Justin Upton was drafted to be an elite fantasy performer in 2013, his first season with his brother in Atlanta. Flat out, he failed to live up to those expectations. However, I bet that many are going to be surprised by the fact that the younger Upton might have been a bit better than you thought he was in 2013. Seriously. Strap in.
The common line of thought runs something like this. After an amazing start to the year Upton was just horrific in 2013. Is that accurate?
Upton had an April for the ages, and it looked like he was staking early claim to the NL MVP award. In 26 games in April Upton hit .298 with 12 homers, 19 RBIs, 22 runs scored an a 1.136 OPS. Flat out elite production. It was an amazing start to the season.
Was he horrific after that? Well he hit .211 in May and he had a total of 15 homers the rest of the season. Worse, he hit four homers in 74 games in May, June and July. Think of that. Upton, a former 30 homer bat, hit a total of four homers over three months. Yes, he was horrific after a fantastic start to the year.
So that means the perception that he was awful an a huge letdown in 2013 is correct. Or is it?
Upton drove in 70 runs. That’s the same total as CarGo, four more than Coco Crisp and eight more than Giancarlo Stanton (and yes I know that CarGo and Stanton missed a lot of game time due to injury).
Upton had a .818 OPS. That OPS mark was three points behind Buster Posey, one point behind Prince Fielder, the same mark as Domonic Brown and Jason Kipnis, seven points better than Adam Jones and 0.12 points better than Jay Bruce.
‘But Ray, he was so terrible after April who cares.’
OK, if that quote could still have come from your mouth, maybe we need to look at J-Up a bit differently. Let’s compare the season Upton had in 2013 to his average effort from 2010-12. Prepare to be surprised yet again.
Upton’s 2013 effort: .263-27-70-94-8 with a .818 OPS
Upton’s ’10-’12 avg: .281-22-75-95-19 with a .830 OPS
Blown away are you? In truth, the only category in which Upton fell substantially off the pace in 2013, despite what you might have previously though, was in the steals department. All of his other four fantasy numbers were well within the reason of expectations (ditto his OPS). Look at his three year average and compare it to his 2013 effort. To reiterate, JUSTIN UPTON WAS THE SAME PLAYER IN 2013 THAT HE HAD BEEN THE PREVIOUS THREE YEARS, MINUS THE STEALS DIP.
The steals dip was substantial. After 4-straight years of at least 18 thefts falling to eight was a huge disappointment. Oddly though, after being caught an average of eight times the previous three seasons while attempting to steal a bag, Upton was an impressive 8-for-9 in 2013. He greatly improved his success rate even if his overall number dipped.
Here’s the takeaway with Upton. Our expectations with him need to be adjusted. That’s the real problem with Justin – we’re expecting him to be a player that he just isn’t. Consider the following for the six year vet.
Upton has one season of 30 homers and three seasons under 20 big flies.
Upton has never driven in 90 runs in a season and he’s averaged 69 RBIs the past two seasons.
Upton has scored 100 runs twice. He was just off that mark in 2013 with 94 so there was really no drop off there to speak of.
Upton is a career .275 hitter who batted .263 in 2013. Think of it like this. His .263 mark in 2013 was .012 points off his career mark which is closer to his career batting average than his .280 mark from 2012 which is .015 off his career rate. He’s just not a batting average booster.
As I noted above the dip in steals wasn’t unexpected. Still, it’s completely within the realm of the possible that he will rebound to the 15-20 range in 2014.
I know that Upton was a disappointment last season, especially after his historic April, but the fact is that Upton was pretty much the same guy he always is. For years now we’ve all looked at Upton and that he could be an MVP performer. There’s enough talent here for a .300-35-120-120-20 season, we all know it. At the same time he’s failed to live up to those expectations year, after year, after year. More consistency in 2014 should be expected, but that doesn’t mean you should expect substantially better overall production. It may never be coming.
By Ray Flowers