B.J. Upton, Braves Reach Hefty, Predictable Agreement

For several months, now, the Atlanta Braves have looked like a fitting future home for B.J. Upton. Once Upton officially became a free agent, the Braves made no secret of their interest, and in fact nearly two weeks ago it was suggested to me that I begin writing about Upton signing with Atlanta. That turned out to be not so much a false alarm as a hasty one — Upton didn’t sign then, and other teams sniffed around, but Upton has signed now, with the Braves for five years and just over $75 million. The predictable match is indeed the match that we observe, as Upton has landed his big-money contract, and as the Braves have landed their top offseason priority.

With the Braves, Upton basically replaces Michael Bourn in center field. The Braves aren’t done, as they still have a hole on one side of Upton (assuming Martin Prado shifts to third), but that’ll be addressed in time, and that also isn’t what’s relevant today. B.J. Upton is 28 years old, with a new employer that just made a substantial long-term commitment, and he should be discussed.

This is not a modest contract, by any means. The FanGraphs audience projected four years and $52 million, and in reality Upton’s more steep. But to whatever extent we can make reasonable comparisons to Andre Ethier, Ethier’s five-year, $85-million deal is just now kicking in. Compared to Upton, Ethier has been a slightly better hitter, but he’s also a corner outfielder instead of a center fielder, and his body has stood on this Earth for a full two additional years. The Ethier contract looked immediately like an overpay by a front office rendered snowblind by doubloons, and the Upton contract looks a lot more sensible. It’s not so small that the Braves look to be getting a bargain. It’s not so big as to resemble a potential albatross. It just seems like a fair deal that ties Upton to Georgia.

Now, to me, Upton is two things. The first is that he’s sort of underrated. This speaks more to the fan experience than to the front-office level — Upton did just get $75 million dollars from a major-league general manager. It is imperative that front offices rate baseball players as accurately as possible. But among fans, Upton has long been somewhat divisive. The issue for Upton has been the burden of extraordinary natural talent. When one possesses so much talent, the talent generates corresponding expectations. When one falls short of such lofty expectations, frustration might build. Fan opinion is part about results, and part about results relative to subjectively expected results. A three-win player who maximizes a three-win skillset might be more popular than a four-win player who doesn’t maximize an eight-win skillset. These are just hypothetical example numbers used to illustrate a point.

Upton was once drafted second overall. He was once rated by Baseball America as the league’s second-best prospect, and he made the majors at 19. Physically, there’s nothing of which B.J. Upton isn’t capable. All of the usual tools are there, along with some other ones. Upton has a career .255 average and a .758 OPS. He can handle center field, but defensively he isn’t amazing. Upton is good, and he’s been good for a long time. In the eyes of many, he hasn’t been good enough.

Which, whatever, people are free to feel however they want to feel. I’ve never watched B.J. Upton on an everyday basis; I’m sure at times I would grow frustrated. But it seems to me too much emphasis is placed on what players can’t do, and too little is placed on what they can. Over the past six years, Upton has been pretty durable, and he’s averaged about 4 WAR a season. He was one of the best players on the Rays, even when he was drawing criticism. He should be one of the best players on the Braves. If what’s most important is overall value, then, overall, B.J. Upton has been greatly valuable.

The second thing I think B.J. Upton is is mysterious. Let’s put it this way: in 2008, Upton swung at a lower rate of pitches than Daric Barton. In 2012, Upton swung at a higher rate of pitches than Jesus Montero and Adrian Beltre. In 2008, Upton was a groundball hitter with nine home runs and 97 walks. In 2012, Upton was a fly-ball hitter with 28 home runs and 45 walks. His OBP has dropped from .383 to .298, while his slugging percentage has increased from .401 to 454.

The numbers paint the picture of a guy who’s been becoming a lot more aggressive at the plate. His walks are down, his strikeouts are up, his contact is down, his power is up. By WAR, Upton has hardly changed, but by profile, Upton’s turned into a different hitter. Last year, the average hitter swung at just over a quarter of first pitches. Upton swung at nearly half. Used to be he swung at about a third.

In fact, among qualified players in 2012, B.J. Upton had the third-highest first-pitch-swing rate. New teammate Freddie Freeman had the fourth. If the Braves were to plug their left-field hole with Josh Hamilton, there’d be the potential for a lot of quick innings (and a lot of long, prodigious innings). All of Upton’s aggressiveness indicators have been trending upward, and one wonders when they’re going to stop. He was still valuable in 2012. He did still post a sub-.300 OBP. Even in a run-suppressing ballpark in a run-suppressing league, it’s a little weird to see that turn into a five-year mega-contract.

