Why is Justin Upton Worth So Much?


Even the title above requires a caveat:  Justin Upton is truly only worth whatever hypothetical trade ends up happening, but for the moment, John Hart thinks he’s worth at least as much as the Braves received from the Cardinals for Jason Heyward.

Since Jordan Walden was also involved in that deal, you’d have to guess a bit, but if you think “Jason Heyward ~= Shelby Miller“, then that’s probably a good enough comparison to set the trade bar.

But what I’m interested in today is this question:  Why?  Why is Justin Upton worth that much?

He’s Got The Powah

There are lots of home run hitters out there.  But not all home run hitters are created equal.  There are those who hit wall-scrapers, those who scream liners around the foul poles, and then there are the “no doubters”.  It is those hitters that are in demand right now.

Such is the case with Justin Upton.  He hits “no doubters”.  Doesn’t matter what stadium you put him into, once he connects – it’s usually gone.

I snagged a chart of 2014 hitters from fangraphs.com.  First, an explanation:  ISO and Slugging numbers are calculated in different ways, but they both measure a hitter’s power:

  • Slugging percentage:  Total Bases / At-Bats
  • ISO (Isolated Power): [ # of doubles + # of triples (X2) + # of homers (X3) ] / At-Bats

If you hit nothing but singles, your ISO will be .000, as you produced no extra bases. With Slugging, two doubles are worth the same as each homer (4 total bases are involved).  In the ISO world, homers are 3X the value of a double.  Triples are often a different animal all together, but fortunately for this exercise, there’s really few power hitters that thrive on triples.

I split the differences by adding ISO and SLG, then sorted the table on the sum.  Here’s the list of the top 100 mashers with a minimum of 400 plate appearances in 2014 (Gattis had 401):

.8451Jose Abreu.62651Marlon Byrd
.8352Mike Trout.62552Danny Santana
.8263Edwin Encarnacion.62353Jhonny Peralta
.8224Giancarlo Stanton.62354Carlos Santana
.8225Corey Dickerson.62155Luis Valbuena
.7956Victor Martinez.62156Chris Coghlan
.7947Devin Mesoraco.61857Jayson Werth
.7918J.D. Martinez.61558Starling Marte
.7839Paul Goldschmidt.61559Melky Cabrera
.77910Nelson Cruz.61460Seth Smith
.77211David Ortiz.61361Hunter Pence
.77012Andrew McCutchen.61362Hanley Ramirez
.76713Anthony Rizzo.61363Chris Davis
.76314Jose Bautista.61164Adam Dunn
.75515Chris Carter.61065Matt Holliday
.73516Miguel Cabrera.60966Mike Zunino
.72617Matt Kemp.60667Torii Hunter
.72318Evan Gattis.60568Ian Desmond
.71319Nolan Arenado.60369Wilin Rosario
.71220Justin Upton.59770Alex Gordon
.70921Lucas Duda.59371Robinson Cano
.68822Adrian Gonzalez.59272Mark Reynolds
.68423Michael Brantley.59273Charlie Blackmon
.67524Drew Stubbs.59074Brian Dozier
.67325Justin Morneau.59075Mike Napoli
.67226Oswaldo Arcia.59076Travis d’Arnaud
.67127Khris Davis.58877Trevor Plouffe
.67128Michael Morse.58878Brett Gardner
.67029Carlos Gomez.58479Starlin Castro
.66930Buster Posey.58080Brian McCann
.66631Yan Gomes.58081Mark Teixeira
.66532Yasiel Puig.57982Scooter Gennett
.66533Josh Harrison.57883Pedro Alvarez
.66234Neil Walker.57684Yasmani Grandal
.66035Adrian Beltre.57685Garrett Jones
.66036Albert Pujols.57386Lonnie Chisenhall
.65937Anthony Rendon.57187Carlos Beltran
.65738Josh Donaldson.57088Russell Martin
.65739Adam Jones.57089Juan Uribe
.65140Adam LaRoche.56990Aramis Ramirez
.64541Todd Frazier.56791Jacoby Ellsbury
.64242Brandon Moss.56592Jose Altuve
.64143Marcell Ozuna.56593Ian Kinsler
.64044Kyle Seager.55594Evan Longoria
.64045Yoenis Cespedes.55195Dustin Ackley
.64046Ryan Braun.55196Tyler Flowers
.63447Freddie Freeman.55197Pablo Sandoval
.62948Jonathan Lucroy.55098Conor Gillaspie
.62849Kole Calhoun.54999Curtis Granderson
.62650Matt Adams.547100Salvador Perez

Who is Available?

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  • As of this morning’s announcement of the Nelson Cruz (10th) signing,

    the top-ranked “available” players are:

    Evan Gattis (18) and Justin Upton (20).

    If you think Matt Kemp is available, you might wanna keep checking… he’s still owed about $107 million over the next 5 years, and the Dodgers claimed that they are still in “win now” mode and looking to add players more than subtract (that comment was about Zack Greinke, but Kemp had a solid 2014 and they would probably like to keep him).

    The next-most-available hitter is Michael Morse (28th).  But he’s been available as a free agent, and is a defensive liability.

    The Blue Jays just traded a lot (4 players) to acquire Josh Donaldson (38th).  Adam LaRoche (40) has signed with the White Sox for $10m+ per year.  The Indians have expressed interest in Brandon Moss (42) of the A’s.

    Look at all the money just spent on Kyle Seager (44), Hanley Ramirez (62), Russell Martin (88), Pablo Sandoval (97).  Never mind the biggest contract of this off-season:  Giancarlo Stanton’s (4).  Heck, Torii Hunter (67) got over $10 million from Minnesota at age 39.

    Want to see something nutty?  Billy Butler got $30 million from the A’s to be a DH/1B… and he ranks 151st on this list!

    It is Crystal Clear

    Power is scarce in the marketplace, so teams are willing to spend to get it.  That is why hitters like Upton (and Gattis) are worth so much.

    So yes:  whoever John Hart wants to end up trading… he will get a decent return.  In Upton’s case, definitely more than the compensation round draft pick for keeping him through 2015.

    Let’s hope Hart can find some future power to bring back home.