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Justin Upton: Evaluating OF's 2014 Fantasy Value

If I told you at the beginning of 2013 that Justin Upton would have 10 more home runs in 2013 than he had in 2012, you probably would have assumed that his 2013 season would just be much better across the boards, right? Well… 

Split
AB
R
HR
RBI
SB
AVG
OBP
SLG
2012554107176718.280.355.430
2013 (Actual)5589427708.263.354.464
2013 (Projected)60195269120.288.365.491

Better? Yes. Still, you know that Upton is capable of doing a heck of a lot better than that.

Now, normally we’d put the 2014 projections at the bottom of the page. But for Upton, we’re going to go ahead and put them up here. 

Justin Upton: Early 2014 Projections

 
AB
Runs
HR
RBI
SB
AVG
OBP
SLG
BB
K
Justin Upton55397267312.269.361.46877147

That’s what Tanner Bell of Smart Fantasy Baseball tells us we can expect from Upton this year.

So, stat-by-stat, what do we think about those?

 

  • Runs

Of the five standard fantasy stats, none are more teammate-dependent than runs and RBI. Now, Upton has plenty of good teammates around him, so I don’t see that being a big issue. But, they’re also very lineup-depended stats. Now, Fredi Gonzalez can shuffle the Atlanta Braves lineup in a number of ways. But as of right now, this is what MLB Depth Charts has for them.

  1. Jason Heyward
  2. Justin Upton
  3. Freddie Freeman
  4. Evan Gattis
  5. Chris Johnson
  6. Andrelton Simmons
  7. Dan Uggla
  8. B.J. Upton

Personally,  I’d rather have Upton batting behind Freeman. But he was batting second at the end of the season, so it’s what we’ll go with.

If you give Upton a year batting second in a pretty potent lineup, 97 runs scored is very attainable and actually, probably a conservative guess. He spent a lot of last season batting in different spots of the order. If he’s taking 550 or so at-bats from the No. 2 spot, 100 or more is very realistic.

Upton — Over/Under 97 runs: Over.

 

  • Home Runs

Upton is one of the more physically impressive players in baseball, so I was a little surprised to find out that he’s only gone over 27 bombs in a season once, hitting 31 in 2011. As a matter of fact, other than his 27 in 2013 and 31 in 2011, he’s only gone over 20 once, hitting 26 in 2009.

Seeing that, you’d think that if anything, 27 looks a little high. I’m just not buying it.

Since he’s been around for so long, here’s something we’ve got to remember about Upton. He’s still 26. Power tends to be best in hitters when they get into their late-20′s.

Additionally, while hitting second may cause Upton to work the counts more and not be as aggressive, he’s going to have Freddie Freeman hitting in front of him. Even if he’s working counts, that’s going to give Upton plenty of chances to swing at fat pitches.

All of a sudden, the high-20′s or better looks pretty good to me.

Upton — Over/Under 26 home runs: Over

 

  • RBI

Not a complete love-fest for Upton. Everything that worked in his favor for runs works against him here. The fact is that for a No.2 hitter the National League, 73 is a big RBI total.

With a pitcher hitting two spots in front of him, most of Upton’s RBI possibilities will depend on Jason Heyward getting on base. You can certainly do worse, but Heyward can be spotty and even if he wasn’t, that’s a lot to expect. I’m also not expecting that he’ll get much help from Dan Uggla or Jason Heyward.

Again, Upton drove in 70 last year, but did so taking many at-bats from a spot or two deeper in the lineup, which is vitally important, especially int he NL. It’s going to be an uphill task to get around 70, even with a good home run total.

Upton — Over/Under 73 RBI: Under

 

  • SB

This is one that I just can’t get much of a feel for. While 12 steals isn’t exactly a massive amount for a guy who’d swiped 20, 18, 21, and 18 in the four years before last, you can’t ignore the rather unimpressive mark of 8 that Upton had last year.

Seriously, there’s nothing to suggest that Upton shouldn’t have had as many steals in 2013 as he had in 2012.

Year
Plate Appearances
OBP
Steals
2012628.35518
2013643.3548

Why the drop in steals? I just don’t get it.

The best thing I can get my hands on is that batting in front of guys like Freeman, Upton didn’t want to steal bases to take the bat out of the hands of the better hitters.

Unfortunately, if that’s the case, we can’t really think that 2014 will be much better. As we said with homers, Upton is only 26, so I’m not exactly worried that he’s lost a step. But we have to aim low here and be ready to be surprised only positively.

Upton — Over/Under 12 steals: Under

 

  • Batting Average

Now, I always advocate being conservative with projections. If you have low expectations and plan around them, then you’re ready when things don’t go well. When they go better than expected? It’s like finding a $20 bill on the sidewalk.

Having said that, we need to look at what his line-drive rates have been throughout his career, courtesy of Fangraphs

Justin Upton Line Drive Percentage

2007
2008
2009
2010
2011
2012
2013
Career
16.0 %20.9 %18.9 %19.3 %18.2 %20.6 %21.5 %19.7 %

So Upton, a .275 career hitter who hit .286 from 2008-2012, batted .263 in 2013 despite having a higher line-drive rate. That’s just not going to reoccur in 2014. Upton should see plenty of good pitches to hit batting anywhere from the 2-4 spot in the Atlanta order.

I won’t sit here and tell you that he’s going to compete for the batting title or anything like that, but we do need to say this. As Clave said when talking about Miguel Cabrera “line drives are excellent for batting average.” Miggy is a .321 career hitter with a  line drive rate of 21.5, the exact same mark that Upton had in 2013.

Sure, .321 may be a bit on the optimistic side. Upton strikes out way more than Cabrera, and obviously 0% of strikeouts go for hits. So, while it may be tough to imagine him exceeding even .300, but seeing him going over .270 with plenty of room to spare doesn’t seem far-fetched.

Upton — Over/Under .269 batting averageOver

 

  • Revisiting the projections

Tanner Bell and I agree on many of his projections, but we’re not quite eye-to-eye on this one. 

Justin Upton: Early 2014 Projections

 
AB
Runs
HR
RBI
SB
AVG
OBP
SLG
BB
K
Bell55397267312.269.361.46877147
Dixon55310228648.284.358.48268150

The one thing that has to be noted is how often Justin Upton strikes out. If he’s chasing bad pitches consistently, that will really alleviate the potential advantage of getting good pitches to hit. If pitchers know they can get him out throwing bad pitches, they’re going to do it.

Still, while Upton did under-perform from what we were projecting him to do in last year’s draft kit, I genuinely believe that 2014 will be better, even if Upton is a different kind of player than we’ve grown used to.

Tags: Atlanta Braves Justin Upton

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