Fantasy Baseball: The Down Side of Tampa Bay Rays' B.J. Upton

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Fantasy Baseball: The Down Side of Tampa Bay Rays' B.J. Upton
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There will not be many occasions this year where you will find B.J. Upton on a fantasy team that I manage. Upton is a fine player for what he provides, but it still seems that many owners are expecting the great things he did in 2007 and not necessarily looking at the last two seasons. Perhaps 2009 was the worst of the worst, but what should the expectations be for this young player?

No doubt that I am more alone on this one than not, but it appears to me that even if Upton rebounds, the number used to pick him does not hold the right value. That is where I take issue. At this point, Upton is being selected in the top 60 of most drafts.
In 12-team leagues, that would mean a pick in the first five rounds, spots where you certainly do not want to be taking risks. The players taken that early should, barring injury, be the ones ready to carry you over the course of an entire year.

B.J. Upton simply does not fall into that category.
Upton has tremendous speed, but does that make him worth drafting this early, especially in a deep outfield?

Take a look at Upton's numbers over the last three seasons:

2007: .300 AVG, 24 HR, 86 runs, 82 RBI, 22 SB, .393 BABIP, 129 games
2008: .273 AVG, 9 HR, 85 runs, 67 RBI, 44 SB, .344 BABIP, 145 games
2009: .241 AVG, 11 HR, 79 runs, 55 RBI, 42 SB, .310 BABIP, 144 games

The sample sizes are much smaller going back to 2004 and 2006, but they do show BABIP numbers of .336 in 2004 and .313 in 2006. The one number that truly sticks out above all others is the 24 home runs in 2007. How did Upton's homeruns fall so quickly to the low single-digit numbers.

The devil is in the details, of course.
In 2007, he hit home runs at an alarming rate—nearly 20 percent of all his fly balls left the yard. Comparing that to every other season in his career and he is nearly double the next single-season high. That came over 45 games in 2004 and the figure was just north of 11 percent. For the last two years, he has been closer to seven percent of all fly balls becoming home runs.

This statistic becomes more alarming when you consider that last season 40 percent of the balls he hit were fly balls. This likely also accounts for the lower BABIP than what was seen in 2008, a season where only 30 percent of his hits were fly balls.
Another key figure is that every year since 2007 the number of line drives he has hit has fallen. Sure, a guy like Upton should be hitting the ball on the ground, but this figure shows that he is not making solid contact.

This is not to say that Upton is not a decent fantasy player. He certainly is a source of steals, but a realistic line for him this year probably looks like this if he were to get 550 at-bats:

2010: .255 AVG, 12 HR, 80 runs, 60 RBI, 40 SB .335 BABIP

With what is available elsewhere, the reasons to draft Upton are not overwhelming unless an owner really needs the steals. The rest of the numbers just do not ring true of a player that can perform as a No. 1 or No. 2 outfielder in a 12-team mixed 5x5 league.

Upton produces effectively enough in just one category. Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury are giving top production in three by hitting for average, stealing bases, and scoring greater than 100 runs. Only 21 players in all of baseball scored more than 100 runs, but 75 scored 80 or more.

For sake of comparison, Nyjer Morgan is a potential .300 hitter that will score 90 runs, drive in 50, and steal 40 bases. The difference is he will likely hit five home runs to Upton's 12. He is currently being picked at 131 as opposed to the 60 of Upton. Is the difference of seven home runs that vital to many owners when the numbers are this small?

While if a fantasy owner can get Upton closer to where Chone Figgins is being drafted (near pick 80) the value makes sense. There are not many drafts that will allow that. At this point, the latest Upton has been selected on MockDraftCentral.com is at pick 76.

A fantasy owner may have some upside in selecting the Tampa outfielder, but the chance of seeing another 2007 campaign is far less likely than seeing another 2009.
Collin Hager is a featured Fantasy Baseball columnist on Bleacher Report. He regularly contributes to FantasyPros911.com and maintains The Elmhurst Pub fantasy blog. You can follow Collin on Twitter @TheRoundtable.
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