As keeper league decisions loom, many fantasy managers are looking at certain struggling young stars and wondering where all the buzz went. No young star has had a more tortured young history then B.J. Upton (né Melvin Emanuel Bossman Junior Upton). What can we expect from a young man that has shown flashes of great potential and long stretches of mediocrity? Does he, in the Ron Shandler vein, “own” the power and the speed because he’s shown both in the past? Or will he be more one-dimensional as his career evens out?
His power has oscillated incredibly. Here are his full year slugging percentages, starting with his first year in the minor leagues: .431 (’03 minors), .505 (’04 minors), .490 (’05 minors), .394 (06 minors), .291 (’06 majors), .508 (’07 majors), .401 (’08 majors), .364 (’09 majors). Quite the dilemma. It’s tempting to call 2007 his fluke year, but then there’s the question of the 2008 playoffs, and his 2004-2005 run in the minor leagues. He has shown good power multiple times in the past.
Examining 2007 further, we find that he had a HR/FB number that year (19.8%) that was way out of line with his career percentage (10.4%). This year, despite a career high in fly ball percentage (41.4%, well above his 34.7% career percentage), he’s sporting his second-lowest slugging percentage and has only muscled nine balls out of the yard despite being healthy for a good part of the year.
An obvious flaw in the older Upton’s game is his ability to hit line drives. His career line drive percentage is poor (17.5%), and this year’s number is third-worst among qualifiers this year. In 2007, he owned a career-high in that category (19.8%), and looking over his minor league career, we can see that the low line-drive rate is a definite part of his game.
What we are left with is a player that has some exciting tools (speed, and the ability to get on base (11.6% walk rate career)) and some real flaws (low line drive rate, high strikeout rate (28.2% career)). This gives us a player that despite a good BABIP (.348 career, most probably built on his speed) has a poor batting average (.266 career).
Looking for a comparable player is not easy, but one name comes to mind. Hunter Pence is a year older, and his power has not varied as greatly as Upton’s. Pence does also package a low line drive percentage (15.8% career) with good speed (5.2 speed score, .325 BABIP) and some power. On the other hand, his HR/FB stayed steady throughout his short career at a higher level than Upton’s has. What we can learn from Pence, possibly, is that Upton’s ceiling may not be defined by his best year. 2007 was a great year for both players, and both players will probably never again show the pristine batting averages they sported that year.
As for the Bossman’s power, we are left guessing. It’s never a good sign when a player has such extreme power spikes. Consider that he had more home runs in 2007 (24) than he’s had in the other 1,548 non-2007 plate appearances (23). Power is his shakiest tool, and depending on it returning in the future is not recommended.
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