But it did, and it strikes me as being perfectly reasonable. That Upton has been changing his game as a hitter doesn’t necessarily offer any compelling clues as to what his future will look like. We might as well stick with our more basic projections, and they say that Upton will be fine. As he ages, he’ll probably get a little worse in the field, but he’s young now, he’s valuable, and there’s inflation to consider. Upton doesn’t have to be a star to be worth this deal, and to be worth it in 2017 in isolation he might need only be roughly league-average. The chances justify the investment.

Now for the dominoes. There are other free-agent center fielders, and they’ll learn from the Upton example. So will the teams looking to add a center fielder. The Atlanta Braves aren’t one of those, anymore.




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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

105 Responses to “B.J. Upton, Braves Reach Hefty, Predictable Agreement”

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  1. JS7 says:

    TB can now go after Delmon Young.

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  2. BillWallace says:

    I have BJ Upton as worth almost exactly $75M over 5 years. Assumptions are $5.5M/war, 5% inflation, BJ worth 3.5 WAR next season and declining at 0.5 per season.

    3.5 was the first valuation I put in and it hit essentially 0 surplus value. So it seems like a solid deal for the Braves.

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    • Mike says:

      I’m not sure a 28 year should be declining at .5 wins per season.

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      • Cam says:

        He doesn’t hit for contact, he doesn’t have great power, he doesn’t walk much and he’s an average defender at best. His best two seasons by fWAR were 2008 and 2007.

        Half a win per year might be a little steep, because I’d expect him to contribute more than 1 WAR at age 33, but it probably isn’t far off.

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      • Anon21 says:

        Interestingly, the Fangraphs Sabermetric Library gives a .200 ISO as the cutoff for “great,” and Upton managed a .208 last season. Career .167, of course, but what happened last year looks like an authentic change in hitting approach, so that spike might be here to stay.

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      • Cam says:

        47 qualified players had ISOs above .200 last year. Upton was #40. He certainly has above average power, but unless he starts hanging out with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, he’s probably never going to be a 35+ HR guy. His game is still more or less based on his speed, and that doesn’t last.

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      • BillWallace says:

        Ah you’re right, I usually don’t start fully declining players until their age 30 season, but I miscalculated his age. There is a discount for future peak years, but it’s less than .5. So now I have this contract as about a $5M win for the Braves.

        The breakeven point for his war projection, given my economic assumptions is 3.2WAR for 2013.

        People are complaining that he’s barely more than an average player. Well these days $15m/yr is barely more than average player money on the FA market.

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      • vivalajeter says:

        Well, if you trust baseball-reference then he hasn’t topped 3.2 WAR since 2007. I, however, don’t trust them for Upton – for whatever reason, their formula seems to hate him.

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      • jcxy says:

        @ Mike, Interestingly, that’s pretty much the rate that he’s been declining since his 5.1 WAR year in 2008, which was buoyed by strong defense.

        As we know, defense peaks earlier, so this makes sense. He keeps his value up by developing power during his peak years, and the, ultimately by becoming more selective at the plate.

        And none too soon…the <.300 OBP is clearly problematic which should temper our enthusiasm for his ISO, no?

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      • GregH says:

        Upton’s ISO is more a result of his speed than his HR’s.

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      • jcxy says:

        ^That’s a tempting thought, but it’s not really true. Upton only had 29 doubles and 3 triples last year compared to 28 HR. It would seem that HR are the driver of his ISO line, not stretching singles to doubles, doubles to triples.

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  3. Antonio bananas says:

    Good deal. Bourn is a speed guy. Upton has several skills and solid d. Absolute high end you get 30/30 years from Upton and Heyward next year.

    I hope Philly gets Hamilton. Bourn and Hamilton are my bets to be bad contracts.

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  4. Dick Whitman says:

    B.J. Upton’s deal isn’t remotely ok. It’s an overreach beyond overreaches. $/WAR model until you’re blue in the face, people.

    He’s a career 107 wRC+, average CF. In 2012, he sported a 107 wRC+ and probably played an average or so year defensively (UZR, DRS, whatever. One year too short a sample size regardless). How in any team’s right mind are they guaranteeing a 5 year deal to someone at $15mm AAV?!

    Cherry picking an awful deal for a 1-2 tool RFer is not a just comparison.

    His batted ball stats are all trending the wrong way. He’s not getting better, he’s already declining at 28 with ample sample size at the major league level.

    He’s not a great player, not even relative to his positional peers. Objective analysis of BJ Upton’s past, present, and likely future outcomes clearly shows that this deal is a monstrosity.

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    • Don Draper says:

      How dare you say something so stupid in my former name!

      +8 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Chickensoup says:

      Yeah i don’t understand how people are not tearing this contract appart. It’s an overpay, for a guy who has not been higher than 10th best Centerfielder by fWAR since 2008.

      Yes he has the raw physical ability to be a great player. yes he can hit a decent number of HR and steal a decent of bases (except he now plays on one of the more conservative teams in the NL WITH Bourn in Center). But he has to get on base first, and striking out once per game because you’re trying to live up to your power potential and being about average defensively just should not be worth that kind of money.

