2016 Projection: Even In Detroit Justin Upton Isn’t One Of The Elite

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Justin Upton was ultimately able to find a big money contract, nor was it a surprise that the Tigers ultimately made another splash. Now that we know where he will call home we can start to dissect our expectations for the coming year.

First, let’s look at the numbers he posted in San Diego last season:

542 At Bats
.251 Batting Average (136 Hits)
26 Home Runs
81 RBI
85 Runs
19 Stolen Bases
.336 On Base Percentage
.454 Slugging Percentage
.304 Batting Average on Balls in Play

The first thing that jumps out is the average, which was his worst mark since 2008 (.250 over 356 AB). The main problem is that both his strikeouts and SwStr% have been elevated for three consecutive seasons:

Year
Strikeout%
SwStr%
201325.0%12.3%
201426.7%13.0%
201525.6%13.3%

While interleague play and consistent player movement makes his move to the AL not as concerning, it’s still something to watch. There will be at least some unfamiliarity, which is something to consider and can cause numbers to rise a little bit more. In fact his best month last season was 23.0% (May) and the last time he had a month under 20.0% was September 2012. There’s no reason to expect an improvement and there is the risk that the number inflates even more.

Last season he paired it with a 17.3% line drive rate, which is uncharacteristic but it’s possible he was making an effort to hit for power (44.1% fly ball rate). Playing half his games in Petco Park that would make sense, though Comerica Park actually saw fewer home runs a year ago:

  • Comerica Park – 1.89 HR/game
  • Petco Park – 2.05 HR/game

Obviously the Tigers have hitters who have demonstrated ample power and Upton did post an average distance on non-groundballs of 275.229. It’s not a significant concern, but we also wouldn’t expect an increase in his power.

It was nice to see the speed return, but can we guarantee he’s going to keep on running? The Tigers are not known to be a team that runs a lot, with 83 SB in 2015 putting them right in the middle of the pack. Chances are he takes a step back (think 12-16 maximum, though likely fewer than that) and not a step forward.

Where Upton benefits is in the RBI/R departments, as he should slot into the middle of a much more potent lineup than he leaves behind. With Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez, it’s a dangerous group.

It all comes together for the following projection:

.264 (145-550), 27 HR, 85 RBI, 85 R, 19 SB, .323 BABIP, .345 OBP, .471 SLG

Those are solid numbers, but they also aren’t Top 10 outfielder worthy. Keep that in mind, especially with the risk in the average, as it would be easy to overvalue him at this point.

Sources – Fangraphs, ESPN, Baseball Heat Maps

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2 comments

  1. Alex says:

    Heya Prof, is the projection 19 SB or 9 SB? There may be a typo here or elsewhere if you know what I mean.

  2. Sawyer says:

    Thank you for the great analysis, as always. When I think about how I value a player, the projected numbers are rarely enough. I have to think about 3 types of numbers: floor, likely, and ceiling. Your projections are what I’d consider “likely.” However without talking about a floor and ceiling, I can’t accurately assess the true value. Fair or not, I think of Upton as a very toolsy and talented guy. He has put up some eye-popping numbers in the past. He is going from a notorious pitchers park to new park in a stacked lineup.

    Based on all of this, his ceiling SEEMS higher. Let’s be honest, if he hit .300 / 30 / 100 / 100 / 20, it wouldn’t be so much of a surprise that it would break the internet. His floor SEEMS to be not far below what you project. When I draft, I am looking for both sure things and potential over-acheivers (in terms of their fantasy price). Upton seems like a perfect bounce back candidate iin a good situation to succeed.

    Some might call this “over-valuing” him. But there is a thought process here and data analysis that hasn’t been factored in. How do you think about a floor and ceiling approach? What do you think Upton’s floor and celing are?

    Stated another way, it is a near 100% certainty that your projection (any projection) will be wrong. But a floor and ceiling approach provides a probable range of values, giving high probability that the actual numbers will fall within that range. I see much more value in that approach.

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