I compared the Brewers to the other top teams in the NL Central last weekend. This weekend, just for kicks and giggles, I decided to compare the Brewers to the Phillies, who are generally regarded as the best team in the National League.
Catcher: Carlos Ruiz versus Jonathan Lucroy
32 year old Carlos Ruiz is coming off a great season in which he hit .302/.400/.447 and posted a 4.2 fWAR, the third most wins above replacement of all major league catchers last year, behind only Joe Mauer and Brian McCann. Over his career, Ruiz has a .260/.353/.396 slash line, good for a .326 wOBA. I think most teams would love that kind of production at the plate from their catchers. In addition, Ruiz seems to be fairly well-regarded defensively as well. Jonathan Lucroy, broken pinky and all, will be entering his second major league season. In his first year, he managed a meager .629 OPS and just broke the .300 mark--for on base percentage. His defense is still improving and I expect him to hit at least a little bit better in 2011 (prior to last year, Lucroy never had an OBP lower than .364 in the minor leagues). Ruiz will still be the better of the two next year.
1B: Ryan Howard versus Prince Fielder
After I rated him third best of the Central first basemen, I can finally show Prince a little bit of love. Ryan Howard may have more awards to his name (Rookie of the Year, Sporting News Player of the Year, NL MVP, NLCS MVP, and Hank Aaron award to just a Hank Aaron award for Prince) but at this point in their careers, it looks like Fielder is the more valuable of the two players. Fielder has gotten on base over 40% of the time the last two seasons--Howard hasn't done that since 2006. The only year he even came close lately was 2007 when he had a .392 OBP. The last three seasons, his OBPs have been .339, .360 and .353. Both teams had a down year with their power hitting in 2010, however Howard still had a SLG% around 30 points higher than Fielder. Howard has only had a SLG% over .600 once, back during his MVP season in 2006. Fielder has done it twice, in 2009 and 2007. With Fielder's clear advantage in OBP, both players being poor defenders and Fielder coming in on one of his every-other-year outstanding seasons AND in a contract year, Prince is the way to go.
2B: Chase Utley versus Rickie Weeks
Prior to 2010, these two players wouldn't even have been comparable. But with Weeks' outstanding year couple with a down power year for Utley, the two have gotten a lot closer. Utley was actually the one who battled injuries while Weeks stated healthy last year. In 115 games, Utley showed he was still a premier hitter in the league, hitting .275/.387/.445. Weeks did all he could to keep up, hitting .269/.366/.464 with 29 HR. Weeks out-fWARred Utley, 6.1 to 5.2, however Rickie also played 45 more games. Next year, Utley will likely return to hitting as well as he had the few years before 2010 and with his outstanding defense, there is no better second basemen in the NL.
SS: Jimmy Rollins versus Yuniesky Betancourt
Jimmy Rollins has had two straight down years hitting, but he still hits better than Yuni and he can play some defense, too.
3B: Placido Polanco versus Casey McGehee
Casey McGehee wins if we're looking at only hitting. Both players get on base a similar amount, with career OBPs of .347 for Polanco and .342 for McGehee, but Casey has a .477 SLG% over 2009-2010 whereas Polanco only managed a .392 SLG% over the same time frame. Also since 2009, McGehee has wOBAs of .367 and .346 and Polanco managed .321 and .323. However, Polanco is clearly the better defender of the two. He's was around 1.5 wins better than McGehee last year, his first at third base since 2005. Both players have had very similar WARs the last couple years, too, or would have had McGehee received the same number of at bats as Polanco in 2009. It's tough to decide between the two, but with McGehee in the prime of his career, I think it's more likely that he gets better (or at least stays level) and Polanco continues his drop in hitting.
LF: Raul Ibanez versus Ryan Braun
Ibanez is 38 years old and was above an .800 OPS only three games last season. He's not exactly well known for his defense, either (Thanks to Lookout Landing's "Raul Ibanez Takes Pride In His Defense" section for those links). Braun is obviously a great hitter and not great defender. That puts him clearly ahead of Ibanez in my book.