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    • Will H. says:

      I look and look and just don’t see it all, Dick. Jeff has it right. So do you: a career wRC+ 107 for a guy who fields CF as well as an average CF is worth a lot more than an average MLBer, and because the only way to get that person right now if free agency, they have to pay a premium. That is, someone who isn’t old, doesn’t have an injury history, can field a plus-position while producing above average offense. And I don’t get your complaint about batted ball data, since his LD% has been trending up for years as all as his FB and HR/FB %. He has power and speed. He still pretty much walks and Ks the same as ever. The only steady decline is BABIP and an associated one in OBP, countered by that rise in power. And you mention quite clear decline… but where? As you said, career and 2012 wRC+ are the same, last three years’ WAR are just about the first three, etc. And his last year he’ll only be 32.

      Really, it’s just a basic whatever deal relative to what people do in FA… I’m fascinated by the angst it created you!

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      • Dick Whitman says:

        I made a mistake where I referenced batted ball instead of plate discipline statistics. His plate discipline peripherals are by-in-large trending downward.

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    • jim says:

      doing a lot of things average to slightly above at a premium position makes you pretty valuable. and he’s still only 28.

      this deal may not be great, but for a guy who’s been a regular since 2007 and has been 2+ wins each year, and 4+ all but two, it’s really not as bad as you’re making it out to be.

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    • ZZ says:

      Where exactly is the overreach? From an offensive standpoint, he’s had a 109 wRC+ the past 3 years, with a 107 mark last year. Considering the average CF hits at a roughly league-average clip in that span, he’s above average offensively for his position. Defensively, he’s average. He’s also a well-above average base runner.

      I get it, Upton doesn’t do anything particularly spectacularly. What he does have, however, is several skills above average. If you look at his offense holistically, he’s held consistent value. He’s 28 years old, meaning you’re likely getting a few peak years and a few decline years in a 5 year deal. With his diverse skill set, however, the decline shouldn’t be terribly drastic. Add in the fact that the market is flush with cash, and this seems absolutely reasonable.

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      • B N says:

        “Upton has a very particular set of skills; skills he has acquired over a 9 year career. Skills that will not make him a nightmare for GM’s. If you leave him a free agent now, that’ll be the end of it. He will not look for your team, he will not pursue your team. But if you don’t, he will look for you, he will play for you, and he will not kill you with his contract.”

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    • Baltar says:

      Nice try, we know you’re really Don Draper.

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  5. Jim says:

    Philly clearly wasn’t that interested in him because they could have easily beaten the Braves offer. My guess is that they sign Hamilton and stick him in LF, and trade for a CF (Fowler or Bourjas likely) then call it an offseason.

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    • Robbie G. says:

      Or that they platoon Mayberry/Schuerholz (spelling?) in CF, move Domonic Brown over to be the full time RF, and play Hamilton in LF. Or maybe keep Brown in LF and play Hamilton in RF. I have been expecting them to sign Hamilton for some time now.

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    • JamesDaBear says:

      Michael Bourn homecoming?

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      • Antonio bananas says:

        Philly will overpay for Bourn to decline or for Hamilton to get hurt. Signing guys past their prime to way too expensive, way too long of deals is sort of their thing.

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      • B N says:

        I doubt they sign either Hamilton or Bourne and instead use the money to extend Ryan Howard’s contract by another 10 years.

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      • Cidron says:

        B N –

        No, they already have him extended.. Now its time they give those nice shiny 10yr extensions to Utley and Rollins !! They deserve it, right? They have been good for the team.. Now is the time for the team to step up and show the love ! (ps, there was a lil sarcasm in there)

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    • Wil says:

      With Philly’s salary commitments already huge for this year, I don’t know how much financial flexibility they had to really beat the Braves offer. They probably could have but it might have tied their hands for making other moves.

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      • KM says:

        Phils have the flexibility to spend if they want to… They are probably ok with paying luxury tax this year because the cap goes up next year so they won’t be repeat offenders, plus Utley is done after this year and Halladay’s 2014 option is not likely to vest (I believe he needs toss 244 innings in 2013, he hasn’t done since 2010)

        Having said that, I’m not sure that they want to. they like the kid Ruf, and may give him a shot in left. Brown is penciled in, and you could get a Victorino cheap for a stop gap. Lots of question marks there, but they have a few platoon guys in Mayberry and nix too.

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  6. Pete Dymeck says:

    Upton is underrated? Mysterious? When you consider your statements I must refute with the claim that Upton is mysteriously overratedy. Especially for the contract he just received.

    For example, a GM would find a much more efficient deal with the likes of Dexter Fowler.

