Cross another one off the board.
As the free agent market begins to thin as the season steadily approaches, there are still some big game pieces searching for a home. One of the biggest though, has finally come off the board as the Detroit Tigers made a splash Tuesday night inking Justin Upton.
After Chris Davis returned to Baltimore earlier this week, everyone believed that the free agent hitting market would open up and that was verified with this late night move. The addition of Justin Upton gives the Tigers the scariest 1-5 of a lineup in all of baseball. Matched with the likes of Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, J.D. Martinez, and Ian Kinsler, the Tigers have what appears to be quite the offensive onslaught.
Upton is quite the interesting player. He was billed as the next great prospect, but really has never reached that level of stardom. However, he has firmly become one of the best power threat in all of baseball.. When he is hot, he can carry a team for a month at a time, but his streakiness has also been his undoing.
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Last season, as he has done all too often, he had three months of production where he looked like one the best fantasy OF baseball, and for other three months he was nearly droppable. Let us first look at the bad, and boy it gets ugly.
He was coming off a huge May output and would go on and to only hit .196 in June, with 2 HR and 9 RBI as well. The bad thing about last season, was that instead of interchanging hot and cold months like he usually does, he followed a bad June with an even worse July, .162/4 HR/10 RBI/.550 OPS. He became a huge fantasy detriment during the heart of the season, and finished the season with another sub .240 AVG month and nearly no power.
As many owners know, this has become the norm with Upton, but that does not mean he possesses no fantasy value. Between the ugliness, he had three months with 6 homers, at least 14 RBI and a .840+ OPS during those hot months. When he gets it going, it is a pleasure to watch and he has single-handedly won weekly matchups on his own with his video game like numbers.
While his .251 AVG last season was its lowest since 2008, there are some signs that Upton can rebound some in 2016. He suffered from his lowest BABIP of his career last season and a dip in his K% leads me to believe that he showed better patience at the plate in 2015 but suffered from bad luck.
Looking closer at his batted ball data and it seems as though nothing really crazy changed to warrant such a dip in his AVG compared to his career batted ball ratios. He even made more Med% contact than he did in 2014, which is encouraging going forward. There is nothing in his batted ball data that warrants owners to stay far away from picking Upton in 2016, so a complete drop off is unlikely.
Upton is still only 28, and has played in at least 133 games since 2008. So while he has his flaws, he remains durable and one of the few players left in the game that averages over 25 HR a year. While Comerica Park is not a hitter’s park by any means, moving out of Petco surely comes as a welcome sight. Even though somehow, Upton was terrific in San Diego last season batting .277, smashing 15 HR and knocking in 42 RBI at Petco. The Padres were rough to watch offensively too last season, which further caped Upton’s production thanks to no one boosting his counting stats.
If anything, the move to Detriot should encourage drafters to be willing to bank on Upton to rebound some as he has the cast around him to improve his counting stats and the move really takes the pressure off him of being the sole power threat on a team. It remains to be seen where may hit in the lineup but if he can bat either in the cleanup or five-spot of the Tigers lineup, the RBI opportunities should be aplenty. He will now have some protection behind him too in the lineup, which should translate into him seeing more pitches in the zone with the hope that he can turn those pitches into more power numbers.
There was also the welcome addition of Upton stealing 19 bases last season, his highest total since 2012. I am not sure how much he will run in Detroit as he will have better hitters around him than in San Diego, but if he posts around 10-15 SB, that only serves as a fantasy plus.
Upton’s fantasy value really does not change any for the 2016 season as it will once again come down to whether or not owners can stomach his low points with the immense highs he can bring. Moving to the Tigers helps solidify his floor some, which is encouraging, so Upton will remain a low-end OF2 or high-end OF3 in 2016.
2016 Early Projections: .260/28 HR/95 RBI/10 SB/.800 OPS