CF: Shane Victorino versus Carlos Gomez
Gomez is a terrible hitter and a great defender. Victorino has been a very good hitter, especially for a center fielder, hitting for over a .350 wOBA 4 of the last 6 seasons, including 2 of the last three. He's also a decent defensive outfielder. Gomez is going to have to play world beating defense and steal a lot of bases to be as valuable as Victorino
RF: Ben Francisco (Dominic Brown?) versus Corey Hart
Right now, Ben Francisco is listed on the Phillies official site as first on the right field depth chart though I'm sure that Dominic Brown, one of the top prospects in baseball the last few years, will be given every chance to fill the gap left by Jayson Werth's leaving. Francisco has been a slightly above average hitter and a slightly below average fielder over his career. Brown struggled in a brief call-up last year, hitting .210/.257/.355 in 70 plate appearances. He has hit extremely well in the minors, but has only 28 games under his belt in AAA. Hart is clearly better than Francisco, who I think will hold the job coming out of spring training. I suspect Brown becomes the starter after a call-up around June to preserve his arbitration clock. It's so difficult to say how Brown will perform in the majors, though. At least next year, my guess is Hart would outperform him, as well.
1SP: Roy Halladay versus Zack Greinke
I've long held the belief that Roy Halladay is the best pitcher in the major leagues. It's hard to compete with someone who, over the last three seasons, has posted ERAs of 2.78, 2.79, and 2.44 and FIPs of 3.03, 3.06, and 3.01. Halladay has also been remarkably durable, throwing over 220 innings the past five years, including 250 last year. The last time anyone pitched that much was 2004 when Livan Hernandez threw 255 innings. That being said, I think Zack Greinke has shown that he can be the best pitcher in the major leagues right now with his outstanding 2009 season when he was worth 9.4 fWAR. That year, Greinke had a 2.16 ERA, a 2.33 FIP, a 9.5 K/9 and a 2 BB/9. He had never really been close to those numbers before, and wasn't last season, either. That's not to say he wasn't good, of course, he's been great the last three years. With his personality, and it seems as though Greinke has almost said as much, he might have greater success with a team that is contending for a playoff spot. He mentioned recently how he started losing focus midway through last season, but on a good Brewers team he could put up elite level numbers again. Halladay is pretty much a certainty to be elite next year, though, which gives him an edge. Greinke CAN be better, but it's more likely for Halladay to be the better pitcher next season.
2SP: Cliff Lee versus Yovani Gallardo
If the Phillies hadn't signed Cliff Lee in the offseason, the Phillies and Brewers rotations would be much closer in talent, I think. Yovani is fantastic and I'm pleased as punch that he's a Brewer for the next several years. He posted a 3.02 FIP last year, which puts him eighth in that category in the major leagues last year. Outstanding. Number two on that same list, though? Cliff Lee, with a 2.58 FIP. That's the second time in three years that he had an FIP under three (in 2009 it was 3.11). Yovani strikes out plenty more hitters, but Cliff Lee does not walk anyone, nor does he give up any homeruns. I love Yo, but Cliff is clearLee (Wow that's a bad pun) the better pitcher of the two.
3SP: Cole Hamels versus Shaun Marcum
ERA-wise Hamels was way better than Marcum (3.06 to 3.64) but if we look at FIP we see the two are much closer. Hamels had a 3.67 FIP last year and Marcum had a 3.74 FIP in the tough AL East. Hamels has a big lead in xFIP, 3.43 to 3.90 and a lead in tRA, 3.67 to 3.77. Again, though, Marcum's number came playing in the same division as the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays. That should bump up his numbers some. Both pitchers give up a similar number of homeruns, Hamels strikes out more hitters, and Marcum walks less hitters. Marcum put up .3 less fWAR last year in 13 less innings. This seems like a wash, but I don't like pushes. Marcum will theoretically have better numbers in the NL, Hamels already has so I'm giving him the edge. Either pitcher might end up being much better than the other, though.
4SP: Roy Oswalt versus Randy Wolf
I didn't even realize just how good Oswalt was last season. He had the seventeenth best FIP in the major leagues last season (3.27) and had his best ERA since his rookie season (2.76). Similarly, he has his best K/9 rate since his rookie year (8.21) and continued to limit both his walks and homeruns, as he has throughout his career. The only year in his career where he was under 3.0 fWAR was 2003 when he had a 2.7 fWAR in just 21 starts. Wolf has generally been solid in his career, and was OK in his first year with the Brewers last season, with a 4.17 ERA and 4.85 FIP. Since 2004, Wolf has only had an fWAR over 3.0 once. Wolf is one year and one week older than Oswalt, too. Advantage: Roy.
5SP: Joe Blanton versus Chris Narveson
With all the talk of the Phillies rotation being perhaps the best the MLB has ever seen, I find it funny that Blanton gets to piggy back along and take his place in history with the big four. Someday he can tell his grandkids that he of the career 4.21 FIP was part of the greatest pitching rotation ever. Maybe someday that will be a trivia question: Who was the fifth member of the vaunted 2011 Phillies rotation? Anyway, Blanton had one great year where he had a 5.6 fWAR and 3.50 FIP with the Athletics. Oakland, being Oakland, traded him away the next year which was a great idea, except what they got in return ended up being a bust. Blanton dropped off quite a bit after his big year and, beginning in 2008, has had FIPs of 4.52, 4.45, and 4.34. Narveson has had an FIP of 4.22 each of the last two years, with drastically different ERAs (3.83 in 2009, 4.99 in 2010). He also pitched 120 more innings in 2010 (only 47 in 2009). Neither player's peripherals are outstanding. Given the choice between the two, I'd take Narveson. Of course, Kyle Kendrick might end up being the Phillies fifth starter, but I'm going by the team site's depth chart. Also, Kendrick was pretty bad last year.
Bench: Phillies versus Brewers
Assuming Ben Francisco is the starter in right field and my guess that Brown stays in AAA for now is correct, that leaves John Mayberry and Ross Gload as the Phillies bench outfielders. Mayberry hasn't done much in his brief time in the majors and didn't really hit that great in the minors, either. The one thing he has shown is that he can hit for power. Gload has gotten fairly consistent major league playing time since 2004 and hasn't done much of anything with the bat. He has a career .320 wOBA, but last year was easily his best in the majors with a slash line of .281/.328/.484. In a very small sample size, Gload has been a terrible fielder according to UZR. I would easily take Chris Dickerson over either Mayberry or Gload, though both are better than Mark Kotsay. In the infield, it looks like Wilson Valdez and Brian Bocock are at the bench spots on the depth chart. Bocock has a grand total of 98 plate appearances in the major leagues and hit horribly. In addition, the 26 year old was an awful hitter in the minors as well, hitting for a career .228/.304/.309 slash line there. He's only listed as the third option for shortstop, with Valdez the primary back up at SS and 3rd and 2nd base. By virtue of his great defense and possibly even better bat, Luis Cruz is better than Bocock. Valdez has had brief stints in the majors with four different teams and has a career slash line of .240/.289/.326 in 736 at-bats. He has kept a pretty high OBP when in the minors, but that hasn't translated at all to the major league level yet. Last year, the Phillies gave him 3633 at bats, by far the most he has ever received in a season, and hit just .258/.306/.360. He seems to be a pretty good fielder, and can play the outfield a little bit as well. Regardless, Counsell is much better. The outfield might be a wash with the Brewers having both the best and worst bench player there, but the Brewers infield bench is clearly better.
Bullpen: Philles versus Brewers
For the Phillies, Brad Lidge had a fine season last year with a 3.87 FIP and 2.96 ERA. I would expect him to be right around there again next season. Jose Contreras has a big resurgence after moving to the bullpen last season, posting an FIP of 3.27. I would expect a slight regression next season. Ryan Madsen was great last year with an FIP of 2.61 and K/9 of 10.87 with just a 2.21 BB/9. I could see him coming close to repeating those numbers. Danys Baez and JC Romero were both pretty bad last season and likely won't be very good next year. At least not FIP-wise. Romero might potentially still post a good ERA despite awful FIP's as he has consistently outperformed his FIP big time. For instance, in 2009 Romero had a 5.92 FIP but a 2.70, and that seems to be a pattern over the last four seasons. The Brewers, on the other hand, have three pitchers (John Axford, Takashi Saito and Zach Braddock) who were under 3.00 with their FIPs and ERAs last season. I've heard some analysts worry about the top of the Milwaukee bullpen, but I don't think any of those three will have huge regressions. I'm not sure if Kameron Loe will be used quite as much next year with a new manager, but he pitched well (2.78 ERA, 3.71 FIP) last year in 58 innings. A returning Latroy Hawkins will help solidify the Brewers bullpen. I may be a bit higher than most about Milwaukee's bullpen, but I think they are better than the Phillies.