So, what did everyone think of the Justin Upton deal? Took a long time to sign. Got a lot of money. Good player. Gonna hit a bunch — probably something like 25% better than league average. Might not be great in the field, but, hey, it’s certainly an upgrade over what they already had. Deal mostly makes sense. It’s just so weird that the Rays were the team that signed him.
You didn’t hear? Yeah, it was the Rays that got him. The Tigers? No, no no no no no. The Rays landed Upton. Big-time move for them.
OK, fine, they didn’t technically get Upton. Technically, Upton signed with the Tigers, sure. I’ll admit that. They didn’t get Upton, but what they did get was Corey Dickerson and Steve Pearce, and — hey, stop laughing! Hear me out, here. Dickerson, for his career, has mashed right-handed pitching. Problem’s been the lefties. He’s got a career 139 wRC+ against righties. Pearce, for his career, and especially lately, since he turned his career around, has crushed left-handed pitching. Problem’s been the righties. He’s got a career 123 wRC+ against lefties.
When the Tigers went out and signed Upton to a six-year, $132 million contract, they signed up for something like a 127 wRC+ in 2016, according to the Steamer projections we host here on the site. Makes sense. That’s the exact midway point between last year’s production in San Diego, and the previous year’s production in Atlanta. The Rays? The Rays got Dickerson from Colorado yesterday for Jake McGee, an injury-prone, yet very effective, left-handed reliever. As for Pearce, he was signed for one year and $4.75 million. And if Dickerson only batted against righties, getting two-thirds of the season’s plate appearances, and Pearce got the other one-third by only batting against lefties, Steamer projects that the duo would combine for something like a 124 wRC+ — just a shade below Upton’s performance and at a fraction of the cost.
Of course, it never works that way. Dickerson’s going to be forced into some playing time against lefties, and it’s inevitable that Pearce is going to face his share of righties. Neither one is as adept in the outfield as Upton, and because the Tigers have an everyday player in left field, rather than a platoon, they’ve got an “extra” roster spot, relative to the Rays. You’d rather have Upton than Dickerson and Pearce. At the same time, you’ve got to applaud the Rays for spending so little to acquire a pair of corner outfielders whose production, so as long as the players are used optimally, could rival that of Upton’s.
This is one of the ways in which small-market teams can keep up with their big-market brothers, and one of the reasons why clubs like the Indians, A’s and Rays are so often found near the top of the platoon advantage leaderboard. There’s something very compelling about the cost-effective nature of a productive platoon, as well as the brutal honesty. A platoon is an organization’s way of telling a player, “We know you’re severely flawed, but we’re fine with who you are, and don’t need you to be anything more,” which sort of flies in the face of the traditional macho, “strive for greatness” athlete persona.
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