Braves still in better shape than ‘dumb-money’ Phillies in 2022
The idea was that a deep Phillies formation would be enough to overcome other areas of weakness. The result is a talented and expensive range that falls short of expectations. The Phillies rank 11th among MLB teams in runs scored, 16th in on-base percentage, 10th in batting average and ninth in home runs (all stats prior to Tuesday’s MLB games).
After a stellar season for the Reds in 2021, Castellanos is posting numbers around his career standard. Schwarber follows a similar pattern. Receiver JT Realmuto, 31, may finally be on the decline. Rhys Hoskins doesn’t do it in the middle of the command. Former top prospect Alec Bohm is still trying to find his place in the big leagues.
At least Bryce Harper is still churning out big numbers (although an elbow injury has limited him mostly to designated hitter duty). Harper was the first big recruit of the “dumb” money era. His 13-year, $330 million contract was the most expensive contract in North American professional sports history at the time. Harper’s 14.2 FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement is eighth among MLB hitters since the start of the 2019 season. He’s not the problem.
Philadelphia’s starting pitcher isn’t a big deal either. This surprises me. The Phillies signed right-hander Zack Wheeler before the 2020 season. He was great, but they never really built the rotation behind him and Aaron Nola. Still, after a slow start, Philly’s starters rank sixth in WAR and fourth in innings per start.
Philadelphia’s bullpen has been a major problem. Defense is also a problem, but that’s nothing new. Defense has long been an afterthought for the Phillies. Combine that philosophy with unreliable relievers and an average offense, and you have plenty of close losses and wasted runs.
The Phillies relievers rank 27th in ERA and 28th in WAR. They signed Corey Knebel for one year and $10 million in December. Knebel’s May numbers: 5.40 ERA, .910 on base plus slugging allowed and three missed saves on seven occasions. Knebel allowed a game-tying home run to New York’s Nick Plummer in the ninth inning on Sunday, then gave up the winning run in the 10th. The next day, San Francisco’s Evan Longoria hit a hit against Knebel in the ninth.
“It’s going to turn,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi told reporters after Monday’s loss. ” How are you. I believe in them. I believe in Knebel. I believe in everyone in this room. There’s a lot of fighting in this room every day.
The loss led to speculation about Girardi’s job security. He said he wasn’t worried about it. This can be interpreted as the right approach for Girardi or as a sign that the front office has not created the necessary urgency.
Of course, Girardi didn’t make the list. It’s not his “stupid” money. Well-paid players must perform.
“We have to keep fighting and keep grinding,” Wheeler told reporters after the loss to the Mets on Sunday. “I hope things change here soon. It has to be soon. I think we all know that. We all know the talent we have here. We just have to do it.
The Braves expressed similar sentiments. They have more reason to believe it. The Braves have a reliable and deep bullpen. Their best hitter, Ronald Acuña, has played less than half the games due to injury. The Braves have the pedigree of winning four consecutive NL East titles and the most recent World Series.
The Braves didn’t have to spend stupid money to be good. They built a winner largely with local players and veterans on short-term contracts. The Braves’ $173.9 million payroll ranks eighth and is $47.8 million lower than Philly. The Braves are unlikely to ever move higher on the roster. It would be the biggest upset of all time if Liberty Media ever paid the luxury tax.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos completed the list with profitable moves. He gives Liberty Media a much better return on investment than Middleton gets from Dave Dombrowski. This will be Year 4 of the Braves’ smart money being better than Middleton’s dumb money.