Sunday, April 24, 2016

This Happens To Justin Upton Every Year

When the Tigers inked outfielder Justin Upton in January, there was not much to dislike about the signing.  First of all, few were expecting another big move by the Tigers who had already reached the luxury tax threshold for payrolls.  He was just 28 years old and was coming off a three-year stretch with a 126 OPS+, along with a career 120 OPS+.

He did sign for a lot of money - $22 million per year for six years - but it was not an overpay and when your team's owner is willing to budget for a $200 million payroll, fans need not worry too much about salaries.  Moreover, there was a two-year opt out which he most likely would exercise after the 2017 season.  Sure, he was not the left-handed lead-off hitter some perfectionists envisioned, but he was a substantial upgrade over the expected Cameron Maybin/ Anthony Gose/ Tyler Collins mish mash in left field.

I personally had little doubt he would a productive and worthwhile signing, but I had a suspicion he would not be one of the more popular Tigers.  He had a history of strikeouts (a 26% K rate from 2013-2015) and reputation of being an over-hyped underachiever during his career.  He was probably over-hyped and may or may not have underachieved, but the results including a .271/,350/.471 slash line made a fine addition to any line-up.

The other reason I suspected fans might get frustrated with Upton was his propensity for streakiness.  Having owned him in a couple of fantasy leagues in recent years, I was familiar with his ups and downs.

He has certainly started on a negative note with the Tigers batting .217 with a .569 OPS and 30 strikeouts in 72 plate appearances with just one week left in April.  However, a look at his splits on Baseball-Reference.com shows that it is not uncommon for him to have awful months.  In the past three years, he has had has six months with an OPS below .660:

May, 2013 .654
June, 2013 .616

June, 2014 .617
Sept, 2014 .559

June, 2015 .608
July, 2015 .552

The good news is that he has also had seven months in that three-year period where he hit for an OPS above .900.  Without checking any other hitters, I would guess that Upton is not unique in his roller coaster ways.  All hitters - especially hard swingers with high k rates - have highs and lows. Upton just has the misfortune of an early slump on a new team.  I'm expecting a couple of months with an .900 OPS and a final OPS above .800 for the Tigers new slugger.

 

5 comments:

  1. I'm not sure why everyone thought Upton was a natural for the #2 spot in the order after Kinsler. I thought Justin made for a better #5 or #6, but even so if it was always a foregone conclusion he was going to be one of the top two slots, I thought, why not lead off Justin and bat Ian #2 instead? As you say, Justin strikes out a lot, IMO too much to move a leadoff hitter consistently along the bases, while Kinsler makes much better contact and can serve that purpose. Plus, Justin has a much better walk rate than Ian, which positions him for a better OBP in the long run. There's no chance Ausmus flips them in the order now, but how much longer can he continue batting Justin #2?

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  2. Ideally, he is not a #1 or #2 hitter because he is more of a power hitter than an on-base guy. The Tigers don't really have anyone for those slots though. In the end, if Cabrera and Upton hit the way they should, it doesn't matter too much where you put them. They'll score runs.

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  3. Ideally, he is not a #1 or #2 hitter because he is more of a power hitter than an on-base guy. The Tigers don't really have anyone for those slots though. In the end, if Cabrera and Upton hit the way they should, it doesn't matter too much where you put them. They'll score runs.

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  4. There's a wild card in the deck though-he's moving from the National to the American League. In general, it seems like people that move in that direction take a hit in their production, at least that is my sense. Lee, do you have any data on this? Thanks.

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  5. You are correct about the league effect. Hitters switching from the AL to NL lose about .017 points of OPS in the first year (according to Mitchel Lichtman). For what it's worth, Upton's lifetime slash line in 590 interleague PA is .280/.353/.433.

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