Justin Upton (10) bast during a game against the Chicago Cubs at Chase Field now he may be on the move. Photo Credit: Jennifer Stewart-US PRESSWIRE

For Braves Fans Hot Stove Season Begins Justin Upton to Atlanta?

We had a cold snap here last weekend, there was frost at least one night and the next day I saw someone – a lady – in a winter jacket; it was 75 and sunny. Those things and the end of the World Series are the official kick off of the hot stove league. What better way to start it than by dreaming big? So let’s consider this little bit of news from a piece by Corey Brock

“Moving forward, the D-backs will look to add a starting pitcher, left-handed reliever and possibly a third baseman. They certainly have some interesting trade chips to offer if they decide to move Jason Kubel, Gerardo Parra or Upton, who could land the team a big haul if Towers decides to move the 25-year-old right fielder.”

Well that’s interesting, the DBacks want a starter, a left handed reliever, and possibly a third baseman.  Today came news that the Diamondbacks are shopping him at the GM meetings. Who do we know that might be able to fill those needs?

Piecing It Together

Justin Upton – the most talented of the Uptons, is the brightest of stars rumored to be moved this winter. At 25 years old he won’t be in his prime for another three years and though he had a rough year in 2012 – rough for Justin Upton –  you should never doubt the potential and talent he possesses.


At age 21 Upton had a slash of .300/.366/.532 with 26 homers, 86 RBI, 30 doubles, 7 triples, 20 stolen bases in 25 attempts an isolated power (ISO) of .232 and 84 runs scored. That all came together for a 4.8 fWAR (3.8 rWAR). . . at age 21.

In June Ken Kendrick questioned Upton’s performance:

“I think Justin is an enigma at this point. I know he had an injury early on and may be a little bit of a nagging injury. But he’s played. He’s certainly not the Justin Upton that he has been in the past and that we would expect of him. He’s 24 years old and it’s time for him to be a consistent performer and right now this year he’s not been that.. . . I know this sounds strange based on the performance not being what we would like and certainly not what he would like, but in terms of his body language, on a certain level, he’s shown a little maturity that in past years, I think he’d be too quick to anger before and emote his feelings and he has been more controlled this year in that regard. Yet the actual performance is less than what we’ve seen in the past and what we would have expected out of him.”

If that was meant to be a pep talk Mr. Kendrick needs to go back to school on leadership. But he wasn’t alone. His on the air rant encouraged others to jump on the beat on Upton because your team isn’t wining band wagon.

In July when Upton was just starting to regain form, Doug Franz/Arizona Sports  opined that it was time for Upton to stop being the future and start being what he was expected to be.  “You do not pay $50 million and bat a player third in the order to get a .273 BA and 37 RBI for a below average-to-bad outfielder. . .”

Really? And they pay you to write these things? Like the experts who wanted to dump Jason Heyward when he was playing injured, they didn;t realize what they had or were just plain not paying attention to what he’s done. Upton got healthy soon after that and by years end the list of outfielders who were close to Upton’s numbers was short.

Andrew McCutchen .327 .553 .400 .226 673 107 194 29 6 31 96 70 132 20 12
Austin Jackson .300 .479 .377 .179 617 103 163 29 10 16 66 67 134 12 9
Torii Hunter .313 .451 .365 .139 584 81 167 24 1 16 92 38 133 9 1
Matt Holliday .295 .497 .379 .202 688 95 177 36 2 27 102 75 132 4 4
Alex Gordon .294 .455 .368 .160 721 93 189 51 5 14 72 73 140 10 5
Carlos Gonzalez .303 .510 .371 .207 579 89 157 31 5 22 85 56 115 20 5
Dexter Fowler .300 .474 .389 .174 530 72 136 18 11 13 53 68 128 12 5
Shin-Soo Choo .283 .441 .373 .159 686 88 169 43 2 16 67 73 150 21 7
Ryan Braun .319 .595 .391 .276 677 108 191 36 3 41 112 63 128 30 7

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used Generated 11/8/2012.

(Updated Notes: I’m not sure what happened with my original search but someone pointed out that the original table was incomplete and incorrect. This is the updated table  before I deleted columns to make it fit. These players had an equal or better (> or =) slash and ISO to that of Upton’s 2012 .280/.355/.430, .150. So while for example B.J. Upton had a better OPS due to a high slugging %, he doesn’t make the list because of BA an OBP. I view this as a better, more complete look than simply OPS which is weighted heavily towards slugging. These players also played 95% of their games in the outfield  and qualified for the batting title. There are no part time outfielders or players on the list.)

That list contains three two men in serious contention for MVP and one Rookie of the year some other pretty good outfielders/hitters. And Upton was under-performing.

In the last four years the list of outfielders who had a higher slash line and close to the same ISO than Justin Upton was short; three to be exact. To put this in perspective the list of the people with better numbers than Justin Upton includes a veritable Who’s Who of baseball’s elite hitters.