    Nothing like paying $75 million for a top ten strikeout guy coming off a year with a .245 or so AVG and a sub-.300 OBP.

    Upton and his agent must have yelled ‘Stick Em Up’ to the Braves front office because Atlanta got robbed!

    -29 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • marty says:

      I don’t know about Fowler being a more efficient route. You’d have to trade to acquire Fowler, and then signing him will likely cost a lot. Plus, he’s yet to put up a 3 win season, while Upton’s floor is a 3 win season.

      And thankfully, the only way to achieve value isn’t by putting up low K rates.

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    • Timothy says:

      Based on your avatar, I’m sensing a major case of sour grapes.

      +19 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • jcxy says:

      I agree with the others that you’ve got a little sour grapes thing going and I’d hardly classify 5/75 as a robbery…. However, I’m not sure why people think Upton was a great match for the Phillies…

      Ok, I get the superficial match–big spender needs righty CF…but the Phillies under Amaro/Gillick have never really prioritized this sort of asset allocation to hitter like Upton in FA. (Fwiw, I see a lot of Rowand in Upton, although with a higher base.) They’ve strongly preferred doing shorter deals and have shown the discipline to walk away if the price is wrong. …Insert Ryan Howard joke…

      So yeah, Hamilton would be much more their MO–big name/splash–but I wouldn’t hold my breath. The success of the stars-n-scrubs method is having a GM who can bring in cheap (in dollars) talent to fill the scrub holes. Frankly, it worked really well before. I wonder whether Amaro would rather go this route. I’m not sure any of us should be surprised to see a cheap, defense-first CF next year. Perhaps Bourjos, but maybe something more creative.

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    • Paul says:

      Nothing like cherry-picking a couple stats to make an argument look good!

      He didn’t hit any inside-the-park homers! He failed to steal home even ONCE! He made three errors! He got caught stealing SIX times! Awful contract!!!

      +7 Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. Brian L says:

    This situation isn’t ideal for just analyzing stats. Too much murkiness from obvious changes in plate approach – not sure how its possible to distinguish which of the “worsening” peripherals are trending that way because of changes in approach or actual decline (if any). Another factor is that Wren mentioned several times last week, in the wake of Upton’s visit to Atl, the conversation and “rapport” between hitting coach Walker and BJ. Given the upcoming changes in scenery, hitting coach, role on the team, lineup spot, etc., going to be hard to predict what happens going forward. It might be as likely that his approach trends reverse directions as that they continue.

    Also, you’re protected by the fact that he has a pretty rare level of athleticism and raw talent. Not saying we should expect superstar upside to break out, but I think it throws some uncertainty into the air. Harder to run predictive models on a speed-first player who has the talent (and proven ability) to switch approaches and start mashing 25+ homers.

    Summary is that he’s a guy w/ a lot of question marks, but you paid a reasonable price at what most would say is the middleground of his potential value spectrum, and I’m not sure you can say the downside is more likely than the upside.

    +25 Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. AC of DC says:

    I am somewhat hesitant to submit this anecdote, in part because I am not suggesting this bias on the author’s part and in part because of the nature of the Internet, but . . . A couple years back there was a pair of SI Players’ Polls (MLB) which asked “Who Gets the Least Out of the Most Talent” and “Who Gets the Most Out of the Least Talent.” After they were run, an astute reader wrote in to point out that the names on the former list were mostly athletic black guys and the names on the latter were mostly scrappy white guys, reflecting the popular notion that black men are naturally more athletically gifted and therefore “talented.” (Which is of course silly because “black” and “white” are misnomers without genetic significance.)

    We could debate the finer points of the Questing Beast of True Talent, but the point is that popular perception of Upton’s unrealized potential may be entirely unfounded. We know well that great athletic capability does not necessarily translate into great baseball ability; it could be that Upton is playing to the utmost of his talent and that he is at the end of the day a pretty good player with some clear deficiencies. Like a lot of pretty good players, he can hit for more power at the expense of contact and patience, or hit for less power and higher OBP, and in either case be pretty good but not great, and get what is, as far as the baseball market is concerned, a more or less fair contract.

    +36 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Atari says:

      I gave you a +1 for the insight.

      Really, the reason for the un-realized potential is because of a 23 year old Upton posting a .300/.386/.508 triple slash line in 2007. If being the 2nd pick in the draft hadn’t put great expectations on him, then that season raised expectations for BJ Upton to be a superstar. Anything less was going to be seen as disappointing. Disappointment comes when reality does not meet expectations.

      Also, the power/speed combo hitters tend to make people swoon. Watch if Mike Trout hits less than 20 HRs, or steals less than 40 bases next year people will complain. Trout has reset expectations. If I had a 21 year old OF hit 15 HR and steal 30 bases next year I would be ecstatic. Now though Mike Trout cannot perform to those levels, because now he is MIKE TROUT – BEST PLAYER IN BASEBALL.

