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Justin Upton Settling Into 2011

The first ten games of Justin Upton ‘s age 23 season have gone pretty well. Through his first 46 plate appearances, Arizona’s prodigy has a .300/.391/.575 triple-slash line and a .411 wOBA. This comes even without the ever-present sky-high BABIPs that tend to characterize early season success. Instead, Upton’s BABIP sits at .290, well below his career average of .343. Upton’s success is coming with walks, heavy doses of contact, and Power.

That’s Power with a capital P. Upton hit his third home run of the season last night off Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter. It went far.


(Click to embiggen, click this for video)

According to HitTracker, Upton’s bomb traveled 478 feet, the best of the young season by 16 feet.

This kind of elite power was missing from Upton’s 2010 season, where he posted a rather human .349 wOBA and 3.1 WAR. As annoying as the small sample size caveat can be early in a season, I’m not invoking it for this year’s numbers. Instead, I prefer to give a reminder that power numbers barely even stabilize over the course of a full season. The numbers presented by Eric in that link say that SLG only stabilizes after 500 PAs and ISO after 550, a number that Upton barely passed in 2010 (571 total PAs).

Upton isn’t likely to continue to homer on one out of every four fly balls he hits, but mammoth shots like the one above tell us that his true talent probably isn’t too different from the 2009 season, when he posted a .232 ISO and 26 home runs in just under 600 PAs. And, of course, at only 23 years of age, there’s plenty of room for growth as well.

The other thing to watch for Upton as his year continues is his strikeout rate. So far, through 46 plate appearances, Upton has only struck out in 15% of his at-bats, nearly half his career rate. It only takes 150 plate appearances for strikeout rate to begin to stabilize, so we should be able to get a good beat on Upton’s progress in three weeks or so. The strikeout rate is the last thing keeping Upton from moving into the truly elite tier of hitters – just imagine what a player with that kind of power could do if he made contact on 80% of his at-bats instead of 70%. Upton didn’t get much experience in the high minors, but in the low minors, he had strikeout rates hovering around 20% instead of 30%, so it’s possible that his development in the majors could lead to a lower strikeout rate this year.

Hopefully one slightly down year as a 22-year-old Major Leaguer didn’t fool anybody. Justin Upton is here to stay, and he should be an MLB force for years to come. With what we’re already seeing from him at such a young age, we shouldn’t be surprised if Upton continues to impress with his power and with his other tools as well.