Bold Prediction: The Phillies Won’t Finish Last in the NL East

Back in the old days when I lived in New Jersey, I read The Philadelphia Inquirer every day like a very good boy. One of my favorite routines was reading the weekly Eagles game preview, in which the paper summarized the two teams and — with little football helmets — indicated which team had a better quarterback, better wideouts, better coaching, and so on. This came to mind in thinking about my bold, daring prediction that the Phillies are going to be bad, but not quite as bad as the formerly mighty Atlanta Braves.

The Conventional Wisdom says the Phillies will be the worst team in baseball (again) this year, but I don’t see it that way. The Reds, Brewers, and Braves also look like pretty terrible teams, and any one of them could finish last. In its 2016 MLB preview, ESPN has ranked the Phillies dead last and projected the team to finish with a 68-94 record. The Braves are projected to finish *just* ahead of the Phillies with a not very nice record of 69-93. So, from that standpoint, making a case for the Braves to be worse than the Phillies is seemingly a pointless exercise in nitpicking over, inarguably, some very exhausting and minuscule differences.

*checks byline*

Yes, that’s exactly the kind of analysis that guy enjoys. Let’s break it down, without little football helmets, using projected rosters for both teams as of March 29.

Lineup

Atlanta

  1. Ender Inciarte 8
  2. Erick Aybar 6
  3. Freddie Freeman 3
  4. Adonis Garcia 5
  5. Nick Markakis 9
  6. Hector Olivera 7
  7. A.J. Pierzynski 2
  8. Jace Peterson 4

Except for Freddie Freeman, that lineup’s a whole lot of nope, nope, nope. Freeman’s 133 wRC+ last year was the highest on the team by far. If you want to make an argument for Ender Inciarte (.303/.338/.408 last year, 100 wRC+, 3.3 fWAR) due to defense and baserunning or something, I won’t stop you. If you really want to stretch for Adonis Garcia — who turns 31 in two weeks — go for it. The rest of those guys are a mix of has-beens and never-will-bes. For a rebuilding club that’s getting major props for its farm system, it’s probably fine for a year, but besides Freeman the lineup offers nothing exciting to draw fans to a new suburban ballpark next season.

Philadelphia

  1. Peter Bourjos 7
  2. Cesar Hernandez 4
  3. Odubel Herrera 8
  4. Maikel Franco 5
  5. Ryan Howard 3
  6. Cameron Rupp 2
  7. Tyler Goeddel 9
  8. Freddy Galvis 6

Nice hole I’ve dug for myself here, isn’t it? The Phillies lineup is … well … it’s not very good. However! While I freely admit I’ve been driving the Maikel Franco bandwagon for a long time, it would be a mild shock if he didn’t have as productive a season as Freeman. I’ll bet you all a Coke that Franco hits more homers and finishes with a higher wRC+ (that’s one single Coke for all of you to share — after all, nobody pays me to write this stuff). Herrera was one of the biggest surprises in baseball last year and while some people might break out their crayon set and scrawl “regression” all over the bathroom mirror, Odubel looks the part of an everyday outfielder. He’s got some legitimate power that I think will take him into 15-homer territory this season. I’ll take him over Ender Inciarte and not blink.

Bourjos is just a placeholder, but certainly has the potential for significant positive contributions to this year’s club. Goeddel, who’s 23, was selected first in the Rule 5 draft with one of the many benefits of the Phillies finishing in last place. Last year in AA, Goeddel slashed .279/.350/.433 in 123 games in the Southern League, and had 28 steals and 12 homers. Cameron Rupp is going to have a solid season and make Brad Engler the happiest man alive. My thoughts on Hernandez and Galvis are well known to you all, and ditto for Howard. In short, I’m not a big believer in the middle infield combination or the Big Platoon Piece. Overall, both lineups are going to be bad, but the Phillies do seem to have an edge based in part on having more young players.

Bench

Atlanta

Tyler Flowers, Gordon Beckham, Kelly Johnson, Michael Bourn, and Jeff Francoeur. Those five veterans are all 29 or older and have bounced around the league for several years. All of them are known quantities with zero upside. That’s exactly the kind of bench you don’t want on a terrible rebuilding team, unless you…don’t want to be good.

