Justin Upton Trade Opens A Window For The Braves And Ends An Era For The D’backs
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Monday, February.04, 2013
By Nicholas Rossoletti (MLB Reports Trade Correspondent): Follow @NRoss56
What many Arizona Diamondback fans once considered the unthinkable happened last week. The team decided to part with 25-Year-Old Right Fielder, Justin Upton. Upton was the franchise’s top draft pick in 2005, its Number 1 prospect in 2007 according to Baseball America, its best player in both the 2009 and 2011 seasons based upon Wins Above Replacement and the 13th best position player in the Major Leagues in 2011 as he added 6.4 Wins to the D’Backs.
The D’Backs shipped Upton to Atlanta where he will be reunited with his brother, BJ Upton, and in doing so, the team ended a relationship with another of its first round picks. None of Arizona’s top picks from 2003 through 2011 are still with the franchise. Upton was the type of player that teams normally build around especially at 25 Years Pld. Instead the D’Backs determined it was better to use Upton to acquire 5 pieces that they hope will provide several building blocks to replace the one they gave away. In that way, Upton still provided the D’Backs with foundation even when he is no longer playing for them.
Justin Upton Highlights Mature Lyrics so Parental Guidance is Advised:
Rumors have swirled as to whether Upton demanded the D’Backs trade him or whether GM Kevin Towers was set on dealing Upton in an effort to re-stock his franchise with talent. Whichever is true, Upton was certainly coming off a down season in 2012. Last season was almost a mirror image of Upton’s 2010. Upton’s power stats were down across the board from 2011. Last week, in the Mike Morse review, I talked a bit about looking at a player’s ISO (isolated power) to understand a player’s progression or regression offensively. I think this as good a place to start as any on the analysis of Justin Upton.
Upton hit 17 HRs in 2012, which was down from 31 in 2011. It wasn’t just a decrease in home runs that is a disturbing trend for Upton. He also had a large decrease in Doubles during the 2012 season. Not surprisingly, Upton’s ISO was down almost 90 points from .240 in 2011 to .150 in 2012. When we take a further look, the power decrease can be directly tied to a decrease in the number of fly balls Upton was hitting last year. Upton’s Fly Ball Percentage (FB%) was down from 44.8% to 35.6%, and his Ground Ball Percentage (GB%) inversely increased from 36.9% to 43.8%. The problem with this regression from Upton is simply that his 2012 numbers look more like his numbers in 2009 and 2010, which means we have to at least wonder whether the power display in 2011 was the statistical outlier in the group.
Another worrisome trend for the Braves is Upton’s sudden defensive struggles in 2012. Upton went from a top 20 defensive outfielder the previous three seasons and the eleventh best fielding outfielder in 2011 according to fangraphs.com to the 35th best outfielder in 2012. This was a large cause in his decrease in Wins Added last year as he regressed from his role as an elite defensive outfielder. His UZR (ultimate zone rating) fell from 7.7 in 2011 to -2.1 in 2012. While no defensive metric is ever a perfect measurement, it is clear that Upton took a step back defensively, which is discouraging given that he is still in his mid-20’s and one would expect at least 3 to 4 years of elite defensive performance before regression.
As we move forward, it seems like the Braves acquired a player whose power and defense diminished substantially, and yet, based on the title of this article (and my preview of it for those of you who follow me on Twitter or Facebook), I believe that the Upton acquisition opens a championship window for the Atlanta Braves. This would seem to contradict my normal reliance on sabermetrics and trend towards popular thought. Maybe it does, but I think we can quantify how important Upton is. Before we get there though, let’s take a look at some very simple facts. Upton is 25 Years Old. As such, he is still outside of what would be considered his prime. He is not cheap, but he is reasonably priced over the course of the next three seasons at 9.75 Million this year, 14.25 Million next year and 14.75 Million in 2015. He is coming off his worse season in four years, which is one of the reasons why he was available. To put it in finance terms, the Braves bought a blue chip stock at its lowest point in years. Could they be wrong? Sure. But opportunities to buy players like Upton at his age are few and far between.
A cursory review of the rest of his statistical profile paints a fairly strong picture that the Braves did not buy damaged goods. Upton’s BB% was up from 2011 and above league average, his K% was in line with his previous seasons and about league average and his Line Drive Rate (LD%) was at a three-year high. If we see a rebound from Upton in his defense and power, the Braves have acquired one of the elite outfielders in the game. In addition to Upton, the Braves acquired Chris Johnson, who will man Third Base for the Braves and take over for the retired, Chipper Jones. As far as additional pieces for a trade, Chris Johnson is hardly a poor one for the Braves. Johnson was worth 1.7 WAR last year as he compiled a slash line of .281/.326/.451. Johnson isn’t an elite talent, but he will serve as a league average third baseman. His K% is above league average, his BB% is below league average and his BABIP is consistently above league average. While none of that is particularly impressive offensively, Johnson does consistently hit for above the league average on-line drives which should allow him to help increase the run production for the Braves. In the end, this trade wasn’t about Johnson, but he helped make it happen by allowing the Braves to part with Martin Prado who was slated to be the Braves starting Third Baseman this season.
On the D’Backs end of the deal, this trade will always be seen as the sale of Justin Upton. It would take nothing short of World Series championship in which several of the acquired pieces contributed for the Arizona fans to see this any differently. While this may be an unfair way to judge the trade, it is rare that you deal a talent like Upton and therefore, anything short of the best possible results will lead to heavy criticism of the move. The key Major League piece in this deal is Martin Prado. Prado is coming off his best season ever in 2012. Prado’s power numbers were arguably better in 2009 and 2010, but in 2012, Prado rebounded from a very rough previous season, returned to his traditional numbers specifically Prado has traditionally had a BABIP that sits in the .330 range. In 2011, his Batting Average on Balls in Play decreased into the .266 range. As is traditional with BABIP as a statistic, Prado’s regressed back to his career mean in 2012 and his average increased. Prado has been very consistent in what he gives a team offensively over his career with the exception of 2011 when he missed a stretch of games with a staph infection. Prado is a batter who does not strike out often and makes contact with 90% of the pitches he swings at. He has fairly good bat control, but Prado does not offer a particularly spectacular power profile for Third Base. This is really where we have to examine the D’Backs acquisition of Prado.
