Jays From The Couch Looks At Newly Acquired Blue Jays Outfielder Mevin Upton Jr. and the Potential Impact He Can Make On His New Team
Early Tuesday morning, it was reported that the Blue Jays had finalized a trade with the San Diego Padres sending outfielder Melvin Upton Jr. (The artist formerly known as B.J. Upton) to the Blue Jays for the number 18 prospect pitcher Hansel Rodriguez and cash considerations. The Padres will be absorbing most of the remaining salary on Upton’s contract, with the Blue Jays only on the hook for $5mil of the remaining $22mil.
Initial reaction would suggest that the Blue Jays “won” this trade. Not knowing what Rodriguez will look like as a finished product, as it’s hard to tell when dealing prospects, but for the meantime, Upton will make the most immediate impact to their organization.
Previous to this year, Upton’s play over the past three seasons had been on a slow decline (0.47 WAR 2013-2015), but in 2016 he has returned to his regular form. He’s never been someone to hit for average, or work a ton of walks. He is however an excellent power hitter, who has great speed around the base paths, and could be a valuable bat in almost every team in the MLB. So far this season, Upton has 16 home runs, playing a majority of his game on sea level at Petco Park (The NL West has been on the wrong end of the power surge going on in the MLB so far this season), with an ISO of .183, and some of his home runs this season have been absolute monster hits. This includes this 437 foot walk off home run, off a 93MPH Andrew Miller fast ball he hit earlier in July.
That great power is also matched with a lot of strikeouts. This season, Upton has a 28.3K%, which isn’t out of the norm for him, as his career average in 12 Major League seasons is 26.5%, but does rank him top ten in the league in K%. A lot of his strike outs are actually caused by simply missing pitches thrown for strikes. This season, MLB hitters are making contact with 86.3% of pitches thrown inside the zone, while swinging at 67% of pitches thrown in the zone. Upton however, is making contact with 74% of pitches thrown in the zone, and swings at 73% of pitches thrown in the zone.
The worry this season though, is his career low walk rate of 6.1%. Pitchers tend to attack Upton high in the zone, as anything low is usually slapped deep to every part of the field. The heat map below shows Upton’s average in every part of the zone. As you can see up in the zone he is hitting below .200, and anything low is where a majority of Upton’s power comes from, where he has a 33.6% hard hit contact rate this season.
One of Upton’s greatest skill set is his great speed on the base paths. The rare combination of power and speed is what makes Upton such a valuable asset to so many lineups. Base running hasn’t been something of a priority for the Blue Jays roster over the past few seasons. With so many players in the lineup built to hit balls over the wall, playing small ball and having speedster on the bags isn’t the go to option. Adding Upton into the lineup helps a ton with the Blue Jays speed problems, which is huge for them as they rank 24th this season in BsR at an abysmal -6.7. This season Upton has 20 stolen bases in 25 attempts, and has a 4.2BsR, which is his highest since his final season with the Rays in 2012. With his ability to work the ball to every part of the field, this makes him deadly at stealing extra bases off balls hit into any gap.
Looking at organizational depth, Upton is definitely the fourth outfielder on this team, but his versatility to play any outfield position makes it easy for him to find playing time. The easiest number to look at is his defensive WAR, which is -1.7, which is probably due to the two errors this season and his poor arm in the outfield, but looking deeper into Upton’s numbers you will see, that minus number doesn’t tell the whole story. So far this season, Upton has played 776.1 innings in the outfield, the majority of those innings being in left field. In 120 balls hit into Upton’s zone, he’s made 113 plays, and 52 outside of his zone. This makes for a .942 zone rating, all while saving eight runs.
In basketball, wing players become more efficient shooters when the ball handler draws more defensive attention. The same sort of thing happens in baseball on defense. Infielders get better when their first basemen is elite at picking up some of their throwing errors, and corner outfielders get better when they have an outfield general in centre. Nothing against Matt Kemp and Travis Jankowski, but Kevin Pillar helps out his corner outfielders like James Harden attracts defenders and gets his teammates open shots to succeed. (It’s late when I wrote this, please excuse me for using James Harden in a defense analogy)
If this deal happened last year, Jays fans would probably be shaking their heads, but this season Upton has returned back to close to prime form. In his first AB for the Blue Jays, he received a massive standing ovation to welcome him to Toronto, fans know, Upton is good! For all the valuable tools he has in his arsenal, $5mil is an amazing price for a player who is probably worth around $11.5mil a year. Money aside, Melvin Upton Jr. is the perfect piece to help the Blue Jays propel themselves into a great start to the second half of the season.
*FEATURED IMAGE CREDIT: BART HANLON UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0