B.J. Upton signed a 5-year, $75.25 million deal to join the Braves. The largest deal in Braves’ franchise history seems like a nice midway point to me. The club only gave Upton five years so in the last season of the deal he’ll be 33 years old, a point where he should still be able to justify his salary (many times it’s not the per year money that is the biggest concern with contracts, it’s the voluminous years attached to the cash that often pay guys premium salaries when they are 35+ years old). Despite my thoughts on the deal, and I’ll obviously give support for the position that I think it’s a fair deal, I received a bunch of tweets at the BaseballGuys’ Twitter page from people saying the deal is terrible. Their main contention was two-fold. (1) The guy strikes out too much. (2) He doesn’t get on base. I’ll address both of those valid concerns right now.
(1) Upton strikes out too much. Period. In each of the past four years he’s whiffed at least 150 times, 160 or more the past three years. There are only four players who have whiffed 150 times each of the past four years: Carlos Pena, Adam Dunn, Mark Reynolds and Upton.
(2) Upton does struggle to get on base at times, largely due to the obnoxious strikeout totals. After back-to-back seasons of .380+ in the OBP column in 2007-08, Upton has failed to reach base at better than a .331 clip in any of the past four seasons. I’m not going to defend that. I will point out though that his .316 OBP the past four years is only .011 points below the league average.
While those two issues are certainly a concern in the real world, I don’t think they impact his fantasy value much (at least if you are in a standard 5×5 setup). What is an issue in the fantasy game is the effect the strikeouts have on his batting average. Though he owns a .255 career mark, he hasn’t hit that high since 2008. In the juiced player/muscle era, a .245 batting average was horrible. However, with the ascension of pitching the past few years, that number isn’t quite as bad as you might think. In fact, his .242 mark the past four years is just .018 points below the league average. I’m not saying that like it’s a good thing mind you, but it’s not as awful as the perception might be (you only need an everyday .285 hitter to get you back to the league average). Still, there is no disputing that if you roster Upton you will have to play to add some batters to offset his depressing batting average.
That’s the negative folks. Now the positive.
In the counting categories Upton is an absolute beast. Let’s start out with the steals.
Over the past five seasons Upton has swiped at least 31 bases each campaign. There is only one other player in baseball who can match that mark, and it’s the man that Upton will be replacing in the outfield for the Braves – Michael Bourn. The speed alone makes Upton a fantasy asset. The difference though between Upton and everyone else that steals bases at his level is the power that he displays (which they don’t). Over the past three years Upton has hit 69 homers in addition to his 109 steals. Over the past three years only five batters have stolen more bases. If you add together all five players they have hit a combined total of 78 homers: Juan Pierre 4, Bourn 13, Rajai Davis 14, Ichiro 20 and Coco Crisp 27.
The last three years Upton has hit at least 18 homers each season. Thirty three players have done that.
The last three years Upton has stolen at least 31 bases each season. Only four men have done that.
The last three years Upton has gone 18/31 each season. He is the only player in baseball to do that.
Put it another way, the last three years Upton has averaged 23 homers and 36 steals.
The combination of power and speed with Mr. Upton is elite. For me, it helps to erase his deficiencies in other areas (chiefly his batting average).
B.J. also scores runs, even if he never gets to an elite total. Since the 2007 season he’s scored 500 runs, the 29th highest total in baseball. He’s also been very consistent in getting there. Upton has scored at least 79 runs each of the past six seasons, something only eight other players in baseball have done. Moreover, if you look at the past two years do you know how many fellas have scored at least 79 runs each season with 78 RBIs? The answer is 16.
Look, I’m not oblivious to the obvious issues with his batting average. If you roster Upton you will need to make sure you augment him with players that are strong in the batting average category. However, after the elites are gone in the outfield, I fail to see why anyone would turn away from Upton because his consistently high level production in the counting categories make him a draft day target in this scribes mind.
By Ray Flowers