September 08, 2014

B.J. Upton Signing Made Sense

Clearly B.J. Upton’s time in Atlanta has been an unmitigated disaster.  He’s slashed .197/.277/.311 during his time with the Braves, with an OPS+ of 64.  According to Baseball-Reference’s methodology, he’s been a -2.5 WAR player.  There is no doubt in hindsight that the signing was a mistake, unless he can somehow put up remarkable seasons in the next three years, which seems highly unlikely.

But at the time B.J. was signed by the Braves, he has posted a line of .255/.336/.422 and a 105 OPS+ and was just entering his age 28 season.  Per Baseball-Reference, he averaged 1.9 WAR per season and 3 WAR per 650 plate appearances.

Using Fangraphs’ dollar values, which is their WAR converted to dollars based on what teams payed for production on the open, free-agent market, here is what B.J. was worth each of his full seasons with the Devil Rays/Rays:

2007: $18.5 million

2008: $21.6 million

2009: $9.6 million

2010: $15.2 million

2011: $17.3 million

2012: $14.1 million

So signing B.J. Upton for five years at $75.25 million ($15.05 million a season in average annual value) did not seem to be unreasonable based on his past production.  He had been worth about that much or more in four of his six full seasons in the majors.  And there was certainly no sign of a downward trend in terms of his overall value (as you see above) and his offensive production (below):

2007: 136 OPS+

2008: 108 OPS+

2009: 82 OPS+

2010: 106 OPS+

2011: 114 OPS+

2012: 108 OPS+

Yes, his first full season was clearly his best and he had some ups and downs but there was nothing to indicate any sort of a downward trend that would culminate in awfulness over the subsequent two seasons.

Also Upton was the second pick of the 2002 draft, made it the the majors as a shortstop and played some thirdbase before converting to centerfield, was a trim 6’3″ and 185 lbs., and scouting reports had him as one of the best five-tool players in the minors coming up.  Sure he never became a superstar, but based on his size, body type, athleticism, tools, and age there was no reason to expect he would fall on his face after age 27 and stray all that far from his 105 OPS+ and 2-3 WAR per season.

Throughout the years there was some concern expressed about his makeup and there was even some drama on display.  He got into it with Rays’ thirdbaseman Evan Longoria during a game in 2010 after Upton appeared to not go hard after a ball hit over his head.  But for any talk about his makeup, he still posted a 105 OPS+ and was a 2-3-WAR-per-season player.  Maybe his makeup caused him to be less of a player than he could have been but it did not hinder him from being what he was, a solid big leaguer.

So all indications–his performance, his tools, his skills, his age, his skill set, his body type, his athleticism–pretty much anything you could imagine pointed to B.J. Upton being a decent player throughout most of his five-year contract with the Braves, and worth the price they paid.

The only thing that could have saved the Braves and their front office from the B.J. Upton failure is some sort of time machine, crystal ball, a direct line to The Almighty.  Therefore, the B.J. Upton signing and it not working out is not on Frank Wren and the front office.  Players with the package B.J. Upton came with, even if he was a disappointment up to that point relative to his expectations as a 2nd overall pick and a top prospect, aren’t supposed to go from a career 105 OPS+ to a two-year OPS+ of 64 in their ages 28-29 seasons.



10 Responses to “B.J. Upton Signing Made Sense”

  1. 1
    MattyO Says:

    Well done, people are so quick to blame Wren. When no one could’ve predicted this regression. Just really bad luck.

  2. 2
    Drew Says:

    I never see people mention the idea behind the mental boost of bringing him together with Justin. That in itself generated reason to believe he would play at least as well as he had, if not better. I want BJ gone as much as anybody but I can’t say signing him was a terrible idea.

  3. 3
    Jim Says:

    I wasn’t thrilled with the signing, but I agree that there was no indication he’d be THIS bad.

    The problem is that Fredi keeps putting his name on the lineup card. Seems he learned nothing from the Uggla situation.

    At some point, you have to put your best team on the field regardless of egos or contracts. Bonifacio should have become the starter the day he was acquired.

    Not sure if Fredi or Wren is ultimately responsible for BJ continuing to get so much playing time… but if BJ’s horrible play hasn’t cost him his job, it should definitely cost someone else theirs.

  4. 4
    Shaun Says:

    I think the Braves are in a tough situation in centerfield. They had what amounted to two fringy guys in B.J. and Schafer. They traded for another useful yet still fringy guy in Bonifacio. They are playing Bonifacio more than they played Schafer, which makes sense. But it’s not like they improved their situation all that much. They still basically have two fringy centerfielders and they are trying to make it work.

    I’m starting to think maybe Gattis in leftfield, Heyward in centerfield and Justin in rightfield might be worth considering at this point. Desperate times, desperate measures.

  5. 5
    FelixMi Says:

    Did Frank Wren dictate this article?

  6. 6
    Mattw108 Says:

    Hindsight! That’s what you basically posted…I was, I know I was one of the first to absolutely hate this signing…no his track record did not indicate he could have been this bad…though his track record did not warrant the contract either! If the Braves had a do over…possibly in the off season…move Jason to CF and either get a LF or RF…do it with an Gattis trade (GULP) package him with minor or possibly (GULP) Jason with the MLB prospects this team needs, LF or RF, SP, and RP….this has a real chance to be possible…and good grief, get some veteran leadership!!! Just sayin!!!!

  7. 7
    Rob Says:

    Package him and Johnson to the Yankees for A Rod and a prospect and hope Alex has something left in the tank. There won’t be to many better options.

  8. 8
    Mattw108 Says:

    Good Joke!

  9. 9
    waltcoogan Says:

    I never liked the B.J. Upton signing, from even before he was on the field for the Braves. Sure, virtually no one would have anticipated such a steep regression, but throwing $75M at this player never made much sense. Yes, Upton offered power and speed, and Wren thought that his right-handed power could further balance the lineup (although I think that Wren places too much emphasis on such balance, at the cost of ignoring a player’s flaws). But the Braves needed a leadoff hitter to replace Michael Bourn, and Upton was coming off a .298 on-base percentage in 2012 with Tampa. Moreover, Upton had not posted an OBP above .331 since 2008.

    Additionally, his hitting mechanics could not have suddenly become problematic upon joining the Braves. Previously, his bat speed probably compensated for those problematic mechanics, but by the time that a player is approaching the age of thirty, he will often lose bat speed (see Marcus Giles or even Dustin Pedroia), and Upton did not possess the mechanics to compensate for a loss of bat speed. The bottom-line is that you don’t gamble $75M on such a questionable player as B.J. Upton, and you don’t possess a fetish for right-handed power above all else. Wren has made many poor decisions, including this one. John Schuerholz was not perfect, but he never wasted tens of millions of dollars on players such as Upton, Dan Uggla, and Derek Lowe.

  10. 10
    Shaun Says:

    I think the idea behind signing B.J. was about solidifying centerfield for a while, with no obvious centerfield candidates coming up through the system any time soon.

    I think Wren and company were right to focus on the player and his value over handedness and lineup spot considerations. I think mostly you just go after the best player that fits with the cost you can pay and have allotted, especially when you are acquiring a player for multiple years because things line lineup construction and handedness of the team lineup can change quickly from year-to-year. Plus batting order just isn’t that important so it’s best to get the best player possible over worrying about trying to build an appropriate batting order. You get the players then you worry about how to put them into a batting order.

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