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      • Cidron says:

        and, as an ESPN article asked.. Has Mike Trout already peaked? (or, put another way, can he improve (statwise) on what he has already done?)

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    • baycommuter says:

      “Black” and “white” are misnomers… yes, but since humans evolved in Africa that continent has more genetic variation than the rest of the world combined, so it’s not unlikely that a population that contains African genes could have significantly different athletic traits than a European population. It’s unlikely, for example, that Ethiopians and Kenyans win almost all marathons solely because of environmental factors.

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      • Tomrigid says:

        The range of genetic variation in the human populations of sub-Saharan Africa dwarfs that in the rest of the world. By default, Africans should have more and less of everything.

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      • Greg says:

        Tomrigid, that isn’t how genetic variation works.

        There is a hell of a lot more genetic variation among the animals in a zoo than there is among the human staff. Does that mean that the most intelligent being on the property is more likely to be in a cage than in clothing?

        Highly developed traits are “expensive.” They require physical changes that force sacrifices to be made in other areas. Unless there’s an evolutionary incentive for something to change, it won’t (beyond small random variations).

        We shouldn’t expect to see the fastest (or whatever else) people on Earth coming from Africa because of their genetic variation. We should expect to see them coming from environments, even small communities, that offer the greatest evolutionary incentive to develop that skill. For “athleticism,” that environment appears to be former slave colonies populated by people taken from West-Central Africa (probably in no small part because members of the same community who weren’t as physically gifted would have struggled to survive/reproduce during the slave era). Genetic variation may have given that group a small step up on the competition, but it’s the environment that produced the final result.

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        • Tomrigid says:

          Greg,

          Wow. A zoo? That’s dissimilar in degree and kind from what we’re discussing. It’s a weak metaphor purporting to be an analogy. The cage/clothing distinction is completely arbitrary.

          Look, I’m not saying that we should expect the fastest, slowest, tallest, and shortest to be found among those of recent sub-Saharan African ancestry (though we kind of do find that to be the case). I’m saying that, when looking for such outlier populations, and when knowing nothing else, it makes sense to look first among the population with the greatest genetic diversity.

          Usually such a method is followed when one is looking for the origin of a phenotype or language group, because the greatest diversity will usually indicate the oldest population. But it’s a useful principle for other questions.

          Finally, diversity in sub-Saharan Africa has a few reasons behind it. The first is age: our species was confined to Africa for the vast majority of its years to date, and time is obviously an important component of diversification. Second, African populations have spent much more time in competition with neighboring humans and near-human primates than have the ex-African people. That latter group spread out from a small founder population through a world that was free of humans, and therefore free of the most dangerous species in any human environment. This would have led to very different forms of environmental pressure over a very long span of time.

          All your stuff about expensive traits and slave-colonies is weak. You are young, I think, and have the confidence of a few ideas that you don’t quite understand.

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      • Jay Stevens says:

        Don’t buy into the “slave genes” myth.

        http://www.salon.com/2012/07/25/michael_johnsons_gold_medal_in_ignorance/

        “With a solemn Carl Lewis pictured, executive editor Amby Burfoot aimed to answer ‘why black runners win every race from the sprints to the marathon,’ arguing that there is a geological divide between West African and East African muscle-twitch fibers that explains why some black athletes, Kenyans, had endurance while African-Americans excelled at shorter distances.

        “While many bought into the West versus East argument, readers of Sports Illustrated did not. In response to a December 1997 cover story, ‘Whatever Happened to the White Athlete?,’ which featured a small sidebar titled ‘Is It in the Genes?,’ readers answered ‘he’s coaching’ and ‘he moved on to become a doctor, a lawyer or an engineer,’ understanding that an examination of white privilege and the economics of a racially unjust society should be the center of any conversation regarding the perceived predominance of black athletes in some sports. One can only hope that Johnson’s words – and the British documentary ‘Survival of the Fittest,’ which he is promoting about the subject – are greeted with the same amount of disdain.”

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      • Jay Stevens says:

        “It’s unlikely, for example, that Ethiopians and Kenyans win almost all marathons solely because of environmental factors.”

        Why? That’s like saying it’s “unlikely that Americans make up most of the US football teams solely because of environmental factors.”

        Combine the altitude of Kenya (training in high altitude aids endurance sports), the fact that much of the country is rural and running as a means of travel is common, that British missionaries and soldiers introduced long-distance running to the people when they colonized Kenya, and the fact that running may the only way for Kenyans to leave the country and make serious money — not to mention that tradition now dictates running is the region’s “sport” — and you have the perfect environmental conditions for area runners to dominate.

        Kenya has 41 million people, all of whom regard long-distance running as their primary sport and only avenue of escape from poverty. Imagine if you took California, raised its altitude 3,000 feet, took away all the sports and possible high-profile, well-paying jobs (film industry, computer industry, or, heck, any industry) other than long-distance running and tell me Californians wouldn’t be dominating the marathon.

