Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Crazy Joe Might Be Right (Not Joe Morgan)

Joe Sheehan might have hit his head or something, because during his chat at BaseballProspectus today he was asked the following question:

"Which young outfielder do you want in 2009 and beyond: Adam Jones or Justin Upton?"

Now in most baseball circles that would be pretty ludicrous. Jones is looking at Torii Hunter upside and Upton is being compared to Ken Griffey Jr.

Sheehan: "Just based on the defensive difference, I'd take Jones. I'm not sure that opinion will be shared."

Not shared indeed. But is it as crazy as it sounds?

In his prime the hope is that Jones will be about a .290/.350/.500 hitter (which seems low but is really a little bit better than any year Hunter ever had with the bat). That's about a .370 wOBA, which would be worth 1.8 wins on offense over 600 PA. Combined with 1 win defense in center, Jones would be an almost 5 WAR player. You can be more conservative and say 4.5 WAR, as his defense should slip while his offense improves.

Upton may end up being a beast with the bat (say, .310/.400/.600 - that's a .425 wOBA, or 5 wins with the bat in 600 PA), and guys who enter the majors before their 20th birthday tend to have solid careers at the very least. Since Upton plays right (-0.75 instead of +0.25 for center), and not all that well (-0.5 to be generous, though CHONE projects him at -1.1 for 2009), he'd also come in as an almost 5 WAR player (since the replacement level in the NL is lower than in the AL).

That is the power of defense and positional adjustments. My immediate reaction was that Joe is bonkers, but it's really a lot closer than some might think. I'd like another year of defensive data for Upton, but if he really is that bad out there I might have to pick Adam Jones too.

If Felix Pie can figure things out then the O's are going to have a sick outfield.

[Edit: It's kind of funny that almost one year age I was comparing Adam Jones to failed outfield prospects like Darnell McDonald and Jeffrey Hammonds. Now I'm comparing him to a guy who was just one of the best outfield prospects in the game. Does that mean Upton will flame out (unlikely), or maybe that I was right in saying Jones had a better track-record than those guys and would outproduce them? Only time will tell.]

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