Joey Votto 2975 .316 .417 .553 .237 417 129 440 424 547 $9,500,000
Albert Pujols 3362 .315 .406 .591 .276 529 193 573 435 328 $12,000,000
Paul Konerko 3003 .287 .371 .506 .219 358 146 441 328 451 $12,000,000
Josh Hamilton 2814 .305 .363 .549 .244 419 142 506 230 555 $13,750,000
Adrian Gonzalez 3473 .299 .383 .516 .217 463 152 544 402 594 $21,000,000
Prince Fielder 3509 .290 .402 .535 .245 461 180 554 500 600 $23,000,000
Miguel Cabrera 3402 .323 .401 .579 .256 512 183 600 387 515 $21,000,000
Ryan Braun 3362 .312 .375 .558 .246 523 168 546 276 576 $6,000,000

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 11/7/2012.

And they said Justin Upton wasn’t consistently performing?

Of the men who beat him out statistically in that four year span only Braun made less money lest year. Braun is in the first year of a $130M plus contract that takes him through 2021. And those experts complained he’s getting paid too much?


Defensively Upton is no Heyward but there aren’t many in that class. He isn’t however a hack either. Below are his defensive metrics from Fangraphs along with a chart explaining the color coding. I’m not a big fan on UZR in many ways and the numbers are what they are for all players. In this case Tomorrow’s post (that was to be todays but got pushed back for this one) has a lot more introductory information on defensive metrics. For now this quote from the FAQ at the Fielding Bible is a good guide..

“When evaluating a player using any statistic, you should always be aware of the sample size you’re dealing with. As more and more data becomes available, we can make more definitive conclusions. This is especially true of defense. For example, if a player has Plus/Minus numbers of +2, -5, and +4 over the course of 3 seasons, it is a safe bet that he is a league average fielder.”

Defensive Ability Season DRS UZR UZR/150
Gold Glove Caliber 2008 0 -8.4 -13.9
Great 2009 4 7.7 8.1
Above Average 2010 2 5.5 7.1
Average 2011 8 7.7 6.8
Below Average 2012 2 -2.1 -2.1

Mr Franz was wrong again.  Both Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and UZR agree that 2008 wasn’t very good for him. Since that time however they agree that he’s been an above average defender.

The Personal Attack

When Mr. Kendrick implied that his player lacked maturity there was a lack of maturity involved but not from Justin Upton. Since that ad hominem attack leaks from the club have said similar things.  I simply don’t believe that and the numbers don’t reflect it. If he’s loafing and putting up those numbers, heaven help the league when he decides to play all out.  Don’t let me sway them from trading him to the Braves however, I’ve always said you pay your money and take your chance. Speaking of money and value, what would it take to land him?

Quality is Expensive

Justin Upton will come at the cost of at least three major league ready or high value prospects who will arrive in the next year. If we are to believe the shopping list from Corey Brock’s article I’d expect that they would want Jonny Venters, Julio Teheran or Randall Delgado, Zeke Spruill and perhaps Christian Bethancourt or Juan Francisco. Before you throw up your hands and start screaming ‘it’s the Mark Teixeira trade all over again listen up. Justin Upton is under contract through 2015 ($9.5M, $14.25M, $14.5M) and for this man that is chump change. Upton is worth two of Josh Hamilton or any other free agent out there and certainly worth a million more than Dan Uggla or Brian McCann. He’s also worth more than an often wild left reliever and some prospects.

That’s a Wrap

Twenty years ago Pirates GM Ted Simmons John Schuerholz had completed a deal that would have brought Barry Bonds to Atlanta for outfield prospect Keith Mitchell, pitching prospect Alejandro Pena, and a player to be named. The deal was done and all that was left was the announcements. Pirates manager Jim Leyland wasn’t told about the trade before hand and when he found out he exploded all over Simmon’s desk and I imagine everyone in a 10 mile radius knew it. Everyone knows that the best of the Upton brothers is available so that can’t happen in 2012 and Frank Wren needs to make the deal. . .period. . .that’s the end of that.  Justin Upton is that good.

Kevin Towers knows this and he knows that making a team building deal is like this is a one shot thing. Do it right or suffer for it forever. He will talk to everyone and get the best deal he can get and he should. But if the original article is correct and he wants a controllable lefty reliever to solidify his bullpen we can offer him one of the best in Venters. If he wants starting pitching to bridge the gap until his studs are ready he can have Paul Maholm and Tommy Hanson. If he wants prospects he can have Teheran, and Bethancourt.  The only exceptions I’d make are Heyward, Mike Minor, Andrelton Simmons, Kris Medlen, Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel and Martin Prado.

Justin Upton makes this team a formidable force again. He takes the load off of Uggla’s bat, provides right handed thump with good on base numbers and as a left fielder he’s top of the line. This opportunity should not, must not, be passed up. Upton is a generational player; no unproven prospect is untouchable. Make this deal Mr. Wren. Make this deal.

Tags: Atlanta Braves Justin Upton

comments powered by Disqus