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      • wobatus says:

        Jay, football (soccer) is the most popular sport in Kenya (also introduced by the British). Yes, distance running may be a popular avenue, but there aren’t all that many wealthy distance runners, and that may be getting things backwards; they are good at it so it is an avenue of escape, not it is an avenue of escape and therefore they are good at it. Generally speaking.

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      • Jay Stevens says:

        Entine’s argument seems pretty weak. Why are Jamaican sprinters so good, but Haiti’s aren’t? Aren’t they made of the same genetic “stuff”? And that’s completely ignoring that race is more a social construct than a biological one. Jamaican sprinters are hardly a homogeneous “racial” group. Entine sees patterns and constructs narratives around them, akin to what phrenologists and other “race” scientists of the past did.

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      • wobatus says:

        He doesn’t limit the argument to Jamaicans. He mentions the top 500 times for the 100 meter, all but 2 are by people of west african descent. And he isn’t talking about race but genetics. I wouldn’t say he is the last word on the topic, but I also think that simply ascribing differences to sociological or near term biological differences is shuting off an avenue worthy of exploration.

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      • wobatus says:

        meant to say near term “environmental” differences.

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      • wobatus says:

        Jamaica’s GDP per capita is more than 7x Haiti’s, so economics likely has something to do with that.

        I think it is a bit much to insinuate that Entine is akin to a “phrenologist.” And he isn’t a scientist, of course. He doesn’t deny sociological impacts, environmental impacts, etc. I think it is fairly easy to just dismiss this along the lines of eugenics.

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    • Zeke says:

      Having watched most Rays games for the last couple years, I always thought the “BJ’s lazy” theme was unfair. (He’s always ready to play, he’s rehabbed well when needed…) And, yeah, probably a little subconsciously racist.

      HOWEVER, while I wouldn’t question his work ethic, there is something about his play…he gets picked off base more than anyone i’ve ever watched, throws to the wrong base more than you’d hope, and waves at sliders about 3 feet out of the zone more than never. I actually wonder if he doesn’t have a hard time concentrating during games. A lot of the “dangit, BJ!!” moments could be explained by ADD/ADHD/something. (Ofc, IANAD.)

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    • Cliff says:

      It’s wrong to say that “black” and “white” have no genetic significance. True, these are extremely broad categories, but generally speaking blacks have significant East or West African genetic heritage and whites have predominantly European heritage (of one kind or another). In America, blacks are mainly 70-80% West African descent and the rest European.

      Even at this high level, these are very different genetic populations with numerous substantial phenotypic differences, from medical conditions (think lactose intolerance, sickle cell disease, rates of obesity and diabetes, responses to various medications) and appearance to cognitive function, testosterone levels and, yes, athletic performance. This is well documented in the academic literature, so there is no need for conjecture, although the topic is avoided in polite conversation.

      By the way, the point about African genetic diversity is largely a red herring. The diversity is not in perceived traits, but mainly in the “junk” area of DNA that does not result in any apparent differences in expressed genes.

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  9. Snowman says:

    Ignoring all the argument over whether or not Upton is actually worth the deal, I think this was a very poor decision by the Braves front office. They’re not the Yankees, Angels, Dodgers, or Red Sox. They have limited resources. They need both a centerfielder and a leftfielder. Now, how much would Upton’s bat be worth as a leftfielder? Or more to the point, how much more offense could a team get by spending $15 million on a leftfielder, and $3-5 million on a centerfielder (likely a defense guy, obviously)? They took those limited resources in the much less efficient direction.

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    • CJ says:

      So the normal opinion here is runs are runs are runs, and it doesn’t matter how you get them.

      Theoretically it shouldn’t make any real difference which player you pay more for, unless you believe that having one +20 run hitter and one +0 run hitter is better than having two +10 run hitters.

      On a more practical level, which corner outfielder are you going to buy? There’s really only Swisher.

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      • Snowman says:

        I have nothing to back this up but my gut, so maybe someone will come in with facts that show me wrong. But that guts says you get a low-.700s OPS CF for $3-5m and a mid-800s OPS LF for $15m, or a mid-700s OPS CF for $15m and a low-to-mid-700s OPS LF for $3-5m. And obviously, I’d prefer the former.

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      • Nitram Odarp says:

        These players would have to actually exist on the free agent market this year. And no, I don’t think you can find a low 700 OPS CF for 3-5 MM unless he’s a bad defender that has no business playing there. I mean Victorino an OPS just over .700 last year and there’s no way he settles for 3-5 MM.

        +7 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Tom says:

        But shouldn’t a GM be looking at the going rate for CF’rs.

