From this morning’s season preview of the Tampa Bay Rays…
Can BJ Upton rebound to become the player he was in 2007 and 2008, or is he just a completely different player now?
In 2007 and 2008, BJ Upton looked like the player the Rays envisioned he would become when drafting him second overall in the 2002 draft. Between the two seasons, Upton was worth 9.5 fWAR and had an OBP north of .380 in each year. In the three years since, he’s been a different player. Hell, there were inklings that this would happen when looking at his 2008 season, when his slugging percentage dropped over 100 points.
During the 2007 season, Upton had 24 homers and 22 stolen bases. From 2008 to 2010, he stole over 40 bases in each season, but his homer total had tapered to under 20 in each season. Upton showed signs up turning things around last season, swiping 36 bags and hitting 22 bombs. But despite this overall impressive line, he still was a different player. Upton’s on base percentage has dropped considerably, topping out at .331 last after the dual .380 seasons. His batting average has also fallen considerably, sitting around the .240 mark after being .300 in 2007 and .273 in 2008.
You can’t really blame crappy luck for Upton’s struggles, as during these down years, his BABIP has been right around .300. Instead, you can probably point to 2007 as the anomaly season. His BABIP that year was a mind-blowing .393. While his ISO was a career-high .209 in that season, he’s been over .180 in the last two years, which isn’t necessarily a huge dropoff.
This is what BJ Upton essentially is: a good sixth hitter in a lineup. Due to his poor OBP, I wouldn’t hit him at the top of the order. The Rays would probably be better off with Desmond Jennings leading off, and Ben Zobrist in the two-hole. The sixth spot in the Rays’ order, behind Evan Longoria, Carlos Pena, and Luke Scott, would probably be ideal for Upton. Of course, conventional wisdom dictates that because Upton is fast, he should hit higher in the order. That’s a bunch of garbage in my mind. You want your guys with the highest percentage of getting on base at the top of the order. I don’t care how fast they are. Remember when the A’s experimented with Jeremy Giambi leading off a decade ago? Yeah, same idea.
Upton will be a free agent after this season, and he’ll probably be decently coveted. I don’t think the Rays are going to bring him back, though. Just like they generally do with all of their older free agents, they’ll probably let him walk and replace him with a younger, cost-controlled bat.