They are coming out of the woodwork now – writers making the “bold” prediction that the Braves, not the Phillies, will be advancing further into October. Buster Olney, Jayson Stark, Ken Rosenthal and Jon Heyman to name a few.
The reasoning? The losses of Chase Utley, Brad Lidge and Jayson Werth will be too much for Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt to overcome. In addition, the Braves added Dan Uggla, have a year-older Jason Heyward and a solid bullpen again.
The reason? Because writers know that things don’t always go as planned, so they make “different” predictions to look like they know something others don’t. If they are right, they can pretend they did know something. If they are wrong, well, no one really keeps track.
The proof? Ahhhhh…here’s where this whole Braves over Phillies thing hits a snag.
It seems as though right now, the most respected stat in the game is WAR (wins above replacement). It seems to measure most everything that can happen on the diamond, and spits out a nice single number to represent what that might mean in terms of wins and losses.
Therefore, looking at the WAR lost/added from 2010 to 2011 should give an indication of what to expect from the Phillies and Braves this year, no? For instance, if Jayson Werth had a 5.0 WAR, and Cliff Lee had a 5.0 WAR, you could make the case that they would cancel each other out.
What I’ve done is collected the WAR for the Phillies and Braves for 2010, and then their predicted WAR in 2011 to see what the difference was. Let’s start with the Phillies.
Let’s quickly go through some assumptions I’ve made (bare with us on the formatting of bullet points. We are working on it) …
- Chase Utley and Brad Lidge will be out the entire season (this is worst case scenario, both are expected back at some point)
- Rollins and Howard will play the entire season, so their WAR increased accordingly from their injury plagued 2010′s
- Luis Castillo will not improve over last season
- Carlos Ruiz’ WAR will drop from what I believe was a career year
- Ben Francisco will perform at the same rate he did as a reserve for the Phillies in 09-10
- Joe Blanton will slightly improve
- Dannys Baez won’t be allowed to suck as bad with the bevy of minor league relief prospects we have
- Everyone’s elses WAR will be the same as last year’s (obviously this isn’t likely, but it’s the best way to do this when you are examining the changes from last year)
Now let’s see what this tells us (I think I can do this in one sentence)…
- The net result of losing Werth/Utley/Lidge is negated by the full season of Roy Oswalt, Cliff Lee, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins. In fact, even assuming a fairly large decline from Ruiz, we are still slightly above last year, but not above enough to round up to a full win above last year.
On to the Braves…
Let’s look at these assumptions…
- That Nate McLouth will not be allowed to be as bad as last year
- That Chipper Jones will be just as injured and just as effective when healthy
- Jason Heyward will improve in his 2nd year
- Freddie Freeman will be good, not great, as a rookie
- The the “other hitters” will be as good as they were last year (2.3 for Braves, -2.5 for Phillies)
- That Tim Hudson will still be good, but not as good
- Tommy Hanson will improve
- Craig Kimbrel will be a good closer in his first year (splitting with Venters)
- The Prado’s WAR won’t go down despite switching positions (it probably should)
And the results, again in one sentence…
- The addition of Dan Uggla and the assumed improvement of McLouth, Heyward and Hanson will be negated by a not-as-good Tim Hudson, and a weaker (but still very good) bullpen.
So what can you take from this exercise?
- The Braves and Phillies are likely closer than the 6 games that separated them in 2010 (since their team WARs were only 1 win apart for 2010 and 2011), but both theoretically improved by 0.3 wins from last year and therefore the most logical guess would be that they would both finish with the same amount of wins in 2011.
- A million different things could happen this season. Jason Heyward could take a huge step forward and become the left-handed Albert Pujols. Tim Hudson could be out for the year in May. Ben Francisco could turn out to be a great regular. Jimmy Rollins could have a great year in a contract year. Anything can happen. But in the bazillion different scenarios that could play out, the Phillies will have the advantage in most of them.
- When it really comes down to it – it doesn’t matter if we win the division, as long as we make the playoffs with our pitchers healthy.
- It’s about time to stop with the predicting and start settling this on the field.