        While he may theoretically be worth more, he’s been roughly the same as Angel Pagan and Chris Young over the last 3 years in terms of WAR.

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      • Snowman says:

        Looking at the guys who are actually there, I’d guess Swisher gets a similar per-annum deal to Upton for fewer years. Say .360/.460 OBP/SLG? A lot better than Upton. Looking at the centerfielders… Yeah, might have to go for a trade there. Perhaps Span?

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      • J says:

        I think an issue here is upton has shown signs of being a good CF in different regards. Has failed to put together “that year”. His power though metrics is shown as decent-good, HR wise he is streaky. He hit 19 of his 28 hrs in final 2 months and drove in 40 of his 78 runs in that span.He tends to be lazy, but plays well down the stretch, which the NL East will probably be. His WAR speaks consistancy which is nice but they probably won’t see the return for the sign, but inflation maybe part of that. The main concern has been the ever changing approach at the plate, from a high OBP guy to a sub .300. Braves can also move Hanson to open up some $ as well. LF wise I see Ross going there. It will be interesting to see where he hits as well in this lineup.

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  10. andy says:

    The idea of $/WAR (in evaluating FA contracts) has generally been discussed as being linear because its been observed that this is how teams actually pay players. I think there is an argument that higher WAR players deserve more per WAR, based on the idea that one 4 WAR player is worth more than two 2 WAR players. Also find it interesting that the vast majority of the mega-contracts dont “work out” when assesed in a linear $/WAR context. Jeff, is it plausible that teams are employing this thinking? Ive also noticed a lot of write-ups here, particularly from you and Dave, that scrap the $/WAR analysis in favor of comps. Not a criticism just more curious as to what the reason is(uncertain inflation).

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    • CJ says:

      One 4-win player is also more risky than two 2-win players.

      Megacontracts mostly don’t look like they’ll work out because a) it only takes one team and b) when a contract goes for 7-8 years and $150+ million, the magnitude of any error that’s made is heavily magnified.

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      • cable fixer says:

        True, but the expected value for (2) 2 WAR players being paid market rate is also lower (and has tighter variance) than the return for a (1) 4 WAR player being paid market and (1) other, cheap player.

        That’s how GM’s make their money, right? Well, the good ones at least. A bad GM takes the 4 WAR market rate player and can’t find a cheap 2nd player. The good one takes the 4 WAR market rate player and finds the cheap, possibly high risk other player (possibly with a large platoon splits or value in a historically undervalued part of the game like defense or baserunning). This is the rationale of playing a defense only guy in LF, right? You *can* spend market rate on a mediocre hitter, say, Delmon Young, or you can think outside the box and use guys like Prado, Gardner…Gregor Blanco…in a historically offense-oriented position to save runs cheaper than an expensive, mediocre hitter can produce them.

        It’s not that Stars-and-Scrubs is flawed. It’s that bad GMs are incapable of employing it properly.

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      • Anon21 says:

        Sticking up for Martin Prado a bit, I think he hit enough to hold down LF even if he’d been an average defender last season. True, that may not have been the most likely outcome, but in the event he wasn’t a defense-first guy.

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      • MrKnowNothing says:

        It’s a good thing he got half that much money for this deal. Mega deals are the Fielder deals.

        This is kind of your new standard, “good, but not super duper elite” deal.

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  11. Robbie G. says:

    What does this signing tell us about the market and likely destinations of the remaining free agent OFs?

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  12. Atari says:

    Informal poll

    If you were the Dodgers would you rather have:

    BJ Upton in CF and Matt Kemp in RF for that money (+1)….

    Or

    Matt Kemp in CF and Andre Ethier in RF for that money (-1)

    +29 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • TiensyGohan says:

      Or at least wait until the FA to see what comparable, younger players get instead of throwing money at an aging platoon player.

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  13. Carry On My Heyward Son says:

    I like it. The more factors you consider, the better this deal looks for the Braves: Upton has been consistently good and occasionally great. He’s only 28. He’ll only be 32 in his last year of the deal. The Braves have no well-regarded center field prospects in the high minors. And, the Phillies were looking to sign him for their center field need and will now likely have to pay more for Bourn or pay less for an inferior player.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • hk says:

      If we operate on the assumption that Upton, like most free agents, took the most money, Upton signing with ATL might tell us that the Phillies didn’t want him as much as was being reported. Maybe PHI leaked word of their interest to drive up the price in an effort to get ATL to spend more and have less available to shore up other spots. Amaro’s MO has been to set the market and over-spend (in $ and years), so if Upton was his first choice, something tells me he would have trumped ATL’s offer…probably by going to 6 years.

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  14. Ben says:

    Upton had a .298 OBP last year and .316 over the past four seasons. Hard to believe that merits a five-year contract.