Philadelphia

Carlos Ruiz, Darin Ruf, Andres Blanco, Will Venable, Cedric Hunter. Chooch can do no wrong in my eyes, but Flowers surely has youth on his side, at least in the batter’s box. Ruf, who I’ve written about at length here, does have the potential for a decent season as the platoon partner for Ryan Howard. Blanco had an unbelievable outlier of a season last year and is destined to not repeat that success, though he’ll play a couple positions and be a good pinch hitter.

Venable is now three years removed from a 20/20 season in 2013. He had a 77 wRC+ in 2014 and an 87 wRC+ in 2015. He was just brought into Phillies camp after he opted to leave the Indians when he learned he wouldn’t make their club. If Cody Asche hadn’t gotten injured, Will Venable would probably not be on the roster. Since Francouer was here last year, we certainly know what he’s capable of, but it should perhaps serve as an appropriate commentary on the state of the two teams that he’s secured a roster spot at the end of the Braves’ bench and not the Phillies’.

Hunter is 28, so not young really, but at least worth looking at for a while. ZiPS has him projected for a .246/.295/.422 slash line with 15 homers and 7 steals in 458 plate appearances. If he can produce anything resembling that, it’ll be a great story.

Once again, I can’t help but give the Phillies a slight edge here, if only because it’s possible Ruf and Hunter have some modest positive contributions to make.

Rotation

Atlanta

Julio TeheranBud NorrisMatt WislerJhoulys ChacinMike Foltynewicz

Teheran is maddening to watch. He can be dominating, and he can lose control. Last year, he struck out 20.3% of batters, but walked 8.7% as well. Only nine starting pitchers who qualified for the ERA title had a worse walk rate than Teheran’s. He’s just 25 years old and still has #2/#3 upside, but the spike in his walk rate and home run to fly ball ratio last season are red flags. Wisler has not looked good in the big leagues, which is sort of a ridiculous thing to say about a guy who has 109 innings in his major league tenure. He deserves more time, but he profiles as a low-strikeout guy who walks too many batters and struggles against lefties. The rest of the guys are #5 starters, and Foltynewicz is probably destined for a late-inning/high-leverage bullpen role in the future.

Philadelphia

Aaron NolaJeremy HellicksonCharlie MortonJerad EickhoffVincent Velasquez

Aaron Nola is the real deal. He might not have electric stuff, but he makes up for it with poise and polish. He’s a slam dunk #2/#3 starter, even a solid #3 if you’re feeling extra grumpy. Hellickson and Morton, as I’ve written, are nothing special but are fantastic upgrades over last season’s rotation and will eat innings until they are traded, injured, or the season ends. Eickhoff will likely not repeat his stunning success from the end of last year, but he’s a projectable #4 starter with a good curveball. Vincent Velasquez — who I lost to Dave Tomar in a late-round auction snafu Tuesday night — will be, in my optimistic view, the best pitcher on the Phillies by the end of the year. He doesn’t have Nola’s command, but his fastball is better than anything the rest of the staff can offer.

So, for Atlanta that’s a Jekyll and Hyde “ace,” a probable #4 starter, two rotation fillers, and a bullpen guy trying to make it as a starter because he’s young and throws gas. For the Phillies, it’s Nola and Eickhoff reasonably graded as 3rd and 4th starters, Hellickson and Morton as rotation fillers, and Velasquez as the wild card. If I were given the choice of Norris and Chacin or Hellickson and Morton, I’d choose the latter option. There’s little upside with the Braves’ options there, but at least there is some glimmer of hope that Hellickson can do something.

I’m giving the Phillies the edge here, too.

Bullpen

Atlanta

Jason Grilli, Arodys Vizcaino, Jim Johnson, Alexi Ogando, Jose Ramirez, Eric O’Flaherty, Dan Winkler.

Philadelphia

David Hernandez, Dalier Hinojosa, Andrew Bailey, James Russell, Jeanmar Gomez, Daniel Stumpf, Brett Oberholtzer.

Yikes. Grilli is coming off an Achilles injury, but was quite effective last season even as he approaches 40. Johnson and Ogando are flameouts. Vizcaino, Winkler, and Ramirez, who are 25, 26, and 26, respectively, are interesting. It’s possible O’Flaherty can be a contributor if the Braves have kept small stores of their secret magic pitching dust from the 90s.

