by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
With the option to opt out of his contract there was some question as to where Justin Upton would call home in 2018. However instead of testing the free agent waters he and the Angels simply renegotiated his contract, settling on a five-year, $106 million contract. Often considered one of the streakiest players in the game, he’s coming off a career year:
557 At Bats
.273 Batting Average (152 Hits)
35 Home Runs
14 Stolen Bases
.361 On Base Percentage
.540 Slugging Percentage
.341 Batting Average on Balls in Play
Upton maintained his power after the trade to Los Angeles (7 HR over 27 games), though he did hit .245 as his luck took a turn (BABIP of .351 in Detroit vs .293 in Los Angeles). Now it’s fair to wonder what the future holds. Can he replicate the gaudy numbers? Is he a sell high candidate?
The average was obviously bloated by luck prior to the trade. He’s never shown the propensity to hit for a strong line drive rate (19.6% in ’17, 19.3% for his career) and owns a career .327 BABIP. Maybe he’s better than his months’ worth of games in LA, but he also isn’t as good as his time in Detroit. Then you couple that regression with a 28.3% strikeout rate and a usable average becomes harder to buy into. He posted a 12.5% SwStr%, his fifth straight year at 12.3% or higher, and his Whiff% was unimpressive against all types of pitches last season:
- Hard – 9.99%
- Breaking – 18.92%
- Offspeed – 18.50%
As for the power, his 21.2% HR/FB (and 24.1% after the trade) represents a career best mark (16.0% for his career). While we may want to say it wasn’t a typically “streaky” year for Upton, he did spike late with 18 HR over the final two months. Just consider in the first half he posted a 16.5% HR/FB, compared to 27.0% in the second. In other words, before he got red hot he was on pace to be the same player he had always been, hitting 25-28 HR.
Will he benefit from joining a lineup with Mike Trout? Absolutely (especially in RBI/R, though that too should take a hit given the concerns in the HR/AVG), but looking at the overall numbers and expecting him to be able to replicate them would be a mistake. While he was producing well all season long, a tremendous hot streak late in the year skewed the numbers. There are also a lot of questions surrounding the batting average, as he’s likely more of a .250-.260 hitter as opposed to one hitting close to .280.
None of that is a bad thing, it just means don’t pay for what may be a career year. Value him as you did heading into the year (think .260/30/10/85/85), but if you can sell high don’t hesitate to pull the trigger.
Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball
Make sure to check out all of our 2018 Projections: