Can Justin Upton Break the Braves' Single-Season Home Run Record in 2013?
Atlanta's acquisition of Justin Upton seemed like a steal before Upton played an inning in their uniform. Through the first 12 games of the season, he's done nothing to change that notion. In fact, he's off to such a torrid start that it's not out of the question to suggest a quest to break the franchise's single-season home run record will be in play this summer for Atlanta's left fielder.
While many would guess Henry Aaron, Chipper Jones or Dale Murphy as the current holder of the Braves' single-season home run record, it belongs to Andruw Jones, who launched 51 in 2005.
Through 12 games in Atlanta, Justin is on pace to shatter that mark. The former Diamondback has launched seven home runs, posted an unimaginable .891 slugging percentage and has amassed 41 total bases. While it's obvious that he'll cool off at some point, this could be the year that everything comes into place for the former No. 1 overall pick in the MLB Draft.
Despite "only" posting a career high of 31 home runs, Upton has the kind of swing, power and ability to reach the 50-home run plateau during his career. This season may represent the change of scenery, baseball maturity and natural progression needed for Upton to make the leap into superstardom.
If you only watched Upton in 2012, this outburst probably seems surprising. Due to a nagging thumb injury, and, if you believe the narratives, a lack of "grit," Upton struggled in Arizona last summer. His .785 OPS made him look more like Lyle Overbay than the guy once compared to Ken Griffey Jr.
Of course, the down year in 2012 overshadowed his fourth-place finish in the 2011 NL MVP vote and Upton's reputation as one of the best young players in the history of baseball.
Using Baseball-Reference.com's Play Index, we put Upton's power numbers into context. Through his age-24 season, Upton's 108 home runs rank 16th in the history of baseball. The names ahead of him include nine Cooperstown inductees and several others destined for the same fate. Those 15 players averaged 32 home runs a piece during their collective age-25 seasons, with several exceeding the 50-homer plateau.
It's almost as if Justin Upton wants to humiliate the Diamondbacks or something.— keithlaw (@keithlaw) April 9, 2013
It's hard to say if Upton would be off to this same start in Arizona, but his contemporaries in the history of the game have either continued or exceeded their standards at this same age.
As he proves the naysayers wrong, focus on his power within the NL East this summer.
Throughout Upton's young career, his power has been greater (.516 vs. .471 slugging percentage) against left-handed pitchers than righties.
The move to the NL East, given the current depth charts of the Marlins, Nationals, Mets and Phillies, give the indication that Upton will see a good amount of lefties through the summer. Of the 20 members of those respective rotations, eight are southpaws.
Last season, during Upton's 17-homer campaign, he simply didn't lift the ball in the air as often as he used to. Roughly 43.8 percent of his batted balls were grounders, the second highest rate of his career. For a guy who has the power to lift fly balls out of the park at an above-average rate, Upton needed to get the ball airborne at a more frequent pace. Early on in 2013, he's doing just that, with a 52-32 FB/GB ratio.
Upton is healthy, under contract and playing for an organization that appreciates his immense talent. If the swing that wowed scouts in 2005 continues to haunt the National League, the sky is the limit for Atlanta's left fielder, including more than 51 round-trippers in 2013.
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