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Have the Phillies caught the Braves and Mets in the NL East?

How much has Atlanta and New York actually improved so far this off-season?

Philadelphia Phillies Introduce Trea Turner Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

There is an arms race ongoing in the National League East.

And a legs race. And a bats race.

The Phillies, Braves and Mets are engaging in a “can you top this” pattern of player acquisition this winter, swinging big trades and piling up hefty payrolls in an attempt to gain a foothold over one another in the NL East.

It’s clear Atlanta and New York are both still reeling from early postseason exits. Both won 101 games last season, 14 more than the 87-win Phils, and yet it was Philadelphia who advanced to the Fall Classic after the Mets fell to San Diego in the wild card round and the Phils dominated the Braves in the division series.

Here are some highlights from that last one, in case you missed it.

Not one to rest on their laurels, the Phillies understood that despite falling just two wins shy of a world championship, much work was required to catch up to their division rivals. Signing Trea Turner to replace Jean Segura, Taijuan Walker in place of Kyle Gibson/Zach Eflin and Matt Strahm to the bullpen, were necessary to further that goal.

The Mets, meanwhile, are signing anything that moves, and the Braves have pulled off a couple big trades in the last few days. All told, the influx of talent into the division is substantial.

On the latest edition of Hittin’ Season, we talked in depth about all of the division machinations of the last few weeks.

Among the items discussed in the podcast was just how much better have the Braves and Mets gotten, and how much closer the Phillies, if at all, have moved towards them?

It seems difficult to imagine the Phils making up a 14-game difference in the standings, but the 2022 version were essentially two separate teams.

The Joe Girardi Phillies and the Rob Thomson Phillies.

The “JG” Phillies went 22-29. The “RT” Phils went 65-46.

From June 1 through the end of the season, the Phillies compiled a 66-46 record, 20 games over .500, a winning percentage of .589, 7th-best in MLB over that stretch. That’s a 95-win pace and it includes the September struggles they endured in their quest to end a mentally-taxing 11-year postseason drought. For the final four months of the season, the Phils were much closer to the Mets than the final record indicates. New York went 67-44 over the final four months, a winning percentage of .604. The Braves were unconscious, posting a .696 winning percentage over that stretch, 78-34, best in baseball.

Still, it’s unlikely either team wins 100 games again, and it’s difficult to imagine the Phillies reaching the century mark. So how close are they?

The Phillies replaced Jean Segura (1.7 fWAR) with Trea Turner (6.3), a net gain of 4.6 Wins Above Replacement. With the addition of Taijuan Walker (2.5 fWAR) over Kyle Gibson (1.8), the Phillies gained another 0.7 fWAR. Strahm to David Robertson’s fWAR movement is negligible so, in all, the Phillies added approximately 5.3 wins to their total thanks to the additions of Turner and Walker.

Atlanta’s trade for Sean Murphy undoubtedly improves them behind the plate. Murphy’s 5.1 fWAR is 2.7 wins better than William Contreras (2.4 fWAR), and the addition of reliever Joe Jimenez (1.4 fWAR) will also pay dividends. However, the Braves have still not re-signed or replaced Dansby Swanson (6.4 fWAR), and until they do, no one can say they’ve improved. Of course, there is still time.

As for New York, they have spent a lot of money to essentially replace existing players. Brandon Nimmo and Edwin Diaz return to their important roles in center field and at closer. They brought in the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander (6.1 fWAR) to replace the oft-injured Jacob deGrom (2.2 fWAR), and on paper, it looks to be a nearly four-win improvement (although when deGrom is healthy, he’s the best in the game). Kodai Senga replaces Walker, and it’s fair to believe he’ll be worth an extra win, given his upside and history in Japan, and Jose Quintana (4.0 fWAR) takes the place of Chris Bassitt (2.7 fWAR), an extra 1.3 fWAR. David Robertson slides into the spot vacated by Adam Ottavino, their WARs are essentially a wash.

In all, that’s around a 6.3 win improvement over last season.

Of course, using 2022 WAR numbers for to predict what will happen in 2023 is flawed to say the least. Past performance often is not indicative of future results, but based on these numbers, it appears the Mets have improved, at least as much, if not slightly more, than the Phillies. And let’s not forget, the Phils must navigate at least the first two months of the season without Bryce Harper, although one hopes there will be significant improvement from Nick Castellanos in 2023, with Alec Bohm, Bryson Stott and Brandon Marsh continuing to improve and young pitchers like Andrew Painter, Griff McGarry, Mick Abel and Bailey Falter providing upside as well.

In short, it’s impossible to say with any certainty who has improved more before the games are played, and there are still over 100 days until the ‘23 regular season begins. Right now, we’re all in fantasy land, waiting for the spending sprees to end and for the play on the field to start.