Impact on the Nats of Braves Deal for Justin Upton

The NL East is now a coin flip. Think of it this way. The Braves line-up is
going to score a lot of runs. In 2012 the Braves scored the seventh most runs
in baseball. Before getting to Justin Upton and the
impact he is going to have let’s review the impact of BJ Upton. What was lost in Bourn was a player who produced most of his value in the
field, and what they got in BJ Upton was a player who produced most of his
value with power. Bourn for his career is a .272/.339/.365 hitter while BJ
Upton is a career .255/.336/.422 hitter. BJ Upton is marginally worse at
getting on base but hits with much more power. It doesn’t completely replace
the value that Bourn was to the 2012 Braves but it helps. 

What is really going to help the Braves
is the deal they completed this morning to bring in Justin Upton. Justin Upton
is a career .278/.357/.475 hitter who plays amazing defense in right. His
defensive value should only improve shifting across the diamond to left field
and leaving Jason Heyward in right.
Back to the line-up for a minute. While Upton’s career numbers aren’t that
close to Chipper Jones career numbers of .303/.401/.529 he doesn’t
have to be. Chipper Jones in 2012 was a .287/.377/.455 hitter and only played
in 112 games. Justin Upton can replace that level of production and is going to
play in more games.    

The Braves are going to score a lot of
runs in 2012, and if their starting staff can get the game into the hands of the
bullpen the Braves are going to win a lot of games. That is now the problem for
the Braves. Tim Hudson is going to be 37 in 2013 and while he has yet
to show his age it has to catch up to him at some point. There is no evidence
though that that is going to happen at all in 2013 and the Braves top two of
Medlen and Hudson are not a concern. What should be troubling to Braves fans is
that their number three at the start of the season will be Paul Maholm.  

Maholm is a lefty with a career 4.26
ERA, 5.7 K/9, and 2.9 BB/9. Maholm is a decent back of the rotation starter,
but he isn’t a number three. After him though the Braves have Mike Minor who did pitch much better in the second half of
last season but is still has a career ERA of 4.37, K/9 of 7.9, and BB/9 of 2.9.
Minor’s biggest flaw as a pitcher though is his propensity to give up the
homerun with a career HR/9 of 1.2. The last piece of the Braves rotation is Julio Teheran who has been a much better prospect than a
player. He has managed to make only 4 big league starts with a 4.91 ERA. Those
numbers are basically meaningless, but with Delgado included in the deal and
Beachy still recovering from Tommy Johns the Braves won’t have a fall back
option until JR Graham is ready.      

The other big piece that the Braves lose
in the deal is Martin Prado who had a 5.9 fWAR in 2012 and was going to
take over third base from Chipper in 2013. This in some ways limits the impact
of acquiring Upton as his career high fWAR was 6.4 in 2011. Like Broun Prado is
more of a top of the order hitter and derived a good portion of his
value from his sparkling defense in left and Upton is more of a power hitter
and it has to be imagined will be just as good a defender in left as he has
been in right. Both Uptons will slot into the middle of the Braves order and
provide them with more power than they had in 2012. With a full season of
Simmons at the top of the order the Braves offense isn’t just going to be good,
it is going to be great, and could be the best in the National League.  

None of this changes the fact that the
NL East is now a coin flip. This deal all but eliminates the Phillies who are
now counting on players past their primes in Howard and Utley to not only stay
healthy for an entire season, but to once again play like 27 year olds. The
Phillies pitching staff is great and better than the Braves, but it won’t be
enough. The Phillies could finish second in the division if either the Braves
or Nats falter, but the likelihood of both faltering enough to open the door
for the Phillies to win the division is slim to highly improbable. The Braves
deal for Justin Upton gives them a terrific offense and great outfield defense
to go along with the best bullpen in baseball and a starting pitching staff that
dies after Hudson. That last part might not matter that much as if the Braves
can score five, give up four, and get the ball to O’Flaherty, Venters, Kimbrel
the game is over.




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  1. Here is the wRC+ for the Braves projected lineup in 2012, highest to lowest: 120 (Heyward)115 (Freeman)108 (J. Upton)107 (B.J. Upton)103 (Uggla)102 (Simmons)88 (Francisco)86 (McCann)Same exercise for the Nats:128 (Desmond)128 (Werth)127 (LaRoche)121 (Zimmerman)121 (Harper)105 (Span)94 (Espinosa)64 (Suzuki)Presumptively, the Nats have the better lineup. And it isn’t really close. If McCann (already injured), Uggla (age 33) and Justin Upton have bounce-back years, maybe it’s closer. But at the same time, I would expect a few of the Nats to take steps forward, given their age, especially Harper and Espinosa. A healthy Zimmerman can put up better numbers too.


  2. OK, in response to Twitter, here are the lineups with career RC+:118 (Heyward)116 (J. Upton)116 (McCann)115 (Freeman)115 (Uggla)107 (B.J. Upton)102 (Simmons)98 (Francisco)Nats:121 (Harper)120 (Zimmerman)120 (Werth)112 (LaRoche)105 (Span)98 (Desmond)98 (Espinosa)87 (Suzuki)That’s closer, certainly, but the Braves best career hitter is still worse than three Nats. Plus, I see Desmond, Harper and Espinosa as likely to exceed their career averages, given age, experience, etc., while LaRoche and Werth are likely trending down. For the Braves, I’d see Heyward and Freeman on the upswing, with Uggla and McCann fading and Simmons a question mark. (Ramos presents a similar question for the Nats–he could offer a substantial upgrade over Suzuki.) I still would give the advantage to the Nats lineup.


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