Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

Justin Upton Dislikes Coffee?

As far as I know:

1) The Diamondbacks are still shopping Justin Upton.

2) The Diamondbacks lost a major pitching prospect in Trevor Bauer.

3) The Diamondbacks have a lot of outfielders, and they don’t like Justin Upton very much.

4) The Mariners need a good outfielder.

A major problem, as cited here, in working a trade with Upton is that the Mariners are on his no-trade list. I was once confused about no-trade lists, but I believe I have been straightened out. A no-trade clause, in this case, simply means that the Dbacks must have Upton’s approval before trading him to the Mariners. The clause may have been there because Upton doesn’t like rain, doesn’t like pitchers’ parks, doesn’t like coffee…who knows? But if he’s sick enough of Arizona—and he has heard of the fence transplantation in SafeCo as well and something closer to a temperate summer—then perhaps he’d okay a trade to Seattle. Probably not likely, but worth exploring in the Sodomojo pages, nonetheless.

The deal would likely include a major pitching prospect (to replace Bauer), and something else fun, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about. I’m here to talk about the powerful force known as regression to the mean. Dave Cameron alluded to it in an article over at Fangraphs, but maybe some specific examples can advance the discussion.

The biggest knock on Justin Upton comes from his home/road splits. The guy has been a monster at home in the friendly Phoenix atmosphere (138 wRC+), but he’s essentially been Ty Wigginton on the road (96 wRC+). Over the last ten seasons, that 42 wRC+ difference ranks him third most polarized among all batters with at least 1000 plate appearances both home and away. In other words, Justin Upton is an extreme case when it comes to splits.

Let’s take a break to play the Regression to the Mean Game. Heard of it? I’m going to take the best and worst 10 batters from 2011 in terms of a few different stats, and then see how they fared in 2012. Let’s start with batting average.


2011 AVG

2012 AVG

Miguel Cabrera



Adrian Gonzalez



Michael Young



Jose Reyes



Ryan Braun



Victor Martinez



Matt Kemp



Jacoby Ellsbury



Hunter Pence



Joey Votto




Besides Joey Votto, every single player declined, or in the case of Victor Martinez, did not play. The average decline was 9.5%.

Now let’s use wRC+ to check for regression in the opposite direction. In other words, did the worst hitters in 2011 rebound? Qualified players only, of course.

Name 2011 wRC+ 2012 wRC+
Alex Rios



Mark Ellis



Casey McGehee



Gordon Beckham



Alcides Escobar



Yuniesky Betancourt



Alex Gonzalez



Miguel Olivo



Aaron Hill



Ichiro Suzuki




Ignoring the fact that two Mariners are on the list (and a third would have been if Figgins had been qualified), again we see a lot of regression—this time in an upward direction. The overall regression back up was 35.1%! This isn’t exactly a biased sample either. There’s not a majority of young players or injured players in the sample, where we would have projected obvious improvement.

There are probably many theories as to why extreme players regress. I’m sure psychology plays some role, for instance. But I believe the best explanation for regression is simply the unsustainable nature of extreme play. Whether you want to call it chance, randomness, or luck (or bad luck), it takes more than one’s skill level to perform extremely, in my opinion.

We notice Upton’s splits because they represent an outlier among baseball players. We can go back and try to explain that it’s caused by his home ball park, or maybe his swing, or that he loathes airplanes, etc. But as with any metric in baseball, it would be foolish to assume that Upton’s stats are representative of such an extreme inability to hit outside Chase Field. Just having a hitter-friendly home ballpark doesn’t explain it all.

We saw that Miguel Cabrera won the batting title in 2011. We know Miguel Cabrera is a good hitter. We should still have expected regression in the following the season.

We see that Upton is among the three most extreme players when it comes to home/away splits. We know Upton should have distinguished splits, playing in Chase. We should still expect regression in the 2013 season.

In Upton’s case specifically, we should probably assume he’s not as bad on the road as his 96 wRC+ suggests, and perhaps he’s not quite as good at home as his 138 wRC+ suggests. If regression is up to something, as usual, then Upton is not likely to move to Seattle and continue hitting at a .250/.325/.406 clip on the road. Maybe in SafeCo, but not on the road.

The trade is unlikely, but I would welcome Upton with open arms. He’s good, he fills a major need in the organization, he’s 25, and he’s signed through 2015 on a team-friendly deal.


Tags: Arizona Diamondbacks Justin Upton Seattle Mariners

  • JJ Allen Keller

    I am really confused on Upton. I just fail to be able to rationalize his stats getting better on the road just because he comes here. I mean, it his career we are talking about, not just one year. Does the regression thing still apply? And what explains the fact that he is so mediocre on the road?

