Upton is easily the most polarizing player currently wearing a Rays uniform. Upton is either worshiped or loathed and there seems to be very little middle ground when talking with Rays fans as well as baseball fans in general. Those who worship him are in (rightful) awe of his play in centerfield and cannot forget how he carried the team on his back through the American League playoffs in 2008 while those who loathe him consider him a lazy malcontent that never hustles and takes the game for granted. I belong in the admirer camp because to watch him play centerfield brings back memories of watching Devon White roam that ground for the Blue Jays whom I followed closely as a younger lad when he would cover half the outfield by himself. Additionally, having gone through two shoulder surgeries myself in the last six years, I can relate to what Upton went through in 2008 and trying to come back this past season.
I can respect the views of those who would rather see Upton on another team but I sincerely believe there would be some serious seller’s remorse from those same fans shortly after Upton’s departure as he is still just 25 years old and is just now entering the prime years of his career. We have only seen glimpses of what Upton is capable of doing at the plate; if he can put together a season where his bat approaches the value of his defensive work, he would easily be one of the five best players in the game. Can Upton do that task in 2010? The early projections say no:
Fangraphs now includes an engine where Rays fans as well as baseball fans can contribute to projections which is the last field of the table. The other four projections come from our Fanball magazine as well as three of the most popular projection sources out there: Bill James, Dan Szymborski from Baseball Factory, and Sean Smith’s CHONE system at baseballprojection.com.
The fans, understandably, are the most optimistic about Upton in 2010 giving him the best power numbers, RBI, and batting average. The professional pundits are all fairly close together with their projections. The projections are indeed much better than what Upton produced last season, but everyone seems to think that Upton’s power numbers from 2007 were more of an aberration and not repeatable in 2010.
Fanball is fortunate to have Rick Wilton on staff. Wilton is publisher of the Baseball Injury Database for our fantasy players at OwnersEdge.com that catalogs all injuries on players in both notes and graphs making it very easy to track the injury history of players. I asked Rick what he thought about Upton and the shoulder and he said:
Last winter, I compared the Upton shoulder surgery (labrum) and the one Hanley Ramirez had the year before. Ramirez bounced back quickly and I expected Upton to do the same. Obviously it did not happen. I cannot see any reason why Upton should not have a solid if not great rebound season, at least physically because his shoulder has to be 100% by the start of spring training if it is not already. There are some that wonder if his ceiling is not as high as first thought.
That last sentence sticks out because that line of thought definitely stands out in the projections from the pundits. In 2007 when he hit 24 homers, his HR/FB rate was up to 20% but since then as he fought through both the shoulder injury and the recover, it has sat around 7%. If Wilton is correct – and I believe he is – and Upton is fully healed in that shoulder, his timing could not be better. Batters typically see good statistical growth in their mid to late 20’s and Upton is just now getting into his peak years so if the power does not show up now, it may never come back.
The Rays have stood behind Upton throughout everything and have brought in a new hitting coach and getting Upton back on the right track has to be Derek Shelton’s top job priority as the Rays are likely losing Carl Crawford after the 2010 season which will put more of an onus on Upton to step up his own run production to help compensate for Crawford’s loss.