If this question was asked 2 years ago, or hell, even last year, I would have scoffed and said it was no contest. Much to my delight, the Braves offense has gotten younger and better while, the Phillies offense has gotten older and worse. The Braves truly are closing the gap between the offensive prowess of a team that slugged its way to back-to-back world series appearances. Let's take a look and see how the offenses compare in 2011.
Firstly, let's take a look at last years numbers:
2010: Atlanta scored 738 runs while Philadelphia scored 772, with the teams placing 5th and 2nd in the NL respectively. Amazingly, Atlanta actually led the league in walks and OBP after finishing 5th in both categories the previous year. Ultimately, a batters job at the plate is to not make an out, so .OBP is the most valuable single entity statistic when evaluating a player and helping the team score runs. However, the Braves lagged behind in SLG by being ranked 10th in the league. Philadelphia finished 5th in the league in slugging in 2010 while playing in a more hitter friendly park than Atlanta's. The teams were close in OPS with Philly being 4th and Atlanta tied for 5th. Any way you look at it though, the Phillies scored 34 more runs than Atlanta. Despite having similar marks on OPS, the Phillies scored more runs because Atlanta played poorly on the basepaths. The Braves were 11th out of 16 team in stolen base percentage at 68%. For stealing bases to be worth the risk, you have to consistently be above the 75% threshold, which the Braves haven't been in years. Worse, the Braves grounded into the 2nd most double plays last year to kill oh so many rallies (Luckily, two-bad-knees-Glaus and you-know-who-else were not tendered contracts this offseason). I suspect the GIDPs do down this year and hopefully we have fewer SB attempts. Philadelphia, however, easily led the league with an 84% SB rate to help drive up their run total. Basepath savvy can result in more runs. Last year, Tampa Bay was eighth in OPS but 3rd in runs largely because they grounded in the least amount of double plays, had the most stolen bases with the 2nd best SB%. Keep in mind, even if Atlanta has better marks in OBP or even SLG, the Phillies can still have a higher run total if they continue to be much smarter on the baspaths and Atlanta tries to swipe a base when they shouldn't.
This year, despite playing at Turner Field instead of Citizens Bank Park, the Braves could actually score more runs than the Phillies. The Braves offense got better subtracting Melky, Glaus for Uggla and Freeman (and McLouth's performance can only go up). The Phillies offense got worse after the loss of Werth in a likely exchange for Dominic Brown. The Phillies are getting noticeably older as well. Only one position player for the 2011 Phillies will be under 30 (Werth's RF spot will be succeeded on opening day by either Brown (23) or Ben Francisco (29) fighting for the job). The Braves will have 5 of 8 position players in their 20s this season, including the whole outfield. One consequence of the Phillies aging is the propensity for landing on the DL. Most notably, Rollins, Utley, and Howard all went on the DL last year. If they wouldn't've missed so much time, the runs scored gap would have been much wider. The Braves had their fair share of DL trips as well, but with the Phillies being older, they more likely to go back to DL in 2011 as well. Whatever happens, happens for this year but it certainly looks like the Braves will better a better offense by 2012.
