Why I’m Not Buying B.J. Upton

It’s easy to make buy low and sell high calls. Anyone could compare a player’s current season ranking with his preseason and blindly advise fantasy owners to acquire or trade away said player. While that advice sometimes does have value, perhaps more beneficial is identifying players you should not attempt to buy at a discount or trade away at an assumed profit. That is why we sometimes have the “Not a Sleeper, Not a Bust” segment on The Sleeper and the Bust podcast, as we highlight players who should not be purchased at a discount (and are therefore Not a Sleeper) or sold high (and are therefore Not a Bust). So sticking with the Not a Sleeper theme, this is why I am not buying B.J. Upton.

First off is the caveat — of course any player of Upton’s preseason dollar value range should be acquired if the price is right. If he was dropped in your league and it’s not like a 6-teamer or shallower, then pick him up immediately! But assuming your league is of at least average competitiveness, he’s not going to be a free agent and it’s unlikely his owner is giving him away for a player you both expect to earn $5 the rest of the way.

My CBS league tells me that the site ranked Upton 114th in the preseason (which actually seems quite undervalued) and that he currently ranks 689. And that ranking is not due to missed time from an injury. He’s hitting .145 and is on a pace for just 11 home runs, 23 (!!) runs batted in, 39 (!!) runs, and 11 steals (with 11 caught stealings). Yeah, he’s been absolutely horrific.

It’s also easy to point to a career worst K% (33.8% versus career average of 25.4%) and an atrocious .094 ISO as reasons not to bother with Upton at this point. Buy then the buy low in me looks at the .205 BABIP (of course, with a .145 batting average, his BABIP couldn’t possibly be anywhere close to his career average) and think there has to be some sort of dead cat bounce. Then the pessimistic side screams about Upton’s ridiculous 31% IFFB%, which actually kinda justifies that sad BABIP.

Anyhow, none of those statistical explanations relate to why I ain’t touching Upton. There are actually two non-statistical reasons, but are affected of course by his performance. They are thus:

1) Lineup Slot

On opening day, Upton started off in the number five hole, which was a pretty strong spot in a formidable Braves lineup. He would be expected to have strong RBI opportunities behind solid OBP guys in Jason Heyward, his bro Justin Upton, and Freddie Freeman. Plus, the deep Braves lineup would provide some additional power bats behind him with Dan Uggla and their third base platoon partners, which would lead to a solid runs scored total. After a slow start by Andrelton Simmons, Fredi Gonzalez, ever the tinkerer, moved him into the leadoff spot, dropping Simmons toward the bottom of the order.

But all this time and no matter which spot in the order he was slotted into, Upton didn’t hit. Finally, towards the end of April, he was dropped to the seven hole. Aside from three random games when he hit leadoff again or from the two spot, he had hit seventh in every other game until last Wednesday when he batted sixth. But then in his last two games, he was dropped as far as he could be, into the dreaded eighth spot right in front of the pitcher.

This is significant. When we project, rank and draft/purchase fantasy players for our teams, we do so with the underlying assumption that they will hit in a certain position in the lineup. Obviously, a hitter expected to bat cleanup is not going to knock in as many runs if he was instead slotted into the eighth spot. So all of our counting stat expectations need to be adjusted downward when a hitter gets dropped in the order.

The problem now is that the Braves lineup is quite good. Heyward, Upton and Freeman in the 2, 3 and 4 slots aren’t going anywhere. Brian McCann looks clearly healthy again and when he’s healthy, he’s a better hitter than a normally performing Upton. That may lock up the fifth spot in the order. It’s even arguable that Dan Uggla is a better hitter than Upton if you focus on his OBP rather than his batting average, who would take the sixth spot. So what this means is that it will be very difficult for Upton to get back into a favorable lineup spot.

