Matching Fact With Perception In The Free Agent Market

Is B.J. Upton Over Hyped? . Please Credit: Rob Grabowski-US PRESSWIRE

Everyone sees this game differently; some follow it in depth while others watch from the periphery. Some can tell you who led the league in K/9 others can only tell you they loved to see Bob Gibson or Sandy Koufax pitch (I’m old, I know.  Give me a break here.)  I preface this by saying that I do not hate  any player. Hating has I suppose changed in meaning but for me to hate someone I do not know would require actions not likely to occur on a baseball field. I believe that all of the players, coaches, managers and front office personnel do their absolute best. If I point out that a player isn’t the one I prefer or in the case of these posts isn’t living up to his reputation, it doesn’t mean I hate him. Rather it means that the numbers don’t support the hype or I believe they overstate his ability.

The noise level around some players in this years free agent market seems to grow every day. Last year no one cared who signed Angel Pagan for example while this year everyone has an opinion or knows some inside info. This is natural as he had a good season and stepped into  a leadership role after another player spit on his teammates by taking PEDs.  What I hope to do in this series of posts is provide a factual look at the most hyped names in free agency so you can decide without the spin from the player’s agent or the web gem marathon who you’d really like to see wear a Braves uniform.  There are lots of names worthy of starting the series but one that always makes me cringe in B.J. Upton, so lets start there.

B.J. Upton By The Numbers

B.J. arrived in the major leagues in 2004 but played in only 45 games. He missed 2005 completely and in 2006 played in just 50. It wasn’t until 2007 that he actually broke the 100 games mark appearing in 127 game for Tampa.  Since that time he’s been their everyday center fielder and a source of controversy on a team known for consistency and playing the game right. In his walk year the Rays were unwilling to offer him a long term extension at a price he’d accept  and chose instead to make a qualifying offer – this year that amounts to a one year $13.3M contract – so they would get at least a draft pick if / when he signs with another team. At 28 years old Upton will test the free agent market looking for a long term deal of at least five years at an average annual value of between $10 and $12 million.  Tim Dierkes over at MLBTR ranked Upton fifth on the free agent list with this evaluation.

5.  B.J. Upton – Phillies.  Upton’s best offensive season was 2007, when the Rays employed Steve Henderson as their hitting coach.  Henderson now fills that role for the Phillies, which has to be a plus for the center fielder.  Playing on the East Coast might also appeal to Upton, who hails from Norfolk.  From the Phillies’ point of view, Upton could add some balance and power to their lineup as well as strong center field defense.  At 28 there’s room for growth with Upton, but the status quo would probably give a team their money’s worth.  The Nationals and Rangers could be other contenders for his services.

Since the offensive numbers were referenced let’s look at those first.

Batter Up

Here’s a quick summary of Upton’s numbers since coming to the majors.

2004 19 41 4 12 4 1 15 46 .258 .324 .409 .733 1 1 1
2006 20 43 1 10 11 3 13 40 .246 .302 .291 .593 1 0 0
2007 86 142 24 82 22 8 65 154 .300 .386 .508 .894 14 1 4
2008 85 145 9 67 44 16 97 134 .273 .383 .401 .784 13 3 7
2009 79 135 11 55 42 14 57 152 .241 .313 .373 .686 7 3 3
2010 89 127 18 62 42 9 67 164 .237 .322 .424 .745 13 1 4
2011 82 136 23 81 36 12 71 161 .243 .331 .429 .759 16 2 3
2012 79 141 28 78 31 6 45 169 .246 .298 .454 .752 13 4 8
8 Yrs 539 910 118 447 232 69 430 1020 .255 .336 .422 .758 78 15 30
162 Game Avg. 90 153 20 75 39 12 72 171 .255 .336 .422 .758 13 3 5
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 11/7/2012.

Last year looked pretty bad for a guy in his walk year leaving me to wonder whether instead of the walk year bump he had a walk year slump brought on by the added pressure.  Looking back over the last three years however shows that he’s really a middle of the pack kind of offensive player.  I compared him to the other 82 outfielders in both leagues who played at least 100 games at year in that time. Upton’s offensive rank in that group of players is mostly in the bottom half. Green numbers indicate t0p 25 players and red bottom 25 on the list.

B.J.  brings power and stolen bases to the table accompanied by a high strikeout rate and just an okay OBP.  He projects as a .250-.260 hitter with 25-30 homers and 70 RBI.  What about defense?

Defense Defense Defense

All who read me with any regularity know I’m not in love with defensive metrics, particularly UZR. I’ve chosen to include two for Upton and will use similar position appropriate stats when I look at other players.  The numbers are what they are in terms of reliability for all players. You get to decide what you like and what you don’t.   UZR in particular specifically disavows it’s ability to judge player talent or tell how well a player played the position. Mitchel Lichtman’s UZR Primer over at Fangraphs explains it like this.

