Friday, November 21, 2014

Quick Shots: Should Justin Upton have more value than Jason Heyward?

According to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, the Braves are at least considering dealing outfielder Justin Upton on the heels of Monday's trade of fellow outfielder Jason Heyward. The kicker is that the Braves front office is pushing for a greater return than they got for Heyward. If one year of Heyward and two years or Jordan Walden bring back four years of Shelby Miller and a prospect capable of jumping from the top ten of the system he was traded from to the top ten of the system he is gong to...what more could the Braves possibly expect for Upton?

The article states that both teams from Texas have been interested along with others that were unnamed. Sherman also brings up the Mariners and David O'Brien notes that Taijuan Walker isn't off the table from the Mariners' point of view, but might require more than just a straight swap. It's worth mentioning that Upton took the Mariners off his no-trade list this offseason, opening up an avenue where a deal with Seattle could be worked out.

However, what intrigues me the most from the Sherman piece is that the Braves have a steeper price on Upton than for Heyward, which was fairly significant. Both are set to be free agents after 2015. While Heyward is younger, the difference is only two years and Upton won't be 28 until late August. Should the Braves expect more for Upton?

Dave Cameron of Fangraphs states no and says he can do so without mentioning defense, but I do think he's missing one thing. Let's look at wOBA.


What I want you to notice is that while Upton's wOBA, a pretty good indicator of offensive talent, has been improving over the last two years, Heyward's has gone the other way. That green line is also important because it tells us that while the average has continued to decline like it has over the last five seasons, Upton has improved. This is important because offense is much desired in today's game. Now, Cameron makes a valid point that we aren't exactly comparing apples-to-apples. We need to look at the respective ages. 
Here it becomes murkier. Both players saw a decline in their age-24 years. Upton improved beyond that over the last two years, years that Heyward has yet to play. He, too, could see an increase. But where I think that becomes more important comes in talking about contracts, not so much about trade value as of right now because both are, again, free agents after 2015.

Now, once we include defense and baserunning, we come to a conclusion that the more valuable player is Heyward, but general managers often don't concern themselves with stupid nerd stats like WAR. They are looking at power, specifically right-handed power. So, when we look at the last three seasons, we see that Heyward ranks sixth among all outfielders in fWAR. Upton ranks 24th. But Upton's 73 homers in that time frame rank 11th while Heyward ranks 32nd, one spot behind Raul Ibanez. Power means something in a game that has saw nearly 500 fewer homeruns last season compared to 2013 and roughly 900 fewer homeruns compared to 2009.

Power, specifically right-handed power, means so much that Billy Butler got $30M. So, knowing that, the Braves cannot be wrong in wanting more for Upton and chances are good that they find it. While as a sabermetric fan, I think Heyward is the better player for the future and his all-around skills are deserving of immense praise, I don't agree with Cameron that Upton shouldn't cost more. The fact is that when you look at their comparable offensive numbers and the state of the game today, the Braves would be idiotic to accept any less. For a team that doesn't look to be competing in 2015, that's at least exciting as trading Upton could make the climb back up the standings shorter considering his value in today's market.

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