    • Matthias_Kullowatz

      Regression would be stronger in one season than over four or five seasons, definitely. But it’s still a very powerful force–if you want to call it that–that creeps into situations everywhere. Especially, it seems, in sports.

      • JJ Allen Keller

        Got it.
        Well what happened today sure was a shot to the nuts huh?

        • Matthias_Kullowatz

          I wish he’d just try some fresh fish from Pike’s…

  • Andrew Prichard

    If I’m Jack, I’m weary of Upton’s inconsistency, but am also aware that bad Upton is still better than anyone the Ms have not named Saunders, and good Upton is an MVP candidate. When factoring in his age, you have to think he’s going to be close to a 3-4 WAR player over the next few years, even in a park like Safeco. Putting on my GMZ hat, I offer the D-Backs Hultzen, Franklin, and their choice of Pryor or Capps for Upton. To Upton, I offer to tear up his current contract and give him a new 5/90 deal. To me, this is a win-win-win…

    * DBacks get a solid yet unspactuclar arm to replace Bauer (and one who is near MLB ready), a very solid middle infield prospect (who is also close), and a power reliever already with his feet wet and with six more years of team control.
    * Ms get a corner OF bat to plug into the middle of the lineup at a still reasonable price without having to sacrifice anything from the big club, or Taijuan Walker.
    * Upton gets a profitable extension that expires when he will still be only 30, and therefore can still expect one more large contract in his career.

    If either of the other parties says no, I can move on, knowing that Upton is not the end-all be-all of MLB players.

    • Matthias_Kullowatz

      Perhaps it was a good thing that Upton nixed the deal that would have sent Walker and Franklin (among others) over to Arizona. I guess we’ll get a better idea in the next couple years, but for now, it’s back to the drawing board!

  • Eric Reining

    What’s up, man? I’m the editor over at Nolan Writin’, and I enjoyed this, particularly with respect to your citing of sabermetrics. I think batting average is a stupid stat, but I won’t hold it against you. I covet Justin Upton in Texas.

    Anyway, as time rolls on I assume people are going to pay more attention to home/road splits. Again, I appreciate you taking this into consideration. In Upton’s case, playing in a relatively friendly hitter’s park in AZ, he’s playing the bulk of his road games in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco — three historically pitcher-friendly parks that suppress fly balls because of the marine layer. Mariners’ fans know this better than anyone. That’s why I forgive Upton for the egregious disparity.

    I’m less suspect about how projectable Upton is. I think he’s a stud.

    But why would Seattle go all-in for him when they don’t have a realistic shot at the West in 2013?

    • Matthias_Kullowatz

      I wasn’t using batting average as any sort of proxy for player ability, just as another statistic that regresses naturally. You could repeat my little experiment with WAR, OPS, UZR, or anything really, and you would still find regression among the 10 most extreme performers.

      Upton’s away parks in the NL West are likely playing a role, too, like you mention. I was thinking about weighting all the ballpark factors for right-handed batters for Upton’s ballpark distribution. But now that Texas is the hotspot, I’ll leave that up to you ;-)

      As for the all-in attempt, Seattle is not that far from a playoff opportunity, especially with the 2nd wild card slot. I might project them for 75 – 80 wins this season as of right now. Upton would raise my projection to 79 – 84. Look at what the A’s and O’s did last season. Two teams that were projected in the 75-win range that–for different reasons–outperformed expectations and made the playoffs.

      The Mariners are in a unique position on the win curve where they are not favorites for the playoffs, but possibilities if things break right. Upton just further increases that likelihood…and would have helped the Mariners in terms of playoff probability moreso than most teams. Additionally, it’s not just about 2013. Upton would be around for 2014 and 2015. Walker and Franklin were good prospects, but still just prospects. I’m not saying I completely endorse the trade that was supposedly offered, but I don’t think it was stupid by any means.

      • Eric Reining

        Just to be clear, regarding batting average, I wasn’t passing any judgement. Simply poking a little fun at a writer from a rival site (even if we’re all technically supposed to be on the same team). :]

        As far as handedness, Fangraphs actually has a list on ballpark factors in a comparative study, where 100 is considered average (like most metrics).

        For righties:

        Chase –

        Arlington –

        Simple mathematical reasoning suggests that Seattle is well below the 100 average in all four categories, which is similar to what Upton has experienced in LA, SF and SD. I find this stuff pretty interesting. I assume you do as well, being a statistician.

