Nationals Baseball: Braves or Nats : Whose OF is better?

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Braves or Nats : Whose OF is better?

The Braves.  OK see you tomorrow!

OK, ok. I guess I should explain.  The Braves and Nats both had very good OFs last year and yet both overhauled them over the offseason. The Nats shunted the poor fielding Michael Morse off, shifted Bryce Harper, who held his own in center field, to left, and brought in Denard Span. The Braves let Michael Bourn walk and brought in BJ Upton to replace him.  They then traded the underrated Martin Prado for Justin Upton. The question then arose who had the better OF?


Here are the OPS+ for each player over the past 3 years and ages for 2013
Justin Upton (25) : 110 141 107
BJ Upton (28) : 106 114 104
Jason Heyward (23) : 131 93 117

Bryce Harper (20) : 119
Denard Span (29) : 88 90 105
Jayson Werth (33) : 144 97 125

Let's pull out the two consistent guys.  Denard Span is an average hitter.  BJ Upton is slightly better than average. So the Braves start with an slight edge.  After this we're faced with a bunch of questions. Anyone of the remaining players could have a superstar like year in 2013 and it wouldn't be a shock.  So why do I like the Braves better here? Two completely opposite things that work against the Nats.

Bryce Harper, while blessed with all the talent in the world, is the only one here who hasn't yet had that big year in the majors.  Do we all think he could do it? Yes. But does it have to be in 2013? No, it doesn't. On the other hand Werth is older for a baseball player.  He's in the decline years of your average player. It doesn't mean that he has to decline, but it does mean at this point his body is really working against him. So while it's wide open on what could happen, I have to give the edge to the Braves here just because it's slightly more likely that it works out for them than the Nats.


Here is each players Spd number (which takes into account stuff like 1st to 3rd) from last year :
Justin Upton (25) : 6.0
BJ Upton (28) : 6.2
Jason Heyward (23) : 6.2

Bryce Harper (20) : 7.4
Denard Span (29) : 5.6
Jayson Werth (33) : 5.3

The short of it is, while Bryce Harper's gambling ways and young legs makes him  the biggest threat the whole rest of the Braves OF is arguably better than the Nats OF.  If we look at more years - Span looks more favorable, he's the equal of any of the Braves guys, but he's also older. Werth had a good year last year, but in general would look LESS favorable looking at multiple years.  It's not that he's slow or a bad baserunner or anything like that, just in comparison to the rest of these very talented guys he's clearly #6. 

I kind of feel again, ever so slight an edge for the Braves.


3 years of fangraphs FLD stat (another combo stat taking into account arm and range, etc.) coming up :

Justin Upton (25) : 5.5  7.7  -2.1
BJ Upton (28) : 1.4  1.4  -2.4
Jason Heyward (23) : 4.2  8.6  21.5

Bryce Harper (20) : 9.9
Denard Span (29) : 4.4  9.0  8.5
Jayson Werth (33) : -7.5  1.4  -12.6

Unlike with the hitting, where you are looking at three years for trends and historical notes, here you kind of have to look at 3 just to get a clear picture of a fielder.  Anyone can have a great single year because fo the vagaries of what goes into these stats (Adam Dunn was supposedly great at first base for the Nats one year).  Three tends to give a clearer picture of actual skills.  Here I tend to push the two teams for right now.  Bryce will be great where ever the Nats put him and Span is a very good CF and that's the most important position.  He's no Bourn, but the Braves don't have Bourn anymore they have BJ Upton who is merely doing the bare minimum in CF. Justin Upton is good in LF, Heyward is great in RF, but CF matters most.

Unfortunately for the Nats Jayson Werth hasn't played a good RF in years. Around 2007/2008 he was great but since then we've seen a slow decline. No matter what stat you look at UZR, Range Factor, the stats show he's not getting to the balls that he should anymore. That's an issue.  Span will help with that more than Bryce probably did simply by having experience covering for others but fielding isn't something that you just get back. For one year he might be ok, but it's more likely he won't.

Now if the Nats do what I think they should and move Werth to LF, shade Span in that direction and let Bryce's cannon sit in RF cutting down those 1st to 3rd guys I might move it over to giving the Nats a slight edge, but let's see them do it first.


If you push in one category and have the slight edge in two others, well you win. So the Braves win.  But don't take that to be a slam dunk or anything.  It's just slightly more likely that the combination of the Braves 3 OF will put up a slightly more worthwhile year than the combination of the Nats 3.  And even then the most likely scneario puts them at what? A half-game better? It's nothing influential, just bragging rights.  The Nats, with that killer rotation from top to bottom and no holes (well...maybe catcher), are still the better team and the favorites to win the East.

