Sep. 28, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Justin Upton (10) hits a two run home run in the game against the Chicago Cubs in the fifth inning at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

The Newest Braves

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.

Sept. 11, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA: Arizona Diamondbacks third baseman Chris Johnson against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

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.

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  • BravesBaseball10

    I don’t think we’ve seen the best of Justin Upton yet. He finished top 5 in NL MVP voting in 2011 when he was 23 years old. He was unhappy with the way management was treating him last year, plus he had that nagging thumb injury.

    Any early stat projections for Justin Upton with the Braves and Martin Prado with Arizona?

    • Lee Trocinski

      The trade should actually help each player’s value a bit. Arizona has been more of a gap park than a home run park, so Prado’s line drives will find even more gaps. Upton’s home run rate shouldn’t suffer much, as that’s now the biggest part of his game.

  • fireboss

    The one thing everyone over looks with Justin is his age. At 21 ,22,23,24 I was pretty erratic myself. Talent only takes you so far and we all have periods where our mind is partially elsewhere.The home road splits don’t worry me if the player is a talented either. Home cooking is more than dimensions and altitude, it’s home and rest in your bed and eat your food and everything that goes with that. I suspect Upton will have some really good years in Atlanta and will make BJ and Jason better. The problem the Braves have now is leadership. Neither Upton is a leader in the Chipper mold and this was going to be an issue anyway. I expect Freeman to be the guy in the end.
    I suspect Jason and Justin will have 25+ 80+ seasons. Prado will be Prado and his season will look much like his last one with perhaps more power at home due to the altitude in Phoenix.

    • Lee Trocinski

      I forgot to put in the part about hitters doing better in general at home, a 34-point split in OPS and 14 points in wOBA. His age is normally a promising factor, though like I mentioned with Sierra, it’s not a guarantee he gets better.