Player Profile: My street accident, B.J. Upton

Florida News - May 20, 2009
B.J. Upton represents everything that is exciting and flawed in fantasy baseball. While tantalizing owners with his incredible power-speed potential, he has frustrated managers and doomed teams to the cellar with a terrible 2009.

Fantasy managers in 2007 waited with baited breath for Upton’s first full season. He did not disappoint, posting a stellar .300/.386/.508 line to go along with 24 home runs and 22 stolen bases in 548 plate appearances. Nothing stood in his path to fantasy stardom, except the lingering concern of his lofty strikeout numbers, sitting at 154 for the season. Still, Upton seemed destined for stardom.

B.J.’s 2008 season was a bit human for this fantasy Superman, as his power all but disappeared, dropping to just nine home runs in 640 plate appearances, coupled with a drop in batting average to .273. This was partially made up for by a substantial increase in stolen bases, however, as his swiped bags total rose to 44.

While 2008 was nothing to write home about, Upton’s stellar postseason, as well as a rumored shoulder injury, reminded owners of his tremendous latent power potential and ultimate upside.

Fast forward to August 2009. Upton’s season has been an unmitigated disaster. His triple slash line sits at a pathetic .237/.312/.359. Hardly the type of player who breeds fantasy glory. Further, the rumored power surge never arrived, as Upton has hit just seven home runs in 477 plate appearances.

Upton has been completely lost at the plate this season, as evidenced by a decline in almost every meaningful secondary statistical indicator. The center fielder has posted three-year lows in the following categories: line drive percentage, walk rate, strikeout to walk rate, and HR:FB percentage. His contact percentage sits at 75.6 percent, down from 80.5 percent in 2008. His timing is way off, as evidenced by the fact that he has completely forgotten how to hit change-ups (Upton’s run value per 100 change-ups: 2008: +1.71, 2009: -1.15).

In regards to this season, there is not much that can be done. Yes, he could turn it around in the final two months to help a team win a title, but he is not a player you should bet on. Winning fantasy titles is as much about superstars as it is about solid, consistent contributions. At this point, you must replace Upton if you haven’t already.

For those in keeper leagues, Upton seems to be at a crossroads in his career. Upton can become one of two players, with either one being just as likely.

On the one hand, he could become Carl Crawford with more power and slightly fewer steals. Upton has shown that he can steal 40-50 bags and hit 20-plus homers. There were few fence scrapers among his 2007 home runs, so the power seems to have been real.

However, his unrelenting issues with strikeouts may turn him into the next Mike Cameron, albeit with less power. In the last three years, Upton has struck out at rates of 32.5 percent (2007), 25.2 percent (2008), and 29.6 percent (2009). Assuming the K-rates and middling power hold, Upton will never hit over .270. While he may have hit .300 in 2007, this was a complete BABIP mirage, as his balls in play average stood at .399. That’s right, .399.

In a more realistic 2008 (realistic being relative, as his BABIP was still quite high), his .351 BABIP led to a .273 batting average. This .270 range is much more indicative of Upton’s batting average potential, as no one who strikes out in 25 percent of their at-bats can hit .300 unless they can club over 30 home runs. If you’re one to expect him to drop the K-rate, don’t. Anyone who swings just 40 percent of the time with just an 80 percent contact rate will struggle with strikeouts. Patience is a virtue, but too much can be a vice.

If you find yourself in a one-year league, trade or bench Upton. Even if he does turn it around, by the time you trust him again, the year will over.

If you’re in a keeper league, there are a few scenarios that could be beneficial.

First, if you are low in the standings, hold onto him and see if he can show some signs of progression in the last two months. This could be enough for you to keep him for next year or deal him to someone who will give up a worthy keeper. DO NOT CUT UPTON, especially if you are out of the race. There is still enough time in the season for him to make a case for next year.

If you are near the top of the league in the standings, know that Upton still has a lot of believers. Try to find an owner who needs a keeper and see if you can deal for a good player who can put you over the top.

In short, Upton has very little to offer this season. He’s already been brilliant as well as disgraceful, so even a two-week burst doesn’t mean he’s figured out his woes. Think about it, at what point will you actually be willing to trust him in your lineup?

For keepers, the B.J. Upton Brand still has a lot of value, although his prospects for the future have taken a considerable hit. If you want my opinion, I think he’ll eventually approach the star everyone predicts, posting multiple 20-40 seasons, albeit with low batting averages. However, it’s up to you to decide whether it’s worth finding out, in case he actually becomes the next Mike Cameron.

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  1. Jason B said...

    Good article – one minor fix – “waiting with baited breath” should be “waiting with BATED breath”.  As in, abated, or halted.  Not baited, like a fishing line.

    Keep up the good work! For Upton to become Cameron, he would need a lot of people to basically give up on him, such that he flies under the radar (as Cameron tends to, some of which may be due to his age).  At Upton’s younger age, with the potential he’s flashed, he will always go considerably higher than Cameron because of what he *might* do one day. Cameron is a known commodity at this point, but someone always seems willing to jump in earlier than they should on a player like Upton, on the off-chance that “this is the year he puts it all together”.

  2. Paul Moehringer said...

    Well Upton got off to an awful start this year, but since the beginning of June he hasn’t been that bad.

    He’s hitting around .260 since June, but I think he’s biggest problem is that he’s trying to turn himself into a 40 home run a year guy, and that’s just not going to happen.

    Upton loves that low-inside pitch.  But what happens when you get a low outside pitch instead?

    Answer if you try to upper cut pull it, your going to wind up flying out to right field, which is exactly what B.J. Upton is doing this year, and for his entire career for that matter.  Check his hit chart if you don’t believe me.

    He hasn’t forgotten how to hit the changeup.  Pitchers have just figured out he’s probably going up to the plate looking for that low inside fastball every at-bat.  So they give him the low outside change up, he’s early on it, and he flies out to right.

    If he ever wants to be anymore then a .270 hitter with some power, he needs to learn how to be a hitter to all fields, instead of trying to be Mark McGwire.

    Otherwise, he’ll be a very good player, may even make an all-star team or two in his career, but he’ll never be considered an elite outfielder, and I think that’s the far more likely route he’ll take for his career.

    For fantasy owners in a keeper league.  He’s a nice player to have, but he’ll probably never be somebody who you will be able to build a team around.  He’s a tremendous athlete though, and there’s definately going to be people out there, where that’s all they’re going to see.  I’d look to trade him.  You’ll get a much better package in return then he will ever provide you with.

  3. Chad Burke said...

    He got hot in June and it carried into July but he has been pretty awful again since the break.  I had a tough dilemna with him in that I am in the thick of things for the title and have a couple of people I could catch in SB with Upton my biggest source of steals for that team.  I ended up giving up a bit of power and trading for Nyjer Morgan so hopefully that will boost my speed. 

    I thought I’d be pretty well set for speed with Reyes and Upton in my early picks and a few other guys late that had the potential to steal 20 bags but Upton’s been the only guy on my roster stealing bases.  Tough to bench him and lose a category but he’s killing my OBP lately.

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