Series Preview #13: Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Atlanta Braves

USA TODAY Sports

Well, that series sure felt like it was going to go well, right up until it didn't.

The Justin Upton comments are coming. "Oh," you're saying to yourself, "But they're already here. Haven't you seen the comments left after every home run?" That doesn't count. We could ignore those, but something tells me that this is going to be on an entirely different level.

There are going to be articles later this year--on this very site, even--that will go into the trade with some depth, citing sample sizes and injury rumors and those hoity-toity statistics that you nerdy blog-nerds love so much. This is not that article. But Justin Upton is coming back to Arizona, and we can't ignore that. It's on everyone's mind, and it's certainly on mine.

Let's get this out of the way first: we can't really know what kind of a season Upton would have had here. Not with the expectations around him as a player, and the trade rumors, and the seemingly perpetual booing of Upton whenever he hits a slump. There are too many variables.

We can speculate, and we can do so with a reasonably high rate of accuracy given his track record, his injury and any number of other factors, but I truly believe that we can't know for sure. So just plugging Upton's numbers into the #3 hole in the Diamondbacks' lineup and saying "what if?" doesn't make any sense.

But let's also get this out of the way: from a quick, dirty, "numbers for numbers" perspective, this has been a disaster for the Diamondbacks so far. Justin Upton is third in baseball in fWAR at the moment. While he's cooled off noticeably since his ungodly start, he's still a pretty decent choice for MVP in the National League at this point.

Meanwhile, Martin Prado has been worth one full win less than Chris Johnson so far, which is amazing because Chris Johnson only has 0.5 fWAR to begin with. Randall Delgado is struggling to keep his ERA in single digits in Triple-A. Zeke Spruill and Brandon Drury are doing fairly well, but this trade was not made with Zeke Spruill and Brandon Drury in mind.

I'm really not bringing this up to bash Kevin Towers. There will be plenty of time for that later if this keeps up. But people are going to mention numbers like this during the first half of this week, and probably for some time after that if this series goes poorly.

What the Stats Say (Courtesy of Fangraphs):


Arizona
(21-17)
Atlanta
(21-16)
Edge
Hitting (wRC+): 90 103
Atlanta
Pitching (ERA-/FIP-):
85/89 95/96
Arizona
Fielding (UZR):
11.2 11.6

Atlanta

I hate to bury what should be the lede all the way down here, but the Braves have a pretty good team this year, even if they've trailed off quite a bit since they started 12-1. Sure, Upton's a big reason why the team is team is fourth in position player fWAR, but he isn't doing it on his own, and they're getting contributions from a number of guys who were supposed to be pretty marginal contributors.

The Braves' rotation is built similarly to the Diamondbacks', around the notion that they'd rather sacrifice a traditional "ace" to have a solid rotation 1-5, and solid depth for the inevitable prolonged struggle/injury. Substitute "J.R. Graham" for "Tyler Skaggs," and "Brandon Beachy" for "Daniel Hudson" and the whole thing looks almost creepily similar. They happen to have a bullpen that excels in Late and Close though, so maybe we can ask them about that while they're around.

Starting Lineups:

Arizona Diamondbacks

1. Gerardo Parra, RF
2. Didi Gregorius, SS
3. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
4. Eric Chavez, 3B
5. Jason Kubel, LF
6. Martin Prado, 2B
7. A.J. Pollock, CF
8. Miguel Montero, C

Atlanta Braves

1. Jordan Schafer, RF
2. Andrelton Simmons, SS
3. Justin Upton, LF
4. Freddie Freeman, 1B
5. Dan Uggla, 2B
6. Brian McCann, C
7. B.J. Upton, CF
8. Juan Francisco, 3B

Bullet points!

  • You might notice a dearth of Jason Heyward, who I used to refer to as "the Braves' version of Justin Upton" before the Braves went and got our version of Upton and ruined the metaphor. Anyway, he's had a rough season so far, with an OPS of .519 even before he was placed on the 15-day DL after having an appendectomy.
  • I think one of the original theories behind the acquisition of Justin Upton was that playing on the same team would help both Upton brothers. Well, one out of two isn't terrible, I suppose. B.J. is hitting .157/.248/.264 so far, which probably qualifies as a disappointment considering that they gave him a $75 million contract before the season began.
  • Andrelton Simmons was the overly-optimistic and vaguely racist comp for Didi Gregorius. So far, it's worked out pretty well. For Didi Gregorius, I mean.
  • I guess we can't ignore this any more: Justin Upton is hitting .278/.399/.627 in 36 games. His BABIP is actually well below his career average, at .299, which explains the low-ish BA.

    He's currently hitting home runs more than a third of the time he hits the ball in the air, and that's not going to last, so expect the ISO% to go down a bit, particularly given that his Line Drive Rate is actually a smidgen below his career number.

