Last winter, Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers finally traded outfielder Justin Upton.
For two straight trade deadlines, and three straight offseasons since stepping into the Diamondbacks’ front office, Towers deliberated over such a move — even attempted as much — but it finally materialized back in January, when Upton and Chris Johnson were sent to the Atlanta Braves for Martin Prado, Randall Delgado and a package of prospects.
But now, 162 games later, Towers is looking to replace the power void left by Upton.
“I think there’s probably a need for a little bit more power in the lineup,” said the GM, who is entering the final year of his contract.
“Where that comes is probably going to be a corner infield position — third base — or a corner outfield position.”
Towers’ search for power this offseason is understandable. The Diamondbacks had the sixth-fewest home runs in baseball, despite playing within the hitter-friendly confines of Chase Field, and finished below the major league average in slugging percentage, at .391.
And despite the fact Upton hit 27 home runs for the Braves this season — nearly twice as many as Prado’s career high — Towers said he doesn’t regret making the trade.
“I’m happy with the Upton trade,” he said Sunday. “Prado — what he’s brought to this club, a guy that can play multiple positions, and he’s not going to hit the home runs that (Upton) does, but I think he’s as much of a run producer as (Upton) was.”
Regarding that last part, the general manager is misguided.
According to Baseball-Reference.com’s ‘runs created’ statistic — which is calculated by adding hits, walks and total bases together and dividing that number by at-bats plus walks — Upton produced far more runs than Prado this season. Though playing in six fewer games than Prado, the Braves’ outfielder created 95 runs in 2013 — 19 more than the Diamondback utilityman’s 76.
Still discussing his pleasure with Prado’s 2013 performance, Towers went on.
“I think he had over 700 plate appearances, which is pretty amazing — a guy you can count on day in and day out that’s going to be out there,” he added.
Following Sunday’s game, Prado actually had 664 plate appearances for his new team. Upton, on the other hand, tallied just 21 fewer, with 643 over the course of the season. And the difference between the two can be found by looking at the Diamondbacks’ frequent extra-innings affairs. Prado had 34 extra innings plate appearances in 2013; Upton had 11.
Though Prado tallied 12 more RBI than Upton last season, a deeper look at those numbers reveals the reason. Prado had 95 more men on base cumulatively in his 2013 plate apperances than did Upton. Specifically, the difference was 435 to 340 over the course of the season.
Furthermore, a high number of Prado’s 435 “fish on the pond” ended up being thrown out in double plays. Only the St. Louis Cardinals’ Matt Holliday grounded into more double plays than Prado in 2013 among Major Leaguers. Holliday hit into 31 double plays while Prado hit into 29.
Upton only hit into 12 double plays over the course of the season.
Later in Sunday’s press conference, Towers expounded on his desire for power in 2014.
“I think the power numbers will go up,” he said. “I mean, if you have (Aaron Hill) for a full year and, you know, (Miguel Montero’s) probably going to be a lot better, but that’s not to say that we couldn’t use a little more thump in our lineup.
Prado slugged .417 in 2013 — nearly 50 points below Upton’s .464. Of course, though, as Towers said, the organization wasn’t looking to Prado as a power-hitting commodity. Rather, they touted him as a top-of-the-order hitter.
But Prado only out-performed Upton in batting average among the slash-line statistics, hitting 19 points higher: Prado hit .282 in 2013 while Upton hit .263.
Upton, meanwhile, managed a .354 on-base percentage over the season. Prado’s was .333. The difference in the on-base-plus-slugging percentages of the two was a drastic 68 points — with Upton coming in at .818 and Prado at .750.
Sabermetrics also value Upton higher than Prado. Wins above replacement calculations on both FanGraphs.com and Baseball-Reference.com give Upton the edge. The former calculates Upton’s WAR at 3.2 with Prado at 2.4, while the latter only gives the former Diamondback a 0.1 point edge.
And wins probability added, which takes a particular game’s situational importance into account — weighing a walk-off home run, for example, as more valuable than a home run in a blowout and a go-ahead RBI more than a first-inning RBI — gives Upton a far more significant advantage, with a 2.34 measure, compared to Prado’s negative tally of -0.84.
*Statistic courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com
Upton’s direct replacement, however, wasn’t Prado. It was 32-year-old right fielder Cody Ross, who cost the team just $250,000 less than Upton would have in 2013, while playing in 55 fewer games — due to a season-ending hip injury suffered in August and a disabled list stint to begin the year — and performing far worse in each slash-line statistic with the exception of batting average.
This offseason, Towers and the Diamondbacks will look to add a left-handed power bat at one of the aforementioned positions. And though Upton hits from the other side of the plate, his absence from one of baseball’s least-powerful lineups is more than noticeable.
And it’s not just numbers that stand as proof of that. Towers’ offseason search is just as telling.