The Phillies have a lot of young, exciting talent, but none of it (right now) is in the major league bullpen. It’s going to be a challenge for the coaching staff to maintain the morale of a young team that goes into the sixth inning with a lead and watches a patchwork bullpen snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. I think Hinojosa and Gomez have significant value as two of the main back-end guys, and Oberholtzer is going to be busy as a long man/swingman. The rest of the guys are reclamation projects, and if even one of them pans out, it’ll be a win for the team.

I feel like I have to give the Braves the nod on something, and since it’s only fair to give everyone a participation trophy, I’ll give the edge to the Braves.

On the farm, the Phillies have plenty of help coming soon, as you are no doubt aware. At some point this season, we could get glimpses of Nick Williams, Jorge Alfaro, Andrew Knapp, Jake Thompson, Mark Appel, Roman Quinn, and maybe even J.P. Crawford. For the Braves, the 2016 options are potentially Mallex Smith, Aaron Blair, and Sean Newcomb. The Phillies clearly have the advantage there as well.

The Phillies and Braves are going to lose a lot of games this year. The Phillies, though, look to have a strong lead in the rebuilding stage and are beginning their ascent from the bottom. The Braves might not yet know what that part of the standings looks like, but they’ll learn soon enough.

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16 comments

  1. Romus

    March 30, 2016 08:23 AM

    Braves probably get the number one pick in 2017.
    With the Phillies luck….it will probably be a generational player like a Harper!

  2. Jason

    March 30, 2016 08:56 AM

    This is obviously a homer article and the only reason I say this is that you’re pretty much dogging the Braves farm system, and kind of being condescending towards their organization. I could care less about that, and just think you forgot to mention A LOT of our other young studs waiting to come up…..Herrera over Inciarte without blinking???? C’mon………that’s a ‘lil over the top slick, and your rotation looks just as bad as ours lol………

    • rlh1004

      March 30, 2016 10:17 AM

      Dude, if your going to get hurt feelings over a condescending tone towards an organization on an opponents blog site you might want to just stay off that site…

      That being said, yes, this was a homer article. And a homer article is what you should expect on a Phillies site. I personally think the authors here are usually fair in their assessments and not incredibly Philly-biased, but this was a “bold prediction” article which will inherently be biased towards a best-possible outcome for the Phillies.

      All of that aside, I agree with his prediction that the Braves will be worse than the Phillies this year. Although if it turns out that the two teams are fighting to not be the worst team in the league, I’d rather have them be the worst and secure the top draft pick.

    • Adam Dembowitz

      March 31, 2016 09:49 PM

      The point of the article was to argue that the Phillies will be marginally better than the Braves this year. If Atlanta has a great farm system, and it does, but only a few of their top guys are really only sorta close, then their system strength doesn’t matter much for 2016.

  3. Tom

    March 30, 2016 09:03 AM

    The Rockies and Padres look pretty weak too.

    • Chris S.

      March 30, 2016 10:53 AM

      Don’t forget about the Reds and the Brewers too!

  4. Bob

    March 30, 2016 10:04 AM

    Not much to look forward to this season. I’m interested in the continued progression (hopefully) of Franco, Herrera, and Nola. It was a nice surprise to see Velazquez make the rotation. Other than that, I don’t have high hopes for the other rostered players. I guess I’ll be taking some road trips this year upstate because that’s where the action will be. It’s going to be a slog getting through this season.

    • Steve

      March 30, 2016 01:26 PM

      Just havinf Herrera Franco Nola and VV is enough to make the season very watchable. Im guessing you are intentionally dimissing Eickhoff, but i would put him right up there with that group. I also think Rupp, and Goedell will at least be interesting to follow early in the season if not entertaining and productive. Yes the rest is roster filler for now, but i would be shocked if 2 of the top prospects (crawford, williams, quinn, thompson, appel, knapp/alfaro) arent called up and seeing regular playing time by the trade deadline. If you are only interested in watching a playoff team, then yes please go watch elsewhere, but to say there is nothibg to look foward to from the Phillies in 2016 is absurd.

      • Bob

        March 30, 2016 03:52 PM

        There are only four decent prospects on the team. I mentioned them. If you think watching a double-play combo of Hernandez and Galvis is interesting, I think you are delusional. Watching Howard continue to flail at 1B and possibly one of the worst bullpens I’ve seen in a while is not enjoyable in the least.