Catcher: Don't let that .400 OBP by Carlos Ruiz fool you. Sure, a .302 AVG meant he nearly added 100 points to his OBP from his patience at the plate, which is a repeatable skill. However, he did this hitting in the 8th spot in front of the pitcher while sometimes hitting as high as 7th. His BABIP at .335 was also 52 points higher than his previous career high in 2007. If Ruiz hits .302 again this year, I've got some swamp land I want to sell you. Ruiz may be asked to hit higher in the lineup this year due to his previous season's success and a less potent 2011 lineup. That, coupled with natural regression from a peak year equals significantly worse numbers for Ruiz in 2011. He also has only averaged about 115 games a season since he became a full time catcher in 2007. Brian McCann has averaged about 140 games per year since becoming a full-time catcher in 2006. Five years and five all-star games later, McCann has shown that he is easily the best catcher in the NL averaging 4.62 fWAR a season despite fighting (and solving) critical eye problems over multiple seasons. He even out WAR'd Ruiz's pennacle season last year. ADVANTAGE: Atlanta
Battle Royal: FIRST BASE
Yeah, this is Howard's. No doubt about it. However it's no contest on who I'd rather have on my team as a GM. In the next six years, Freeman will be team controlled and will work for baseball slave wages the next three years and mere fractions of his value the following three years. Howard is guaranteed $143,000,000 over the next six years. Despite Howard having a laughably bad contract, he's a good player that will put up probably hit around 35 homeruns this year after hitting 31 in 2010. His strikeout percentage was a career low last year, but his walk rate fell to the lowest since his rookie year at only 9.5%. His .332 BABIP was near a career high, but his AVG was below his career average of .279, which is hard to explain. Even with slightly less K's, he's walking less, hitting less homers, and has had a shrinking Isolated Power every single year since his MVP season in 2006. All that means he already may be in significant decline. Freeman got his feet wet last September, which was highlighted by a homerun off Roy Halladay. He didn't do much other than that, but what's more important is the International League's Rookie of the Year award as a 20 year old in AAA. Freeman should be an important member of the Braves for years to come. This year he'll probably put up less than half the HR total that Howard will at one fortieth the price. ADVANTAGE: Philadelphia
Wren may have held up Michael Hill at gun point to obtain a perennial 30 HR per year 2nd baseman for a utility man and an unproven LOOGY, but I don't care. What I do care about it right-handed power the Braves have been lacking for I can't-even-tell-you how long. Make no mistake though, Uggla is no Utley. The league average for FanGraph's wOBA is usually around .320. Uggla's career wOBA is .349, while Utley's in .388. Uggla's career SLG% is .488 to Utley's .514. Uggla's career BB% is 10.4% to Utley's 16.9%. However, Uggla has hit 154 homeruns since his 2006 debut, while Utley has hit a mere 134 homeruns in a smaller ballpark during that timespan. I'd like to see Uggla continue to play a full year and out homer Utley, but it's unrealistic to think he'll outperform a hitter of the caliber of Utley. ADVANTAGE: Philadelphia
Chipper led the NL in OPS in 2007. In 2008 he led the league in OBP and won the batting title. 2009 and 2010 weren't as kind to Chipper Jones, but he is still an elite 3rd baseman. Chipper's biggest asset has been to draw the walk. In the past two years he'd added about 120 points on top of his batting average for a .385 OBP for 2009 and 2010. Any team would love to have those numbers. Sure, his ISO over the past two years is now around .160, compared to a career average of .230, but Chipper still has shown to be an asset to any offense from his ability to get on base. The question now is his ability to get back on the field after knee surgery and stay healthy. He's already overcame ACL surgery in 1994, and indications in ST show his rehabilitation is on pace for Opening Day. A repaired ACL and extended rehab may even prove to be beneficial to extending career to continue putting up elite third baseman numbers. If/when Chipper gets back on the field he will need regular rest, which will diminish his value. However, he's still more valuable than Placido Polanco. Polanco is a guy who has a great career K% at only 5.5%, but also draws little walks at only a 5.2% career rate. in the past two years, he's been a below average hitter that just happens to play everyday. OPS+ from Baseball Reference gives Polanco sub-average marks the last two years at 90 and 95 respectively. FanGraphs' similar RC+ scores him 90 and 96. Chipper scores 117 and 210 from BR and 117 and 122 from FG. I'll take chipper anytime of the week ADVANTAGE: Atlanta
