303)

Odubel Herrera (.267)

Todd Cunningham (.281)

Jeff Francoeur (.267)

Jose Constanza (.276)

I've left out notable prospects from each team, Maikel Franco for the Phillies and Jace Peterson for the Braves, as they are both likely to start the season in the minors. As most benches go, there are a lot of players here with whom I am not intimately familiar. Both  because the bench is so small a part of a team's success and because I don't know much about these Braves guys, I'm going to wipe my hands of this and pick the Braves solely because they have a guy named Terdoslavich.

VERDICT: TERDOSLAVICH

Overall

These teams are not very good. This is a fact and a fortunate one for the Phillies, as it offers an opportunity to hope, if we can rightly call it that, for something better than a last place finish. The Braves were better than the Phillies in 2014, but not by much (6 wins to be exact), and they have taken more steps toward getting worse in 2015 than the Phillies have thus far. At this point, I'd say they're pretty even and will be fighting the glorious battle to reach 70 wins. Both should have prospects advancing to the majors mid-to-late season that might add some wins, so I'm not comfortable calling this race based on that factor.

As much as it pains me to say it, I think the Braves, as currently constructed, are slightly better off than the Phillies for 2015. What does not pain me, however, is the fact that there is a faint glimpse of hope for the Phillies in 2015. No, that hope does not involve winning more games than they lose, nor does it involve tangible steps toward contention. What it does involve, though, is something more than what they achieved in 2014: a non-last place finish in the NL East.

If the Phillies manage to trade Cole Hamels in the remaining weeks of the offseason, this hope disappears, so let's savor it while we can.

What do you think? Will the 2015 Phillies be better than the 2015 Braves?