Overtaking Andrelton Simmons at leadoff might be his best bet, as Simmons sports just a .283 OBP. If he would quit hitting so many popups (seriously, what the heck are they doing to the water in Atlanta with all these popups?), his .242 BABIP would jump and bring that OBP above .300 where it belongs.

2) Fredi Gonzalez, the Tinkerer

In a past article, I called Fredi Gonzalez that fantasy owner who makes 200 transactions a season, continually adding and dropping the hot and cold players of the week. Gonzalez has moved Simmons and Upton all around the lineup in reaction to their performances, which is silly. We’ve seen what Gonzalez could do back when Jason Heyward was struggling when he benched the left-hander in favor of Jose Constanza.

Now all of a sudden, Jordan Schafer is back in Atlanta and surprise, surprise, is playing well. He’s showing a strong walk rate and is left-handed, so it is conceivable that Schafer will begin stealing more starts away from Upton, at least against right-handers. That of course will make it even more difficult for Upton to turn things around.

Obviously, given the contract the Braves signed Upton to, he’s not going to outright lose his job to Schafer and become a bench player. But fantasy owners demand as many at-bats as possible and even just getting benched once a week is going to take a bite out of his value.

So Upton faces two challenges now in his quest to deliver fantasy value to his owners or potential owners — the risk that he continues hitting in a poor lineup spot for fantasy counting stats and the risk that he loses more playing time to Schafer. Unless you can get him at a significant discount, you are better off letting him make his current owners weep all season long.

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Mike Podhorzer produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. He can be heard live every Wed. night at 9 PM EST on the Fantasy Baseball Roundtable Show. He also sells beautiful photos through his online gallery, Pod's Pics. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

21 Responses to “Why I’m Not Buying B.J. Upton”

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  1. Yardie says:

    My ISP dropped my connection during my mock draft at the worst possible moment. Yahoo rankings and my ISP conspired against me and I landed Upton. Making things worse is that I’m in an .avg and .obp league… If I wasn’t in first I’d have dropped him by now…

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  2. dscottncc says:

    I swear Podhozer, you play in all weekly lineup leagues. Him getting benched once a week is actually a good thing for me being in a daily lineup, then I don’t have to make a decision on keeping his sorry ARSE in my lineup. Plus it keeps his bat fresh and mind clear… I hope he starts benching that sorry turd 2-3 times a week, so I can at least get a little production when he does play.

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  3. Shibboleth says:

    I drank the Koolaid on Upton; Shandler had the upside at 40/40 and I thought he’d finally pull it together outside of Tampa. Jeezus was that wrong. He’s always been streaky but this is ridiculous. I should know better, I never have luck with free agent signings. The post-ASB hope springs eternal…

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  4. wjylaw says:

    I’m a proud former owner of B.J. in an Ottoneu classic and couldn’t have been more happy with my decision to cut him at end of April. His big salary ($30) was clogging my roster and in large part kept me from making other moves. Since cutting him, I was able to pick up Matt Joyce and Nate McLouth to replace his expected at bats and freed up money to pick up Wacha and Carlos Martinez. I’m tied for 1st and have the most money available for free agent bids. Cutting guys like him is a great option, much better than taking some other under performing player and (usually in other Ottoneu trades I’ve seen) having to send along money with him. There is nothing wrong with cutting your losses on a guy like this.

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  5. Ruki Motomiya says:

    I traded Trevor Cahill and Vernon Wells for B.J.

    In a standard 5×5 H2H league, was it an overpay?

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  6. tylersnotes says:

    the headline of this article made me nervous, but after reading i’m actually relieved. Those reasons not to buy bj upton really only relate to 5×5 redraft leagues. I have a $22 bj upton in ottoneu fg points, and i have been content to leave him on my bench until he starts hitting again. But in that format, fredi gonzalez’s messing with his counting stats doesn’t really make a difference at all.

    If BJ is broken, then I’m wasting $22. But steamer and zips are still optimistic enough for him ROS that even if i discount 10-15 games i should be able to get value out of him. But you are right that no one seems particularly interested in buying low on him.