Also A LOT will come down to Bryce and Justin. While Werth had some big years, his usual ones were just a step below superstar.  Can he even get back to that for a whole season should be the thought, not if he can have a team carrying year. Heyward looked to have that big potential at the start, and is young enough to still pull it off, but it seems most likely that he'll be limited by striking out to a place just below the best hitters. Bryce and Justin though, feel like far more real threats to put up that .290 30+ homer year. If one of them does it while the other one doesn't that pretty much makes the team with the guy that did it the winner.


cass said...

Bryce Harper will be the NL MVP next year.

So yeah - predicting the Nats will win the contest by a hair just from Harper alone, but the Braves have a real nice outfield too.

blovy8 said...

So we don't care about Justin Upton's home/away splits at all and moving to sea level? I actually see B.J. getting a bump in production more than Justin breaking out. I guess Span has some issues too, but that was a tough hitters' park he was coming from too.

Froggy said...

Agree that with the acquisition of the Upton brothers I think the Braves have an edge in speed and durability. I agree as well that Werth should move to LF and put that cannon of Bryce's in RF. Has Werth played much left? Dunno...

I guess we will have to see how this PED thing flushes out with Gio and whether it turns out to be nothing or a significant distraction. But I got a sneaky feeling about the Braves pitching this year being better than expected. All it takes is one significant injury (or 50 game PED suspension) on our side and they could be the team to beat in the east.

Matt said...

Froggy -- and don't forget that Espinosa is going to try to play through what sounds like a major injury.

Personally (much as I don't like to say it), right now with the uncertainty about Espinosa/Gio I think the Braves are (in expectation) tied with the Nats. If it turns out that both Gio/Espinosa are OK, I give the edge back to the Nats; if the worst comes true for both of them I think the Braves are favorites.

DezoPenguin said...

The entire Braves team seems to be built on the model of "young with lots of upside," really, from players like the OF, Freeman, and Simmons to young pitchers like Beachy and Medlen. There's a few veterans, of course (Hudson, for example, though McCann and Uggla, who fill that role on offense, are both coming off down years and are bigger question marks than the upsiders). The Nats have a lot more players with an established veteran career...which may or may not end up being a good thing.

I definitely see these two teams fighting for first yet again, with luck being the deciding factor. With the weakness of the rest of the division (the Phillies look very poor on offense and have back-of-the-rotation question marks), it's quite possible that either or both team could get to 100 wins, even.

...You know, it's a lot more fun to have these kind of discussions rather than worrying about whether we'll get out of last place!

Chris Needham said...

Are Werth's defensive numbers dragged down by his time in center? He didn't play a lot there -- and to my eye, he wasn't terrible -- but if he was below average there, even by a bit, it could drag his overall numbers down.

To the point above about Upton's road numbers... all I think of anytime I hear that is Soriano and how everyone was sure he wouldn't hit because he did most of his damage. The majority of Upton's road games are played in the NLW, where he gets San Diego and LA -- great pitcher's parks... and solid pitching. Put anyone in that context -- let alone the nearly universal decline all players have when playing on the road -- and the splits may not be as useful as they seem on their surface.

Donald said...

Another, more subjective, way to look at it is would you trade one for the other. This isn't really a question of who's better since if factors in a teams needs to some degree. But in general, I don't think the Nats would trade their OF for the Braves OF at all -- probably mostly due to the upside of Harper, but also because Span fills a need as lead-off hitter / defensive specialist better than BJ Upton. Would the Braves make the deal though? I'm guessing they would, only because of Harper. Pretty much any team would probably make the trade to get Harper back.

On an individual basis, I don't think the Nats or Braves would swap BJ Upton for Span. They both got what they wanted and wouldn't switch. I think the Nats would trade Werth for Hayward but the Braves wouldn't bite. I think the Braves would trade J Upton for Harper in a heartbeat but the Nats would never. So we'd likely stick with 2 of our 3 OF's even if we could change and the Braves would say the pretty close.

Dr Trea (formerly #werthquake) said...

i have nightmares of Werth being the most expensive 4th outfielder in baseball history..and it can happen as soon as 2014 (and, in all honesty without considering money, maybe should..2015 at the latest)

Harper said...

cass - I have to think if Bryce Harper wins the MVP the Nats win the OF battle by more than a hair (assuming Span and Werth don't stink)

blovy8 - not really, outside of extreme cases or a couple certain parks I pay little attention. Chase hasn't shown itself to be consistently crazily above other parks in production. Plus as Needham says below the parks he plays in away a lot depress hitting so you have to think about that. Two more things - as recently as 2010 his splits were pretty even. Mark Reynolds had crazy splits, then went to Baltimore and hit exactly as he always did.

Froggy - reallythe last time Werth spent any appreciable time in left was his last year with th Dodgers.

Could be that the Braves are better, but let's get to April first, see who lines up where and who's healthy.

Matt - yeah the espy injury is a bit scary for the Nats, Lombo's empty .280 isn't going to make up for Espy's fielding and power.

sure if Gio is out for 50 and Danny is bascially lost for the year maybe the Braves eek ahead. Haven't looked at the Braves enough to know where they sit but still if the Braves are then good for 93 wins and the Nats 91 luck can drive the way as much as anything

Dezo - SweetSpot did it!

