by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
For a team that needs pitching help, especially if they truly plan on limiting the innings for Aaron Sanchez, the acquisition of Melvin Upton Jr. is intriguing. He’s clearly revitalized his career, hitting .256 with 16 HR and 20 SB over 344 AB.
On the surface a move out of Petco Park should be beneficial, and he certainly lands in an optimal spot for hitters. Can we reasonably expect him to improve upon a 19.3% HR/FB (career 12.1%) or a .320 BABIP (courtesy of an 18.9% line drive rate)? It’s not likely, and with his elevated strikeout rate (28.3%) it’s hard to expect him to maintain his current production wherever he calls home.
While the trade should help to offset a regression, it certainly won’t eliminate it. Then we have the issue of where he fits into the lineup. With Jose Bautista back, the Blue Jays outfield would appear to be Bautista, Michael Saunders and Kevin Pillar. There is room there, though:
Saunders – Finally healthy, he’s in the middle of his own career revitalization. The question is if the acquisition of Upton will send Saunders to the bench against left-handed pitchers? This season he’s handled southpaws well (.290 with 8 HR), though he’s a lifetime .235 hitter with a .296 OBP against them. At least against tough lefties, it would make sense for Upton to give Saunders a day off.
Pillar – While he does have 7 HR (and 32 total extra base hits), Pillar has taken an overall step backwards this season hitting .265 with just 8 SB. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, as he continues to pop the ball up far too much (14.3%) and struggles to draw walks (2.7%). His defense could keep him in the lineup, but it’s easy to imagine him being on the wrong side of a platoon:
- vs. LHP – .293/.305/.422
- vs. RHP – .253/.291/.377
So Upton could play over Pillar against RHP and Saunders against LHP, which alone would give him regular AB. Throw in the potential of Edwin Encarnacion playing 1B (he’s played there 32 times this season), sending Justin Smoak to the bench, and there isn’t going to be an issue with the AB.
The concern is going to be a potential regression, something that was already there, not a question of playing time.
Biggest Losers – Kevn Pillar, Justin Smoak
Status Quo – Michael Saunders
Biggest Winner – Melvin Upton (whose regression may be tempered by the new environment)
Source – Fangraphs