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    • ZZ says:

      We have a winner for most oversimplified valuation of a player. Using OBP as sole determining factor is like using the Triple Crown: you can glean some useful information, but on the whole you’re completely overlooking base running, defense, and several key aspects of offense. It’s very possible to be an above-average player with mediocre, or even poor, OBP.

      +6 Vote -1 Vote +1

  15. GiantFan12 says:

    It would be very interesting to see if Atlanta could land Justin Upton in a trade. It would create one of the more intriguing and best family outfields of all time, which would be an interesting article. I think I would place the Uptons behind the Alous but before the Griffeys.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Antonio bananas says:

      Jesus, then we’d hear non stop “doesn’t try” “doesn’t love the game” “lazy but talented” articles about atlanta’s outfield.

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      • ACM says:

        As a Braves fan, I’d be willing to live with those articles.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Brian L says:

        Would two Uptons and a Heyward be the best OF ever in terms of former prospect rankings? Those guys had to have all been former top 3 prospects at one point

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      • Wil says:

        People say this stuff about Heyward also and it’s completely unwarranted. Really I think this whole “doesn’t try” crap about the Upton’s is more perception than reality.

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      • Antonio bananas says:

        I agree will. It’s racism. Heyward tries very hard, but because he’s not out dancing and doing 43 step high fives with the bruthas, well dernit, he must be lazy and not have passion. If he were Asian, he’d be labeled stoic, if he were white, he’d be labeled business like and mature beyond his years.

        Sports writers are awful. Communications/journalism degrees or worse, former jocks are all they are. Neither of those groups have credibility with quantitative analysis, psychology, or logic.

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      • Snowman says:

        In Heyward’s case, all the ‘lazy’ bullshit started with one utter hack of a ‘sportswriter’ using Twitter. Bill Shanks is a total joke, his radio stuff is a snoozefest, his writing sucks, his book with Schuerholz was only suitable as fishwrap, he single-handedly destroyed one of the best internet fan forums the Braves had… and he created the whole Lazy Heyward Who Doesn’t Actually Like Or Care About Baseball mythos with a single tweet.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Unlikely. Atlanta just doesn’t have the kind of hitting prospects Arizona wants that they don’t need themselves (i.e. Simmons.)

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    • Ruki Motomiya says:

      BEHOLD, HE OF THE CRYSTAL BALL.

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  16. Baseball Fan says:

    So what is Carlos Gomez going to get in free agency?

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  17. Hurtlockertwo says:

    Statistics aside Upton is going to a new league, new pitchers and very high expectations. If any of the underachiever talk is true, this guy will be getting tomahawk chopped by the fans by the end of the season, and not in a good way.

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  18. Antonio bananas says:

    So what are high end/low end projections? Was close to 30/30 last year, so best case .265/.320/.475 with the 30/30. Worst case (other than injury) .235/.280/.400 with 20 steals and 14 home runs.

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    • hk says:

      The average and slugging ranges sound about right, but I think you’re low on OBP. Last year’s .298 was a career low and his career OBP is .336.

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  19. Micah says:

    I think perspective plays into how people view the contract. To a Braves fan that is used to conservative FA spending, this is a “megadeal.” But when the dust settles, this won’t even come close to the true megadeals that will take place this winter. It will more likely be middle of the pack.

    I think my main issue with Upton is not an individual issue; he has his strengths and weaknesses like all good but not great players. My issue is that his weaknesses are similar to the weaknesses of other hitters on the Braves – especially high strikeout rates. I know it’s only one stat, but its an important one that a lot of Braves hitters struggle with.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  20. Ben says:

    Gotta give it to Frank Wren for gaining a center fielder and retaining a first round draft pick all while being a mid-market team in a division full full of teams with money.
    http://summerpastime.blogspot.com/2012/11/its-what-we-call-win-win.html

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    • hk says:

      The devil’s advocate might say Frank Wren’s team got worse in CF than they were last year and his first round pick is lower now than it would have been if they had retained Bourn.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  21. So who leads off for the Braves now? Surely a .298OBP guy is not the answer (despite his speed).

    In a vacuum I like this deal, but when your biggest competitor goes out and trades for a CF of near equal value and all it cost them was a lottery pick pitcher, it makes this deal seem a little crazy. Cameron just did a post about it and he makes a great point: Span for $21MM+Lottery Pitching Prospect or BJ Upton for $75MM + 2 years.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  22. That Guy says:

    Taking career highs into a single season shows why people want to believe in BJ:

    .300/.410(with career high walks)/.508 with 28hrs (80% sb/att), 38 doubles, and average to plus defense

    All at the age of 28.

    He has shown flashes of best as his position for all 5 tools. If he ever put them together he could fight for best CF in baseball. Not bad…

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  23. Eugene Jacket says:

    Anyone ever pay this much for a BJ?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  24. Bob Henry says:

    You are an idiot. The worst bust in braves history and that is saying something after Uggla.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

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