On January 24, 2013, the Braves acquired LF Justin Upton and 3B Chris Johnson from the Arizona Diamondbacks for infielder Martin Prado, pitcher Randall Delgado, and three minor leaguers. For the very short term—as in, a single season, let’s say—it could be considered one of the better trades in franchise history.
While CJ defied prevailing notions of statistical regression with a .321/.358/.457 season line (plus, he hit a cool .438 in the NLDS), JUpton opened the season with a Ruthian rampage that powered the Braves to a 12-1 start. Not only did he go .298/.402/.734 with 12 HR and 19 RBI in April, but many of the homers he hit (like this one and this one) were titanic. We’re talking ICBMs in the league with Kong, Hondo and The Mick. In fact, it was determined that JUpton’s homers were, on average, the longest in all of the National League, besting even The Marlin Masher, Giancarlo Stanton.
When the 17-9 month was over, the Braves had sprinted out to an early NL East division lead, one that they would never relinquish—and Justin Upton was a huge part of that. But when you look at JUpton’s entire season, it’s hard not to recall the precipitous plunges that followed his sharp spikes.
(Inconsistent? If Justin Upton were a film actor, he might be Mark Wahlberg — sublime efforts like “Boogie Nights,” followed by laughable shite like “The Happening” or “Max Payne,” followed by solid work in “The Departed” and “The Fighter.”)
For example, after the scorching April, he cooled off big-time in May (.211/.327/.326 with 2 HRs). In June, he remained Ice Station Zebra (.226/.336/.280 with 1 HR). July was respectable (.292/.330/.427), although again he poked only one round-tripper. By July, Braves fans began wondering if he and slumping sibling BJ would ever return to form.
Luckily, August saw baby brother Justin blaze again with eight taters and a .298/.357/.476 line to fuel a hot month that saw the club go 20-7. Upton was decent in September (.260/.336/.406 with 3 HRs), but the month was tough for everyone as the injuries added up and the Braves limped to a 13-14 finish. (Of course, they still took the NL East flag.) In the 4-game NLDS, Upton went 2 for 14 with 4 BB and no HRs in 18 PA (.143/.333/.214).
A Look at the Entire Year: For 2013, he went .263/.354/.464, a 122 OPS+ in a 2.6 WAR campaign. Though playing in a less HR-happy park than Chase Field (or whatever jolly bank it’s named for this season), Upton put up power numbers (27 HRs) in The Ted that bested his previous season in the desert (17). He also set a career mark in both Ks (161) and BBs (75). He had 70 RBI and he went 8 for 9 in SBs. Given his outrageous start, you’d have to call the rest of the season a bit of a disappointment.
His 2013 Splits: Against RHP, he went .262/.328/.434 with 17 HR in 479 PA; against LHP, .268/.427/.567 with 10 HR in 164 PA. At The Ted, he went .264/.334/.440 with 13 HR in 311 PA; on the road, he went .263/.372/.488 with 14 HR in 332 PA. One area where he remains consistent: He still murders lefties. (Career: .282/.395/.520 in 974 PA.)
A Look at the D: BTW, the dWAR numbers tell us say that he’s a bad overall defender (-2.9 career), and especially bad in 2013 (-1.5). Of course, all these nega-numbers diminish his overall value (if that kind of thing gets you uptight). The eye test seems to confirm some of this—he certainly has the occasional adventure out there, especially with liners in front of him; but he also runs down some balls that other LFs don’t get.
This report details some of his defensive strengths and weaknesses. The verdict: Terrific (among the best) on “out-of-zone” plays (aka, turning batted balls into outs), but not so great on everything else. That includes “Deterring Baserunners” (among the worst) and “Good Play/Misplays & Errors” (the worst). It’s an interesting read, even if those kinds of things don’t always keep you up nights.
Contract Status, Etc.: JUpton has two fat years left on the five-year/$60-M deal he signed (with Arizona) before the 2010 season—the Braves owe him $14.25 M this year and $14.5 M next. He will turn 27 on August 25 (Hey! My birthday, too, along with Elvis Costello, Gene Simmons and Leonard Bernstein.) So, despite a lousy spring training that hasn’t seen him go deep yet, it’s plenty reasonable to feel like we’ll get some prime-year power out of the big guy in the short term, even if we have to put up with a few kicked balls in the outfield.
Wish I felt the same about his older brother…