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  7. RY says:

    It’s simply blown my mind how high he’s ranked every year. I’m amazed that his one ridiculous week in the playoffs in 08 has fueled him this long. Sure he’s a 30/30 threat, but ever since he lost 2b elig there has been no reason to draft him at market price.

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    • murphym45 says:

      From 2010-2012, BJ was tied for 6th in total stole bases (109). His 69 home runs was easily the most out of the top-10 base stealers, and the only other players in the top-30 of stolen bases with at least 60 homers were Ryan Braun (99HR/77SB), Andrew McCutchen (70/76), Matt Kemp (90/68), Ian Kinsler (60/66), and Carlos Gonzalez (82/66). Yeah, the .240 average hurts, but I don’t think it’s difficult to see why he’s ranked so high every year.

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      • shibboleth says:

        Wow I forgot all about his past 2b eligibility. He’s always flashed the tools for more, so there’s a lot of upside built into the pre-sesason ranks/prices. Baseball forecaster said his skills could produce 40/40, and they’re not prone to exaggeration. I think it’s time for a trip to the Disgraceful List, maybe give him time to get his head straight.

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  8. johnnylineup says:

    He was just dropped in a 12 team redraft league of mine and I’ve been contemplating non-stop about dropping my hosmer for him just to see what happens.

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    • majnun says:

      I have ten times as much hope in BJ as I do Hosmer.

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    • UDownWithOBP says:

      both guys have been so bad that ask you’re looking for is upside. I think they have equivalent power potential and Upton has more upside with steals. if you can survive the bad average with Upton ( think .240 vs. .275) then Upton is the choice. Upton has a plus walk rate too.

      … now go get your govt cheese

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  9. Fedee_ says:

    Traded E Santana for BJ the other day. If I get 10-15 homers and 15-20 steals the rest of the way ill be happy with that. Unless you are expecting him to hit under .200 all season then I should think he’s a buy low candidate.

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    • Wow, well that certainly qualifies as low enough for me! I was offered Upton for Lucroy and Glen Perkins! That clearly isn’t buying low. Wish my league was filled with major panickers.

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      • Fedee_ says:

        The guy I gave Santana to isn’t a major panicker but he kind of owed me a favor for fantasy basketball reasons so there was some history there haha. But I genuinely hope that BJ turns it around soon in some form. That contract the Braves gave him might turn out to be a pretty big failure at this rate.

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  10. SMP says:

    Would you move Latos/League for Upton/J. Bruce? I feel like I should, but Upton just scares me… And I don’t really love losing a closer, but feel like if the price is there, I can.

    5×5 14-team Roto.

    SPs: Felix/Latos/Kuroda/Minor/Burnett/Bailey/Corbin/Garza/Beckett.
    RPs: Mujica/Frieri/League.
    OF (5 starters): Bautista/J. Hamilton/Hunter/Brantley/Ichiro/G. Jones/Ibanez/Werth (DL)

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    • In terms of overall value, it’s hard to imagine the Upton side not being better, perhaps significantly so. You also could use OF help. What I’d do first is counter with a worse starter than Latos. Minor has been great, but lucky, so I’d counter with him. Ahhh, you have Corbin too, even better. Given your sell high SPs, I’d make it my priority to move them before Latos.

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  11. Juan Pierre says:

    Just landed BJ for Papa Grande in a 12 team 5×5 today. Even if you have to keep him on your bench awhile, Uptons the kind of guy who will, at some time, be a top 10 offensive player for an entire month… what month will it be…

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  12. DomD says:

    So, with an uptick in Upton’s performance this past week, I thought the time would be right to get him. Upton for Nolasco sound about right?

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    • Yeah, and he’s moved up in the order with should obviously boost his potential fantasy value. Well, for that price, absolutely! That’s almost like getting him free off free agency.

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