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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Overlooked Upton

Following Nuffced’s account of Justin Upton, I decided to take a look at his older, often overlooked brother, BJ Upton. BJ is the poster child in baseball of “wasted potential”. People look at his lackadaisical attitude, his lack of “hustle” and his low batting average and think either that he doesn’t care or just hasn’t been able to tap into his potential……or both. This, plus the fact that he is constantly being overshadowed by his phenom brother, has made BJ Upton a very overlooked and underrated player. He isn’t seen as the great player that he truly is.

First let’s look at his “mediocre” offense. When discussing BJ Upton’s performances, people quite often site his incredibly low averages to show that his offense is under par. How can someone be an above average hitter when they can’t even hit .250? And this is true to a degree; over the past two seasons, BJ has hit for extremely low AVG’s of .241 and .237, far below anything that we would deem acceptable for a player of Upton’s ability. However, when you dig a little deeper, you see that the bad AVG doesn’t tell the whole story. Upton has very good plate discipline, with a career BB% of 11.3%, which helps to keep his OBP fairly decent despite his atrocious AVG. He also shows a good deal of pop, especially for a CF, hitting for a career ISO (Isolated Power, basically SLG without the singles) of .154, with a strong .184 mark in his most recent 2010 season. All this adds up to a career OPS of .760, which, while not amazing, is more than good enough for a centerfielder. Let’s compare his career numbers to the average line for a centerfielder over the past few years.

Upton (career): .260 AVG, .345 OBP, .415 SLG, .760 OPS
MLB CF (2008): .268 AVG, .334 OBP, .420 SLG, .753 OPS
MLB CF (2009): .267 AVG, .334 OBP, .414 SLG, .747 OPS
MLB CF (2010): .261 AVG, .326 OBP, .405 SLG, .731 OPS

As you can see, Upton more then makes the grade in all three years. While his offensive totals might not be standout, they are not the detriment that his low AVG would suggest. And the rest of his game is where Upton really starts to shine.

This next part is the easy one to gauge, Upton’s great speed. BJ is one of the faster players in the game, registering high SB totals in every season in his major league career. In 2006, his rookie year, BJ stole 11 bases in under 200 PA, which would have translated to over 35 in 600 PA, the number that is usually regarded as the benchmark for a full season. He dropped off a bit in 2007, only stealing 22 bases in 548 PA, but after that, he simply began to soar. Upton stole 40+ bases in every year from 2008-2010, accumulating 128 total stolen bases in that time period and solidifying his status as one of the more consistent base stealers in the game of baseball. This prolific speed adds to his already solid raw offensive numbers, making Upton quite a valuable player from the offensive side of the game. But it’s the defense where Upton really stands out. Upton is widely regarded as one of the best defensive players in major league baseball, as he makes even the hardest play look easy, He has tremendous range, the ability to glide all over the outfield with ease and continuously makes sparkling catches that other outfielder can only dream of making. Here are his Rtot (Total Zone Total Fielding Runs above average) and Rtot/yr (Rtot per 1200 innings) according to since 2007.

2007: 10 Rtot, 17 Rtot/yr
2008: 15 Rtot, 15 Rtot/yr
2009: 7 Rtot, 7 Rtot/yr
2010: 12 Rtot, 11 Rtot/yr

Obviously, these are all fabulous numbers, seeing as in every year other than 2009, he was estimated to have saved over 10 runs per year with his defense alone. Even in 2009, he saved a well above average 7 runs. So what does this all add up to? It adds to one of the better outfielders in the game of baseball. Year in and year out, BJ Upton brings to the table solid offense, great speed and awesome defense at a premium position, for excellent overall value. Let’s compare his B-Ref WAR (Wins Above Replacement) to another Rays star (former star, I guess) Carl Crawford, one of the game’s best outfielders.

2007: 4.7 WAR (BJ) vs. 2.9 WAR (CC)
2008: 4.0 WAR (BJ) vs. 2.3 WAR (CC)
2009: 1.3 WAR (BJ) vs. 4.4 WAR (CC)
2010: 4.5 WAR (BJ) vs. 5.2 WAR (CC)

Not a big difference, in fact Upton has the advantage in two of the four years. And while, Crawford has obviously stepped up his game in ’09-‘10, he’s still not far ahead of Upton, especially in 2010, where they had very similar overall performances. Basically, while Upton might not be living up to his incredibly lofty potential, that does not mean he is not good, great even. People just need to look past his low AVG’s, his “bad” attitude and their very high expectations to see the true value that this young man brings to the field.

1 comment:

  1. I liked the comparison with Crawford. Upton gets ignored and hated-on while Crawford gets into 'top-ten player' discussion.