Does UZR tell us what actually happened on the field?People often say something like, “Well, he had a +10 UZR last year, which means that he actually played well, even though he might be an average or even below average defender.” . . . Well, maybe and maybe not. A player’s UZR does not necessarily tell you how he actually played just as it does not necessarily tell you what his true talent is. That is a very important point. . .ConclusionsSo, what are the lessons here? One, use as much data as possible before drawing any conclusions about a player’s likely defensive ability, talent or value. But, because true talent can change from year to year, try and weight recent data more heavily than past data. Two, consistency from year to year means almost nothing. Ignore it, combine the data (hopefully with some weighting), and go on your merry way. Three, a player’s UZR, be it one year, one month or 5 years, is not necessarily what happened on the field and is not necessarily that player’s true talent level over that period of time either.(my emphasis here not the author’s)

Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) comes from The Fielding Bible  predates UZR and uses a different but similar criteria to judge players and is designed to capture players total defensive value. Please understand that zero is average. I took that to mean that the range from -2.5 to plus 2.5 is an average player because how else do you rate a guy with a three. If that offends some sabremetric expert somewhere please enlighten me and I’ll adjust.

The FAQ at the Fielding Bible gives this answer in response to a sample size question.

“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.”

I suggest that’s a good way to look at all stats so when you look at these keep it in mind.

I include these when dealing with  free agent defense because we need some measure and with the caveat that Fangraphs offers:

Before drawing any conclusions about a player’s defense, look at a full three years of defensive data, drop the decimal points and take an average, and compare DRS scores with other defensive metrics (UZR, TZL, etc.). By taking a broader picture, you will help ensure that you’re not being over-confident or overstating a player’s defensive abilities.

Okay I’ve tap danced enough, here’s three years of data where available for  the free agent list and some players rumored to be available who play center field. Michael Bourn is included because he is of course an available free agent and as a point of reference for Braves fans.

To make it easier I’ve color coded the numbers using a scale Fangraphs  suggests represents ratings in both systems fairly.

Defensive Ability
Gold Glove Caliber
Above Average
Below Average

If a player isn’t shown in  given year he had too few innings in CF to be considered a good sample. Players are sorted by innings played in CF.

Name Year Inn rARM DRS ARM RngR UZR UZR/150
Michael Bourn 2010 1189 2 30 3.1 15.5 19.4 20.6
Denard Span 2010 1349 -3 -5 -3.9 8.7 4.4 4.5
Chris Young 2010 1350 3 18 0.3 5.6 4.2 3.8
Shane Victorino 2010 1265 3 1 3 -2 2.2 2.8
B.J. Upton 2010 1301 -1 -19 2.7 -1.1 1.4 1.9
Drew Stubbs 2010 1229 0 -1 2.1 -0.8 0.5 0.8
Dexter Fowler 2010 948.1 -4 2 -2.2 -2.2 -3.5 -4.9
Angel Pagan 2010 792.1 4 11 4.3 4.7 9 13.3
Coco Crisp 2010 625 1 5 -0.1 7.7 7.3 15.5
Chris Young 2011 1373 -3 20 -1.3 14.5 14.1 12.9
Shane Victorino 2011 1150 -1 2 -1 4.2 4.4 5.7
B.J. Upton 2011 1326 1 -7 1.4 -0.5 1.4 1.6
Drew Stubbs 2011 1329 5 -4 4.4 -7.1 -2.5 -2.2
Coco Crisp 2011 1134 -3 1 -2.7 -4.2 -5.5 -6.7
Dexter Fowler 2011 1072 -2 -3 0.1 -4.4 -5.8 -6.8
Michael Bourn 2011 1359 -3 -3 -0.4 -5.7 -6.4 -6.2
Angel Pagan 2011 1045 -1 -8 -5.6 -7 -14.3 -16.1
Ben Revere 2011 776.1 -3 -1 -2.9 12.6 8.5 15.1
Denard Span 2011 585.1 -1 9 -1.8 10.2 9 17.6
Michael Bourn 2012 1340 2 24 1.9 19.3 22.4 22.5
Denard Span 2012 1073 1 20 -0.1 8.7 8.5 9.6
Drew Stubbs 2012 1107 2 2 5.9 2.1 6.8 8.5
Angel Pagan 2012 1279 -2 -6 -1.6 3 0.1 -0.1
Michael Brantley 2012 1237 0 -1 -0.8 -2.4 -1.9 -2.1
Shane Victorino 2012 939.1 3 -3 1.7 -4.3 -2 -2.4
B.J. Upton 2012 1254 -2 -4 -0.2 -2.2 -2.4 -3.2
Dexter Fowler 2012 1026 -4 -10 -1.3 -11.6 -13.9 -17.5
Coco Crisp 2012 840 -1 0 -1 0 -0.9 -1.7
Chris Young 2012 725 0 7 2.3 8.7 11.3 21.1
Ben Revere 2012 309 0 -3 0.3 -1.2 -0.4 -2.1

Judging by those numbers Upton has been an average to poor centerfielder for the last three years.


