After all the posts we’ve had about Justin Upton possibly, then unlikely, and now arriving in Atlanta, there are very few stones to overturn. However, taking a deep look at his numbers, there are quite a few things I found that seem to not fit with his perception.
First of all, he has never put together back-to-back great seasons. He looks like his new teammate in the other corner of the outfield, Jason Heyward. Both have hit wild fluctuations season-to-season, and not just BABIP or injury noise. Upton has seen his BB and K rates go up and down, which is uncommon, as these are some of the most stable stats year-to-year. While Heyward keeps going the wrong way in that regard, it looks like Upton is starting to figure it out some.
Upton is also considered a surefire superstar in the next few years, which I am skeptical about. Last year, his thumb injury seemed to affect his play quite a bit, another comparison to Heyward. However, the previous four seasons were not as great as they seemed. His power is one of his most enigmatic stats, alternating between 15 and 30 HR seasons. His 31-HR 2011 season was more a product of hitting more flyballs, as his HR/FB% was actually higher in ’09. Being a corner outfielder without tremendous defense, extreme speed, or a really high average, power needs to be present to be great.
Park factors also have a hand in this determination. Arizona is a hitter-friendly park, and his home/road splits bear that out. He has a .937 OPS (.399 wOBA) at home and a .731 mark (.320 wOBA) on the road, a huge split. The margin does shrink when factoring in a few things. First, when playing at a hitter-friendly park, the road parks normally average out to be slightly in the pitcher’s favor. Being in the NL West, a third of his road games are in San Diego, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, three very good pitcher parks. With such a disparity between home and road hitting environments, I’d say about half his difference is explained by things out of his control.
That being said, Upton has had a 4-WAR season and a 6-WAR season under his belt by age 25. He could end up being Ryan Braun, he could be Ruben Sierra, but most likely he’ll be somewhere in-between. At $39M over the next three years, Justin should be able to provide plenty of surplus value to Atlanta.
Chris Johnson was the other player coming to Atlanta. Already 28 years old, Johnson has just over 1300 PA, posting an average .276/.315/.430 line. He doesn’t walk much and strikes out about 25% of his PAs. While his power is decent, his best attribute is his ability to square up the ball, hitting 24% line drives and showing a high .347 BABIP.
However, the idea of platooning him and Juan Francisco has a catch. Johnson has a big reverse platoon split, hitting for a .775 OPS (.335 wOBA) against righties and a .667 OPS (.288 wOBA) against lefties. The other idea against a platoon is his lack of defensive skill. In his 2750 innings at third (just a bit over two full seasons), he has a -34 UZR and a -41 DRS, hurting himself both with errors and bad range. As a bat off the bench, he’s a decent piece, but as a platoon starter, he’s stretching his limits.
The Braves likely made a minimal improvement to this year’s club, as Upton and Martin Prado are nearly a wash. However, Upton’s additional two seasons and his higher potential make this a decent deal for Atlanta. I don’t believe any of the prospects are impact players, so as long as the top of the order gets settled, the Upton brothers can provide a talent boost to take the team further than the wild-card round in the next few seasons.