Justin Upton: Superstar

One of the stories of the first few weeks of the season was the struggles of Justin Upton. The 21-year-old began the season by going six for his first 36, striking out 12 times in failing to hit the ball out of the park. After an 0 for 3 performance on April 21st, he found himself on the bench for a few days, and there was some talk that he might get optioned back to the minors to get himself straightened out.

That wasn’t necessary. Since getting re-inserted into the line-up on April 24th, Upton has hit a modest .397/.462/.754. 23 of his 50 hits have gone for extra bases during that stretch, and his .450 wOBA for the season now ranks him in a tie for 3rd highest in major league baseball. Upton’s showing remarkable power for a player his age, as his .290 ISO is one of the highest marks in the league. When you see a player that young hitting for that much power, you have something remarkably special. Here’s the list of major league players who have posted an ISO of .250 (minimum 100 PA) or higher before turning 22:

Eddie Mathews, Adam Dunn, Mel Ott, Willie McCovey, Ted Williams, Albert Pujols, Gregg Jefferies, Alex Rodriguez, Bob Horner, Jimmie Foxx, Frank Robinson, Hal Trosky, Joe Mauer, Babe Ruth, Darryl Strawberry, Joe Dimaggio.

How’s that for some exclusive company?

We talked about this over the winter, but Upton’s performance just reinforces the point that we may very well be looking at a Hall Of Fame player emerging before us. 90% of the guys who play at this level at such a young age end up in Cooperstown. We’re not enshrining the kid yet, as there’s still guys like Juan Gonzalez on the comparable players list, but that is starting to look like Upton’s downside.

Yes, he still strikes out a lot, and he won’t sustain a .450 wOBA all year with this kind of skill set. However, the prodigious power is for real, and when you find that kind of ability to drive the ball so far before he hits his physical prime, you’ve found a franchise player.

Welcome to super stardom, Justin.

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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

21 Responses to “Justin Upton: Superstar”

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  1. LantermanC says:

    Obviously it’s a really small sample size, but he’s apparently improved his defense from last year to this year as well. Watching Upton last year reminded me of watching Felix when he first started, the potential for greatness was simply astounding.

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  2. brtnsbs says:

    I have Justin on one fantasy league and am a little worried about his ridiculously high BABIP .431. Obvoiusly thats going to come down and I’m wondering how it will affect his overall numbers.

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    • jake says:

      I did a little back of the envelope calculation yesterday and assuming he would regress to a .330 BABIP (using the quick-and-dirty LD%+.12), his line would look like .285/.365/.565 or something similar.

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  3. Jeff Akston says:

    You think he’s powerful now, wait until you realize that only 3 of his 26 career homers have traveled less than 400 feet. Imagine when he starts getting some cheapies like Dustin Pedroia (0 of his 26 career homers are OVER 400 feet)

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  4. Bodhizefa says:

    But would you still take Wieters over him? :)

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  5. Kampfer says:

    I think he also hit the longest HR of 08 according to hittracker

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  6. Jacob Jackson says:

    He will eclipse the $200M barrier with his FA deal after the 2013 season. He’ll be an FA at 26, and he’ll be playing a defensive position where he’s important, but unlikely to regress much until his late 30s. In other words, he’s about as perfect of a candidate for a 10-year FA deal as you could possibly have.

    Prior to the recession, I had him pegged for a $250M deal. But even in the revised economic climate I’m comfortable saying that he’s the next best bet to join A-Rod in the 200 club.

    (It’ll be hard for Pujols to get an 8-year deal at age “31” after 2011).

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  7. C Whitman says:

    Just as a fun little stat, J-Upton had the longest average home run of ANY hitter last season. At age 20. All I can say is WOW. That’s some serious superstar right there. I put a bet on him with a friend for 30 homers this season, and it’s looking good.

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  8. Fresh Hops says:

    I’m not sure Upton will sustain that ISO for the rest of the season. That very high BABIP and a ton of doubles suggests more fly outs in the future. Also, with no substantial change in his contact and swing rates, I wonder if his K rate isn’t due to climb back up. Perhaps not, as he’s getting far fewer Ks looking (9% last year, 5% this year.) I have no idea what a significant sample is for kL%.

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  9. Mevs says:

    I like Upton, but he’s just white-hot right now. Jay Bruce will end up the better ballplayer.

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  10. SayHey says:

    I’m laughing at Mevs.

    Upton = greatness

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  11. Sergey says:

    I just hope D-Backs can tie him to a loooong term deal. With their money issues, it’s been hard to keep players in the last year of their contract.

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  12. slaminsammyb says:

    mevs, J-UP is not even hot yet,i know cause i watch every game & have since “07”, he has been relatively consistant which is rare to say for a 21 year old kid.When he is hot you wil no it cause he has not been “white hot” yet, i can’t wait.As far as Jay Bruce, i love the kid but come on now, do i need to pour cold water over your head to wake you up? First of all Bruce is hitting what .214 & his HR totals are an example of what a treat it must be to hit in that ban box of a ball park! Justin would probably have 20 plus HR if he played there! Anyway Justin is on pace to hit 30 + HR, 100 + RBI, 100 + Runs & hit .300 +, not bad for a 21 year old kid! Can you remember the last at 21 to do that? AP!!

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  13. CFIC says:

    J Upton is one of the most exciting players in baseball. Is it just me or does it seem like the NL has way better players the last 2 seasons?

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