        Also, I agree the Mariners aren’t too far away from competing, not only for a wild card, but for the West. However, that projection (2014, perhaps) is contingent on them holding onto all their top guns at the upper levels of the minor leagues. My loose estimation has them pegged closer to 72-76 wins, even though that’s in the same ballpark (pun intended) as you propose.

        That said, acquiring Justin Upton would be a good gain in the short term (3 years), but I’m not sure it would be worth it in the longterm (through the following 3 years). I think the Mariners would be better off for the next several seasons pocketing their prospects than giving them up for a transient talent like Upton, whom you wouldn’t get more than a draft pick for once his time ended.

        • Matthias_Kullowatz

          Same team? Ah hell no! Seattle is going 17-0 against Texas this season. You heard it here first ;-)

          There’s something pretty valuable about 6 cheap years of anybody, that’s for sure. That’s why I’m not so sure I was even a fan of a trade for Upton. I just wasn’t as worried about his poor road splits.

          I really think this whole “need a bat” thing gets blown out of proportion up here, too. The Mariners need to be better everywhere. They’re not the best defensive team, they’re not the best pitching team, and they’re certainly not the best hitting team. An improvement to the rotation right now is just as good as a bat, in my opinion.

    • Oprk

      Seattle may not have a realistic shot at the West in 2013 but we have 3 years until we can opt out of our tv deal and sign a new one with at least quadruple the revenue allowing us to spend big if need be (just looking around, it’s easy to spot a few of the teams with new tv deals this year by their spending), Felix is a free agent the year before this happens and we need to try to get pieces in order and convince him that the 2015 money generated from the new tv deal will be put to make the team perennial contenders (Which means we need to get as much production for the money as we can until then, Upton qualifies).

      We’re not too unlike the 2008 SF Giants who went 72-90 with some good pitching at the top of the rotation and solid prospects a year or less away to make an elite rotation regardless of offense (no bats wanted to sign there around that time either, just like here). The Giants pitching prospects went on to develop into the formidable mound presences projected and they’ve won 2 of the last 3 World Series with an offense that I’m pretty sure was worse than the Mariners was last year. A lot can happen in two years with this much pitching talent close to emerging in the majors, and our need to show Felix over the next two years we’re looking to contend for a ring (which will require team friendly contracts in relation to production,at least until 2015 and we can opt out of our tv deal, if we’re looking to land some stars – and Upton’s contract is definitely a team-friendly amount of years/money even if he doesn’t reach what’s expected of him) since the money we’ll have once the new tv deal is done won’t be available until after the Felix extension deadline.

      Long story short, Eric, it’s not about winning the West in 2013, it’s about having Felix beyond 2014 as he’ll be a key component if we’re to compete immediately beyond 2013. EDIT: Also, as for going all in for Upton, Taijuan is a legit possible ACE prospect (and I’ll avoid going into how I feel about the trade), but I don’t consider it going all in. We have so much starting pitching nearing the majors that would be top 5 prospects on most teams that our system would still be very deep after a move like what was proposed, just as the Rangers would in a similar situation. Bullpen arms like those involved are replaceable, and Franklin is projecting at being blocked at the MLB level and passed at the other MI spot by Miller. It wouldn’t be anything at all like going all in. We have a deep talent pool and a lot of it is AA and above, not a farm system of low A ball guys that may or may not keep it up as the competition improves.

      • Matthias_Kullowatz

        I can see reasons to go for Upton (reasons to encourage Felix to stay around, maybe), and I can understand why people didn’t like the trade that was offered (prospects too valuable, maybe).

        Trades may be the way to go anymore, since signing a free agent that received a qualifying offer (see: Lohse, Swisher, etc.) costs a team a top draft pick in the future.

  • maqman

    Sorry to disagree but I’m glad they didn’t get Upton, regression or not he was not worth what he would cost. Look at what Arizona residents say about him and comes of as a big headed petulant juvenile, they will be glad to see him leave.

    With what they have done so far the M’s are a .500 or better team already. They probably won’t contend this year but they could in 2014.

    Their current media deal pays them $45MM a year, which is higher than many other teams already. They may double that or better but not by much, the market is way smaller than southern and central California and Las Vegas. It behooves them to improve before they renegotiate that contract if they want that payoff, that’s why the Dodgers spent big, they will become more realistic in future.

    • Matthias_Kullowatz

      I’m not sure if I was for the deal or not. I wrote this before it came out, and since then Upton’s decision has left me unmotivated to delve into the impossible. But I was just trying to point out that if a trade did go through, Upton was not likely to be as bad on the road as he has been…