Thursday, December 6, 2012

Winter Meetings: BJ Upton Analysis

Hello again readers! I'm back for an update since we're past the regular season of football, and the Braves have started making some moves. We all knew that with Bourn looking for a huge payday, the Braves were hunting outfielders to round out the lineup. Prado likely moves down to 3rd, Heyward stays in right, and Simmons comes back to play SS with the right side of Uggla and Freeman intact. That meant we needed a CF and LF to figure out the starters. We got that CF with the signing of BJ Upton for $15M a year over 5 years.

Many of my friends have asked me what I think of the deal. Personally, the price tag seems high, but I think that you always pay a 15-20% premium on the free agent market when you try to attract a guy from another team. I believe that BJ Upton is probably a $12.5M a year type of player, but his speed and power make him a possibly 30/30 guy in 2013. Couple that with Heyward and Simmons speed on the bases, and you have at least 3 guys that can put pressure on an infield every time they touch the bags.

But lets look deeper into the numbers behind Upton's signing. After all, that's what I do. Here's the positives. BJ doesn't take a lot of days off, and he hasn't been hurt much in his career. Over the last 5 seasons, he's only missed 68 games of a possible 810. That means BJ has been playing 92% of the time for the last 5 years. In 2760 ABs in those 5 years, he's sporting a .248 batting average, an OBP of .325, and 89 HRs with 195 stolen bases. Over a regular season, you should be able to pencil in at least 20 homers and 30 stolen bases, including 70+ RBIs, minimum. To compare, that's pretty similar to Jason Heyward numbers from last year. Adding another OF with some pop would give our total outfield lineup a very scary speed/power ratio.

Now the downside. Also like Heyward, Upton is prone to strikeouts. Lots of them. In fact he's had over 160 Ks in the last 3 years at Tampa. That's on par with Dan Uggla numbers for strikeouts from last year. Everyone immediately says, "Uh oh" in their heads. Granted, that's my biggest concern about Upton making the transition to the NL. However, the major difference is that when Upton's making contact, it's going somewhere. When Upton puts the ball in play, he's hitting around .300 over the last 3 years. Compare that to Dan's .267 over the last two years in Atlanta. That's why I think of Upton having more in common with Heyward, who has a .309 average on balls in play over his 3 seasons.

In other news from our moves so far, the Braves lost David Ross to the Red Sox, and Hinske went to the Diamondbacks in a 1 year deal as of two days ago. That means two of our biggest club house leaders are now gone, in addition to the cavernous void that Chipper Jones leaves in the lockerroom. Will we have leaders next year that can step up and take control of this team? Some have pointed to Tim Hudson and Brian McCann, both of whom are in the last year of their deals. I find it hard to believe that soft-spoken Brian McCann could be the fiery leader we'd need, nor can a guy who pitches only once every 5 days give you the boost on a daily basis. That's not even bringing up the fact that Brian may not even be ready by opening day with his shoulder issues.

No, I think the answer of leadership needs to come from 3 places, and they aren't guys who you'd think of because they are so young. Jason Heyward is going to become the face of the franchise with the departure of Chipper, due to his play and draw in the city of Atlanta. Freddie Freeman will also draw attention with his bat and his glove, and Martin Prado will be the constant force at any position, especially taking the reigns from Chipper. Those are the 3 guys, all guys we expect to be around the franchise for a while, who I believe have to step up to fill the leadership void. Their voices and work ethic will set the bar for this team. They will be the Braves you see in interviews and in the national media. They are also going to have to overcome challenges. Prado has a very thick accent and can sometimes struggle with his English in the public forums. Freddie and Jason are both very young and will have to be ready to motivate some of the older vets. But it can be done. And it must be done for us to win.

All in all, we've made one of the two big moves we need to make in order to beat the Nationals next season. Make no mistake, we can never settle for the wild card again in this format. I think we all saw why. It's division or bust in my mind, from this point forward. There's a reason none of those wild card play-in teams were in the World Series this year. It messes with your rotation, grinds out your players, and forces you to play on the road constantly to win series. Let's just forgo all that and win the NL East next year. Sound like a plan?

Go Braves!