        Rupp has never performed at even an average clip, nor was he ever projected to. He is not even a quality backup. Eickhoff’s was never projected to be anything more than rotation depth. His projections for this year are a 4.40 FIP. That’s beyond bad. It doesn’t even make sense to me how you can believe that players who no one projects to be any good are going to someone how prove all the experts and scouts wrong and become viable pieces. Homerism at its finest.

        You admit that 21 out of 25 on the roster are filler but then point to minor leaguers who could or could not come up later in the year. I’m not dealing with speculation but the roster as constructed at this point going into the season, and it’s not all that interesting. I will be watching some playoff teams – Lehigh Valley and Reading.

      • Steve

        March 30, 2016 07:28 PM

        Herrera was a guy that no one thought could be an everyday MLB player last. He proved people wrong. Goedell has better projections this year as a Rule 5 than Herrera did last year.
        Eickhoff was not a highly regarded prospect when we traded for him, but then changed as a pitcher halfway through the season, and it led to much better results. I dont expect him to be an ace, but a solid mid-rotation starter is not a “homer” projection for him.
        I dont think the BP is as bad as you say. Bailey is a guy from NJ, whonwas very successful before injuries struck. Thats an interesting storyline to me. Hinjosa is interesting.
        Galvis, Hernandez, Howard are not interesting you are correct.
        Im not saying this is a good team, but they are very interesting. I dont know what you need to see to be interested, but this is the most interesting this team has been in 5 years.

  5. smittyboy

    March 30, 2016 02:05 PM

    I think the Braves have an excellent chance to be the very worst team in baseball by a more than reasonable margin. They are significantly behind the Phillies in the rebuild process despite having a strong system – its just that they don’t have anywhere near the quantity of players who are likely to graduate within a year. Without even scratching the nos. it is plain to see their lineup is weak despite a fine 1B who is frequently injured and whose absence will only exacerbate run production. I also can’t imagine they will keep Inciarte, who short of Kiermayer, is considered the best OF in the game – he will be traded creating yet another hole. I just don’t see them scoring no matter what kind of pitching they have.

    • Romus

      March 30, 2016 03:38 PM

      What the Braves have that the Phillies past philosophy did not want to entertain until 2011 (Carlos Tocci for $800K) and then exploding last year with Jhailyn Ortiz and his $4M offer…..was spending on Latin American international talent
      The Braves farm system will also benefit this July in the high multi-million dollar signings of Ven ss Kevin Maitan and possibly Cuban OFer Lazaro Armienteros…granted 16-years old are a long shot and time away…but the pipeline has to start somewhere.
      The Phillies will have $7/8M aprox this year to work with so they will also dig deep in the international market.
      One guy I would keep an eye out on is Edisson Gonzalez, a 6’3 RHP from Panama with a 90-92 velo now. Phillies have done a lot of signiongs in the Panama market…ie Ruiz, Jonathan Arauz, Severino Gonzalez, Jhon Nunez….so maybe this young RHP will be the latest.

      • Steve

        March 30, 2016 07:30 PM

        Did i miss somthing with Lazarito? Has he been strongly linked to Atl? It blows my mind how we never see. To get the big IFA considering the financial resources of the organization.

  6. Boo-urns

    March 30, 2016 08:26 PM

    My call: Phillies play low-key but fairly solid baseball for the season, and finish up in third place behind the Nationals and the Mets, with the Marlins not far behind in fourth and the Braves a very very distant last place.

    • Steve

      March 30, 2016 08:41 PM

      If they finish in third it will be a successful year. Marlins have a lot of talent, they do always seem to find a way to have a laughable season though.

      • Boo-urns

        March 31, 2016 03:56 PM

        I think it’s because of that talent (that they will fail to fully utilize, as usual) that we’ll be scrabbling with them over third place for much of the season.

        I’m going into this looking for clear signs of improvement and future potential, not actual results (in terms of place in the division, etc.). I know we’re not going to be great this year, we’re likely to not even be too good, but I want to see positive signs as opposed to negatives.

        That’s all I can ask for, and if they can deliver that then there is clearly hope for 2017 and beyond.

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