For shortstop we have a longtime face of the franchise in decline and a rental journeyman who will likely walk after this year. Let's take a look at last year's numbers. Gonzalez tied a career high in homeruns at 23 (17 of which were for Toronto). Once he became a Brave, his numbers regressed to career averages (which is to say, mediocre). His OBP after the trade went from .296 to .291, but his SLG fell over 100 points at .497 to .386. This can be attributed to a combination of a less hitter-friendly park, a new league, and a natural regression of unsustainable numbers. His BABIP was essentially identical with Toronto and Atlanta at .274 and .276, which shows why his OBP marks are so similar as well (He never walks btw). So what he lacked in Atlanta last year was power, and I don't expect him to regain it this year. So, we have a guy who has poor plate discipline, below average power, and a guy that's not getting any younger. Well, the good news is that Rollins is not very good either. He is the better player though, even considering an obvious decline. Since 2007 his OPS has gone accordingly: .875, .786, .718, .694. Games played follows a similar trend :162, 137, 155, 88. The stats show he's getting worse and staying less healthy. He should play more than last year to build up his value, and should hit around league average in OPS+ after falling short of that in the last two years. A more or less league average player against a player who should put up below average numbers. ADVANTAGE: Philadelphia
Martin Prado is moving to LF this year after the acquisition of Dan Uggla. Prado is a .307 lifetime hitter, including a .307 mark in each of the last 2 seasons. He has consistent BABIP marks as well, so we have a pretty good idea of what he'll put up. Prado did have to play through injuries last year including a broken bone in a finger. If he can avoid nagging injuries like those, and continue to progress in his age 28 season, we may see his numbers go up. Prado was one of the only 2010 Braves players to see his walk rate go down. I imagine it was because he was in the leadoff spot a lot, but Prado has enough experience in the leadoff spot going forward that I expect something like .315/360/460 in 2011. Ibanez, meanwhile, limps into the final year of his contract for Philadelphia. Despite finishing the season strong (he had a .724 OPS at the All-Star break and eventually brought up to at .793 mark at season's end), another year under his belt in his age 39 leaves little reason to expect a bounce back. Despite playing in a better hitter's park and appearing in more games, Ibanez hit only one more homerun than Prado last year. Look for Prado to out-do Ibanez in nearly category in 2011, except GIDP. ADVANTAGE: Atlanta
I'll expect McLouth to be the opening day starter in CF, but whether it's he or Schafer, Victorino's still the better player. Victorino has been an above league-average hitter in a great lineup his whole career. Entering his age 30 season and coming off a season with 14 fewer homeruns (20-6) but a higher K% (11.5% - 13.5%) means he may steep into decline. On the other hand, his career low .273 BABIP last year was about 30 points lower than his career average, so he could bounce back. Speaking of bounce backs...Nathan Richard McLouth needs a revival at the plate more than Aretha Franklin needs a salad. .190/.298/.322 -- Ouch. His cataclysmic 2010 included a BABIP that was way below and K% that was way above his career averages. However, once recovering from the concussion and being demoted, he played well. In 38 AAA games he hit as many homeruns (six) as he did in 85 MLB games. In his September call up he hit three homeruns and brought his AVG up 24 points. He's not as bad as 2010 showed, but he's certainly not as good as the guy we thought we traded for. Look for him to emulate more of his 2009 (.788 OPS) numbers than his 2008 (.853) this year. He'll look good in a Pirates jersey in 2012. ADVANTAGE: Philadelphia
You Know What's Coming...
Despite having a full year under his belt, Jason Heyward is two years younger than Domonic Brown, who is heading into his rookie season. Brown was ranked as the #3 overall prospect by Keith Law the year after Heyward was ranked #1. Heyward, in my opinion, broke the expectations for his first year. A .393 OBP and 5.0 fWAR (> .357 and 3.9 fWAR by Posey) meant he was the most productive hitter on a playoff team as a rookie while playing with a broken thumb. In a September call-up, Brown had an unimpressive .210/.257/.355. But, the aforementioned Posey hit .118 in his September call-up in 2009, so a small sample size may hide his potential to put up strong numbers in his rookie season.Let's just say I don't see brown finishing 4th overall in OBP tough. ADVANTAGE: Atlanta
Both Atlanta and Philadelphia have good benches. Look for most of the playing time in to go to Wilson Valdez, Ben Francisco, Ross Gload, and Brian Schneider in Philly and Hinske, Ross, Conrad, and Schafer in Atlanta. Both teams have what you want in a bench -- versatility on the field and attacks from both sides of the plate. Trying to predict bench players' numbers is quite pointless, but as far as I'm concerned they both win. ADVANTAGE: None
Atlanta had advantages in catcher, third, left and right field. Philadelphia has the edge in first, second, shortstop, and center field. The advantages aren't that significant either. The biggest discrepancies should be 1) Howard over Freeman 2) Heyward over Brown and 3) Prado over Ibanez. No team seems to have a clear edge from the bench players. We're looking at a stalemate if we go buy what's on paper. Since I wrote this whole damn thing, I'll say the short money has to be on Philadelphia to score slightly more runs. All things considered, I think the Braves actaully have slightly more talented hitters and they are less likely to have DL trips, but Philadelphia scores more because they play in Citizens Bank Park and are much more efficient on the basebaths. Prove me wrong Atlanta!