We got a lot of questions on the podcast and I’ve seen a lot of chatter about the Dodgers and Justin Upton. That’s not to say anything is remotely close, but the fans are obviously not satisfied with the offense as currently constructed and want an improvement.
And Upton would be an improvement … right? Not so fast.
Upton completed his first (and likely only) season with the Padres by posting a .251/.336/.454 triple slash and a 120 wRC+. That’s pretty good. It was the 42nd-best wRC+ in baseball, tied with Jose Altuve and Yunel Escobar (yes, really) and 17th-best of all qualified outfielders. That’s where the caveat comes in. If you expand it to include Andre Ethier (445 plate appearances), Upton was 47th and 19th, respectively. Not a huge drop, but when you consider Ethier would be 18th and seventh, respectively, Upton doesn’t really present much of an upgrade. I touched a bit on Ethier last month.
“Ethier is coming off the best season of his career … if you look at wRC+. His 137 mark topped the 134 he posted in 2008. This is mostly because he didn’t face many lefties in 2015. I wrote about it in late September when some were calling for guys like Ethier to play everyday because they had ‘been there before.'”
There’s no doubt Ethier benefited by not playing against lefties, and with Scott Van Slyke (presumably) healthy and ready to get back to 2014 levels of production (or close to it), acquiring Upton doesn’t make a ton of sense.
Also, there are too many moving parts. For the Dodgers to acquire an outfielder like Upton or Yoenis Cespedes, Chris Davis or Alex Gordon, the Dodgers would need to find a way to trade two non-Joc Pederson outfielders, all while committing likely a 9-figure deal for a minimum of five years to any of these guys (not to mention giving up their first-round pick in the case of Upton, Davis or Gordon). Seems terribly complicated for what might not even be an overall upgrade.
Mike wrote a good article at MLB.com today about Upton and how he could definitely be a nice get for many teams.
“Since Upton has been consistently 20 percent to 30 percent better than average at the plate, he finds himself in some pretty interesting company if you expand the comparison to all of baseball. For example since 2013, he’s 33rd, right in the middle of a group including Hunter Pence, Adrian Gonzalez and Adrian Beltre. If you go back five years, which includes his elite 2011 (37 homers, 141 wRC+), and down 2012 (17 homers, 109 wRC+), Upton is … again 33rd, now in a group with Anthony Rizzo, Albert Pujols and Shin-Soo Choo.
Unsurprisingly, Upton’s 2016 Steamer projection of .260/.343/.467 (121 wRC+) aligns very well with his actual career total of .271/.352/.473 (121 wRC+), because after eight full seasons in the big leagues, that’s who he is. He’s not as gifted defensively as any of the other three, but he’s younger than both Gordon and Cespedes, and therefore a better bet to produce long term.”
But Upton surely suffered by playing half his games in Petco Park, right? His home/road splits say otherwise.
.274/.360/.506, 15 HR, 147 wRC+
.225/.312/.402, 11 HR, 92 wRC+
So, he might not get an appreciable boost leaving the cavern that is Petco. And going from there to Dodger Stadium isn’t exactly like him going back to Arizona or to another hitter’s haven.
I’m willing to bet on the Ethier/platoon option (be it Van Slyke, Trayce Thompson, whomever) would be a better value for the offensive production than Upton would be on his own. This doesn’t even factor in the defense, which clearly has Ethier and Van Slyke better than Upton in left field.
Upton is going to get a big contract and he’ll likely be worth said contract. But he just doesn’t seem like the best fit for the Dodgers.