I think what it gives the Nats is less downside. It's a bit hard (assuming Gio/Danny is ok) to see the Nats missing the playoffs. The Braves almost did last year - you could see them doing it again.

Needham - Last year - no. the two years probaly but two HUGE caveats - (1) he only played 10% of those years in CF so the pull down was minimal (2) it mostly came in the "Arm" category. Ranging he's just been bad in RF. No way around it.

yeah, one of the worst things you can do is think "Away=Baseline". Just look at OPS+ really - Upton's 2012 was similar to Aoki's or Reyes' (really....hmmm) but he hit in a better hitters ballpark so he's SLIGHTLY valued less. That's more how it works.

Donald - Is contracts and issue? Cause there's that Werth matza ball out there.

pure talent - you want Bryce. He could be a HoF guy. If you were the Nats you don't deal, if you're the Braves you do. But that doesn't mean the Nats are better next year or even over the long run. Just that the value of the Nats OF is more because of Bryce.

you read the individual like I do. With Werth aging and Bryce a bit scatter-brained they need that great CF. Span is close, BJ isn't. So maybe 4 out of 5 teams would rather have BJ but he's not the best fit for the Nats.

Harper said...

C&S - Vernon Wells 2013!

blovy8 said...

Citi Field and that Marlins atrocity vs. Dodger Stadium and AT&T kind of even out essentially if Nats Park is neutral because Upton has hit well at Petco. He's got poor numbers in Coors field, though, go figure. It's not that he won't still probably still hit better at home, but it's hard to imagine 200 points of OPS difference. Grasping at straws since he's only 25 and can get better.

7 for 39 with 1 HR in DC.

blovy8 said...

Reynolds didn't have big home/away splits like Upton.

blovy8 said...

That 2010 year skewed things for Reynolds because he had such a low BA.

Anonymous said...

Braves slightly better? Really! I completely disagree. The Nationals are much better, and on top of the regulars, look at the bench: Bernadina, Perez and Moore. There is no comparison.

Anonymous said...

Let us consider the offensive numbers from another angle: the RCG last year.

Justin 5.62
B. J. 4.65
Heyward 5.86

Harper 5.78
Span 4.89
Werth 6.70

Two bench players for the Nats.

Bernadina 6.00
Moore 5.95

The 22 year old Perez can run and hit real good in the minors.

Advantage: Nationals

Dr Trea (formerly #werthquake) said...

What are we gonna do? Are we really gonna pay him like 22 million dollars to sit on the bench next year or so?

notBobby said...

I think the big difference between the two (essentially) equal outfields is that the Nationals have a high ceiling and high floor, while the Braves have a high ceiling and low floor. The Uptons seem to be up and down while Heyward seems to just be on the rise. Bryce, Span and Werth are all solid with Bryce and Span on the rise. The only thing that holds back the Nats are injuries, but the Braves actually have questions about fielding AND hitting in their OF. So, they are essentially equal because of their high ceilings, but I would take the nats high floor any day of the week.

Anonymous said...

Span is not on the uphill. At best he has flattened out, but to me he looks to be just over the hill. I wouldn't be surprised if he loses his starting role to one of the others.

Nattydread said...

Nice analysis. Don't you think you have to include the 4th outfielder/bench in the argument? Add in several hundred at-bats, defensive considerations and short-term injury replacement?

Seems to me it could be the deciding factor in a fairly even match-up.

Harper said...

blovy8 - totally grasping. And in their last 4 years in ARI Reynolds had one year with big H/R splits, Upton had two - does that really say anything?

Anon - RC27 ignores defense which is where Werth takes a decent sized hit to his value. Also you are judging Justin Upton on his worst season in recent years and Span on his best.

NOW if you take the benches into account. The Nats OF would be better. I didn't do that though.

C&S - He'll probably play OF until 2016 would be my guess. Maybe 1B after LaRoche's contract is done? Really it's too early to tell. Just hope he keeps hitting ok.

nB / Anon - yeah nB you overrate Span. At 28 I don't think he's going to improve anymore and as Anon said - he might have actually peaked (lets hope it's a plateau) I think Bryce is the one player on either team you can't see having an off year. It may be possible but I can't see it.

I like your ceiling / floor description though - only for the teams rather than the OFs.

ND - I don't but obviously every one else does.

Looking at Johnson and Constanza the Braves have your typical bench. One guy can field, can't hit, the other guy can hit can't field. Though neither are probably so terrible at the thing they are bad at to make you hate them being on the bench.

The Nats have Bernadina who is kind of a combo - can field well, can hit ok. You can stick him for a week or so and not platoon or PH or such. Moore is a liability in the field but you can dream that he is going to continue to be great at the plate so there's that.

Nats have an edge here

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