    The weirdest part of his stat line is actually his BB%, which is well above anything he did in Arizona. It's possible that someone is in his ear to go deeper into counts, which might also explain that his strikeouts have jumped up to 2010 levels. Or maybe pitchers are pitching around him because of his hot start. I don't really know.

    TL;DR Upton is good, but he isn't this good.

Pitching Matchups

Monday: Wade Miley (3-1, 2.93) vs. Mike Minor (4-2, 2.96)

Insightful Commentary: Pssh, and you were worried about Wade Miley. 7.2 innings, two runs, no walks. Apparently, he made a mechanical adjustment before the game, but refused to tell anyone what it was. Someone should tell Wade that playing the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium doesn't count as an "adjustment."

Minor got lost at times in the deluge of pitching prospects that passed for the Braves farm system from 2009-12, but no one is forgetting him now. While other top arms for the Braves have struggled (/glares at Randall Delgado), Minor's stock has only gone up. Since last June, with almost a full season of starts to his name, his ERA has been under 3. He doesn't have a top-flight fastball, but his location has steadily improved as his career has gone on, and that's played a major role in his development.

Tuesday: Patrick Corbin (5-0, 1.75) vs. Julio Teheran (2-0, 4.84)

Insightful Commentary: As awesome as Corbin's start to the season has been, it's worth noting that the only real difference (other than some BABIP) between last year's numbers and this year's has been his Home Run rate. Conventional Sabermetric wisdom holds that this is going to regress at some point, and that's true to some extent. But Corbin's pitches also aren't getting hit as hard this year, as evidenced by a lower LD%. Personally, I believe that he's giving up fewer home runs because he's pitching better, rather than the reverse.

Teheran is Bauer's age, and he's been mentioned as a peer of Bauer since Bauer was drafted. Rather appropriately, he's also struggled like Bauer during his time in the majors. He's lost velocity on his fastball, and his change up comes and goes with the weather. All of this is to say, he's a young pitcher, and this happens to young pitchers sometimes. He should still be a fine major league starter, but the shine is off the apple a bit. No offense to Teheran, but I'd rather have Corbin at this point.

Wednesday: Ian Kennedy (1-3, 4.83) vs. Tim Hudson (4-2, 4.70)

Insightful Commentary: IPK's numbers since the beginning of 2012: 41 starts, 4.18 ERA, a 1.3 WHIP. All of which says he's been about a league-average pitcher over the last year and change. I bring this up because this is essentially the same sized sample as we looked at from the end of 2010 through 2011 to prove that he was an ace in the first place. I've spent plenty of time trying to find a sabermetric solution to his struggles, but maybe this is just who Kennedy is at this point, and we're never going to see 2012 foot-stomping IPK again.

Meanwhile, Tim Hudson has essentially been the same pitcher since 2000: few strikeouts, but fewer walks, and when the ball does get put in play, it never really gets hit as hard as it "should." He's slowly lost effectiveness as age and injuries have caught up to him, but he's still getting results, even if 2013 hasn't been his best so far.

Three Pressing Uptons...I Mean Questions:

What sort of reception is Upton going to get at Chase Field? This was discussed in a previous thread, and I don't really know the answer. A mixture of boos and cheers seems about right for a former phenom who often wasn't perceived to have given maximum effort but still had some good seasons. I'd love to say 70% cheers, 30% boos, but I don't have nearly enough faith in the denizens of Chase Field to say that. I'll go with the opposite of that, with a decent portion of the 30% cheers coming from visiting Braves fans.

What are fans saying about the Uptons on the Atlanta equivalent of AZCentral? The online edition of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is ajc.com. Here are some gems from the comment section:

"Could not agree more! Back th bus up and load up Struggla and Big Joke Upton on it and drop them off at the same hole we hide Kawakami in until his overpaid/theiving contract was over."

Posted by Fedupfan at

"Folks in the know in Arizona are now coming with information that the Braves might be been snookered on the Justin Upton trade. That he cannot stand the pressure of being the big dog, the man."

Posted by Ficklefan at

"I am starting to understand why AZ wanted to be rid of Upton; it seems like he is dogging it in the field, especially the last two games w/the Giants. I would not mind being rid of BOTH Uptons. A lot of money for little results. Can't wait for Jason to get back. At least, the defense will improve!"

Posted by DonG at

It's almost like Phoenix isn't an awful sports town at all: the majority of most fanbases consists of overly-reactionary commentary.

Where's Chris Johnson? I demand to see New Guy! He's been playing well, with an overall slash line of .307/.340/.436 that is fairly nifty. But with Freeman back in the lineup, and Juan Francisco hitting well, there isn't a clearly-defined role for him.

Braves Blog: Talking Chop

(Stats via Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference unless otherwise indicated.)

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