Where did the Bossman’s Power go?

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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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.

4 Responses to “Where did the Bossman’s Power go?”

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  1. The Fonz says:

    He showed some power in the minors, but not necessarily HR power. Maybe this is a guy who’s had success with a swing, but hasn’t adjusted as major league pitching figured him out. I’m willing to bet there’s been developed some defensive shifts for him as well. Plus, perhaps he had a bit of luck in that 2007 HR total. Bottom line, as history has shown, post-season success is a poor indicator of future success (especially for hitters), as a 16-game sample (in Upton’s case) contains insufficient data.

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  2. Neil says:

    Great piece. He’s a frustrating fantasy player not only because of the power swings, but because of the AVG. Anyone who steals 40+ bases is valuable, even if they hit less than 10 HR, but the AVG has to be .265 or better. I’m curious to see where he will be drafted next season. As someone who had him for 6 weeks (.180, no power, 5 RBI) and then dealt him for Grandy, I won’t be touching him unless he falls to round 8 or lower.

    How about a complimentary article titled “Where Did the Mayor’s Power Go?” With the “Mayor” being James Loney. Loney’s SLG year over year:


    Meanwhile, his LD% has improved:


    As well as his K% and contact rates:

    9.8% (84% contact)
    14% (87%)
    14.3% (87%)
    11.4% (89%)

    In 2009, he has an 11% K%, 22.5% LD% and 89% contact rate, yet is only hitting .273 – less than Mark Reynolds and Ryan Howard. Goes to show you that there’s a lot more to AVG than contact rates, line drive rates and K%.

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  3. Eno Sarris says:

    Nice post Neil. One thing I would say, though, is that Loney’s career average is still pretty good and his K rate is still very low overall. The strongest correlation I’ve found when working on these fundamental components is a negative one between K% and batting average.

    Then again, .265 is not very high. Bossman could strikeout around 28% of the time and still reach that benchmark, IMHO.

    That’s not what we expected of him, though, is it?

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  4. Neil says:

    .265 is not very high. I just selected it because it’s what I consider the danger mark when selecting a guy for fantasy…anything under .265 and they are really hurting the team AVG.

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