What I see is a player with speed and power but not much plate discipline who plays an average center field. The decision point for hitters in baseball has always been does his bat carry him enough to make up for his defense or is his defense special enough that you play him and be grateful for anything his bat does provide.  Using those criteria Upton’s defense is average and not enough to carry an iffy bat.  His bat projects as a corner outfielder power wise and his defense would probably improve in a corner slot. Whether he fits in your team depends on a few things:

1) Can your lineup handle the addition of a strikeout a game hitter who’s going to hit less than .250?

2) Is average defense enough in your center field? In a big ballpark like San Diego or Colorado probably not.

3) How much are you willing to gamble for how long? Is five years at $50M realistic for your payroll and are you willing to wait for the “growth” Dierks suggests he needs and accept that fact that it might never come?

That’s A Wrap

B.J. Upton isn’t an awful addition to a lineup that isn’t already overloaded with strikeouts and has a supporting defensive cast around him.  As I noted his power projects as a left fielder and that’s probably a better place for him but he’s marketed as a CF and in that context I’m not interested in him for the Braves. We have too many strikeouts already and though a guy like Angel Pagan shows it can happen I’m not willing to hope that the growth he needs will happen at age 28 or older.  Imagine Dan Uggla without the OBP and nonstop hustle and you have a fair picture of B.J.Upton.  In my view he’s too big a risk for the money he wants and frankly an attitude issue is the last thing the team needs as it transitions from the Chipper Jones era and is looking for leadership. I think the free agent market holds better options and I am certain the trade market does too. So for me B.J. Upton = Pass. His brother on the other hand. . .

Topics: Atlanta Braves, B.J. Upton, Free Agents

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  • Carlos Collazo

    I am a bit more optimistic about B.J. Upton’s offense than you are but some things are definitely a concern. It will be interesting to see if the Braves make a big push for him.

    • fireboss

      Why optimistic? He’s been yo-yoing below 250 since 08 and hasn’t shown any indication of getting better. His BABip has been steady at about .300 again since 2008. Makes me wonder what happened in 09 to change him. Perhaps it was the hitting coach change, it hurt the Braves for one year. I of course don’t know and as I told Lee I’d take him as a corner at the right price but as a CF he’s not the guy

      • Carlos Collazo

        If you can get away from the batting average he’s really not too bad. But with Uggla in the lineup as well it could hurt I suppose. But that combination of speed and power in center field sounds great to me. If he can play left than great, but that’s if Wren can find someone to play center. If we end up with Upton in center next year I will be happy. There could be a lot worse.

        • fireboss

          We won’t Wren won’t give him the years and money he wants and lose a draft pick in the bargain.

  • Lee Trocinski

    It’s curious that you took OPS+ out of the offensive table above. Aside from a bad ’09, he’s been above average every other year, so he’s not that bad offensively. Tampa has seemed to be a pitcher’s park, which artificially hurts his numbers. He made the same adjustment as Heyward did this year, swinging more, resulting in less walks and more power. My biggest reason for avoiding him is the loss of a first round pick, though his attitude and contact issues are not far behind.

    • fireboss

      Wasn’t a conscious choice just had limited space to cram it in and really most won’t know what it is without a glossary. His best years were 07 and 08 he hasn’t busted .250 BA since. As a power hitting corner outfielder I’d take him for say 3 years at 10. he’s comparable to willingham and cuddyer at the left corner and as a back up CF he’s worth what Cuddyer gets for being a 1st base of guy. More is too big a risk IMO. Wouldn’t surprise me to see him in Philly but he’s not a fit for center with us.

      • Lee Trocinski

        I would only say someone can’t play center if they aren’t capable defensively. For me, that’s once you start getting to -10 for a full season, and B.J. is not that bad. An average bat is more valuable in center than a corner spot, and you can find a high-OBP, average power leftfielder (Alex Gordon, Shin-Soo Choo) to fill that void. I don’t like pre-determining offensive styles for each position, as long as there’s a balance overall.

        • fireboss

          I didn’t say he couldn’t play center but he’s not better than average in that position. Average is not something I’d accept unless he brought a special bat with it. His bat is average too. I suspect that as a left fielder he be better defensively and his bat looks like a left fielder’s bat because he isn’t Matt Kemp who’s not a great fielder and by your -10 standard shouldn’t play center. He is a stud hitter however whose bat carries him at least until the Dodgers decide to sign Bourn, trade Ethier and move him to right or left.

          In the Braves lineup we already have Uggla. We can’t use another like him.

          • Lee Trocinski

            The problem is that the bar is set higher for left fielders offensively, so the defensive help is offset by playing an easier position. $10M+ a year is too much for a slightly above-average player, which we both can agree on.

            As far as Kemp goes, I thought both Gwynn and Victorino should have been in center and Kemp in left or right. I’m pretty sure Kemp could play an average corner outfield, which would make him more valuable in a corner, but he’s a rare case.

          • fireboss

            his number actually fit pretty well with the left fielder number on Fangraphs it;s moot anyway. He’s not what wren wants especially withe the lost draft pick

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