Tuesday, May 22, 2007

B.J. Upton

I've been traveling a lot recently, so I missed the optimal point to blog about B.J. Upton and his ridiculously unsustainable batting average. In two weeks, Upton's season average has fallen from .386 to .309, and it's not going to stop there.

Upton, at his peak, had something like a .550 batting average on balls in play. Even with his overall batting average down 77 points, he still leads the league by a wide margin in BABIP.

The ceiling on a sustainable long-term BABIP is roughly .370, and that level is reserved for guys who smack the ball really hard and play in a favorable home park (Manny Ramirez) or speedy ground ball hitters (Derek Jeter, Ichiro). Though he is very fast, Upton is not an extreme ground-ball hitter or a prodigious power hitter, so it's unlikely he can consistently post a BABIP over .350.

Here are three batting lines for Upton. The last is his season-to-date line assuming a BABIP of .350 rather than his actual .462:

Through May 4: .386 BA/.443 OBP/.670 SLG
Through May 22: .309/.385/.540
.350 BABIP: .247/.329/.458

Now, a second baseman with an OPS of .777 is still quite valuable, particularly when he's 22 years old. But he's not a star--yet.

Fantasy leaguers should also note that Upton's regression will go far beyond his batting average. Fewer hits mean a lower RBI total. Fewer times on base means reduced opportunities to steal and less runs. Given that Upton's seven homers are also higher than we'd expect, he's likely to fall off considerably in all five categories. In other words: SELL HIGH.

Upton still has a chance to become a superstar, but in order to do so, he needs to develop some serious power, stop striking out 180 times a year, or become a plus fielder at second base or center field. If he doesn't, he'll have to settle for being merely above-average.

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