I started the Prado review by discussing how 2012 was Prado’s best season in the Major Leagues. Even a brief review of his offensive statistics tell us that 2012 wasn’t his best season with the bat. It was, however, his best year with the glove. The Braves were one of the elite defensive outfields in baseball as they had Jason Heyward and Michael Bourn post UZR ratings in excess of 20 (think about UZR or Ultimate Zone Rating in similar terms to Defensive Runs Saved). Prado was a key to this spectacular outfield as he was good for a UZR of 16.6 and a DRS of 12. When you add in some above average to very good play at Third Base and Shortstop, it is obvious that Prado’s 5.9 WAR is driven considerably by defense. Considering that the D’backs just signed Prado to a reasonable 4 year, 40 million dollar deal, he is someone I think the Arizona fans will come to like quite a bit.
In addition to Prado, the D’backs have used this trade to rebuild depth both at the Major League level and in the Minors. Arizona acquired Randall Delgado, who was rumored in several different trade scenarios including mid-season rumors for Ryan Dempster before getting moved to Phoenix. Delgado should break camp with the D’backs as their 5th starter – and his Minor League profile is one that shows a player who could be successful at the Major League level. Delgado has profiled as a big K, big BB pitcher throughout his career. The problem in his Major League stints is that the Big K numbers just have not been there. The good news is that in 2012, Delgado got his K/9 rate up to 7.38, which is a substantial improvement on his brief stint with the team in 2011. With that being said, Arizona would love to see Delgado increase that ratio to his Minor League ratios, which sat in the 8-10 K/9 range. Clearly, the team would also love to see Delgado’s BB rate decrease, but nothing in his last two seasons indicates that is a realistic expectation. As is, the D’Backs will have a young pitcher to coach who sits in the low-90’s with the ability to touch the mid-90’s on his fastball.
Throughout the off-season, the D’backs made no secret of their effort to obtain a shortstop of the future. They traded uber-propsect Trevor Bauer in order to acquire light hitting, heavy glove Didi Gregorius from the Reds. The third largest piece in the Upton deal was Nick Ahmed. Ahmed may be best known in the baseball world as a crucial piece to that terrific 2011 UConn Huskies team. His time in the Minors with the Braves has been good but not great. He seems to be about a .270 or so hitter at the Minor League level, but he adds another young shortstop, which is a position General Manager Kevin Towers identified early as a need position.
Arizona also acquired Minor League Right Handed Pitcher, Zeke Spruill. Spruill has been a farm hand in the Braves system for five seasons and just found his way to Double-A in 2012 where he put-up a 3.63 ERA in 27 starts. Spruill strikes me as a depth arm as his K numbers do not indicate an ability to get even Minor Leaguers to swing and miss at his stuff. He will be 24 at the end of this season. If there isn’t a significant development this season, I think you have to assume that it would be unlikely for Spruill to be anything but a depth piece to be used in case of a serious string of injuries. The D’backs also picked up 20-Year Old First Baseman, Brandon Drury. Drury hasn’t seen any action above the Single-A level of the Minor Leagues, and his time spent at A ball last year was unimpressive as he only hit .231 with a .335 Slugging Percentage. We can’t say too much about Drury right now other than the D’backs are hoping his 2011 production at Rookie ball starts to show itself this year at A ball.
It’s easy to call the Braves the winner of this trade because they got the most talented piece by far in Upton, however, it would not be fair to judge the D’Backs too harshly. Prado is an excellent addition for a reasonable price tag. Both Delgado and Ahmed should have the opportunity to help the D’Backs in Arizona in either 2013 or 2014. Overall, it’s never easy to say goodbye to a favorite player, but Arizona determined (or was told by the player depending on who you believe) that now was the time to deal Upton. They got a pretty good return on their investment. Now to sit back and see if the Upton can help the Braves overtake the Nationals and whether the new look D’backs can chase the big spending Dodgers and World Champion Giants.
*** The views and opinions expressed in this report are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of mlbreports.com and their partners***
A big thank-you goes out to Our ‘Trade Correspondent’ Nicholas Rossoletti for preparing today’s featured article. Nicholas is a young professional living in downtown Miami. He is a lifelong baseball fan and an avid Yankee supporter. Having grown up during the last two decades, he counts Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera as his favorite ball players of all time. He believes in sabermetrics and that new stats have already changed the way the baseball industry sees players. He was for Trout over Cabrera, he thinks RBIs tell you a lot more about a team than a player and that defense and pitching, ultimately, win championships. Rational thought and introspective analysis over the narrative is how we come to understand the game we love. The narrative is just a way to keep those who don’t really love the game watching. Feel free to follow Nicholas on twitter and talk the game of baseball Follow @NRoss56
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Posted on February 4, 2013, in MLB Teams: Articles and Analysis, The Rest: Everything Baseball and tagged @Nross56 on twitter, arizona diamondbacks, Atlanta Braves, brandon drury, chipper jones, chris johnson, didi gregorius, giants, jason heyward, justin upton, martin prado, michael bourn, Mike Morse, nicholas rossoletti, nick ahmed, randall delgado, ryan dempster, tampa bay rays, trevor bauer, U Conn huskies, zeke spruill. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.