Tampa Bay Rays: Will B.J. Upton Finally Deliver in 2011?

George FitopoulosContributor IJanuary 31, 2011

BOSTON - SEPTEMBER 08:  B.J. Upton #2 of the Tampa Bay Rays hits a three run homer in the second inning as Victor Martinez #41 of the Boston Red Sox defends on September 8, 2010 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

Hello, my name is George Fitopoulos, and I'm a B.J. Upton apologist.

They say the first step to recovery is acceptance.

There is a popular term among the fantasy universe, "fantasy kryptonite," which refers to a player who burns you year after year. Well, Upton is that guy for me.

For years, Bossman Junior has faced expectations as ridiculous as that nickname, and he just keeps disappointing. But, with the subtractions of Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena, the Tampa Bay Rays need Upton to step up this year more than ever.

The biggest knock on Upton is his batting average. As of now, his career mark stands at .260, but it has been in a steep decline since he hit .300 in his rookie season.

Now, let's get something straight—Upton isn't a .300 hitter, unless he can repeat his .396 BABIP from 2007.

That's not happening, but a .270 average isn't out of reach.

Trying to make sense of Upton's batting average woes will make your head spin. Among qualifying hitters who posted a BABIP over .300 in 2009, Upton had the second-lowest batting average (.241). The same held true last year, except his .237 average ranked last.

That's a product of his free-swinging style, but at some point his luck has to change.

Right? Right?!

Last year was Upton's attempt at the perfect storm of bad plate discipline. Take a look at his plate discipline numbers taken from his FanGraphs player page.

To summarize the table, Upton faced fewer pitches in the strike zone (48.9 Zone percent), swung at more pitches outside of the strike zone (25.3 O-Swing percent) and made contact on fewer balls outside of the strike zone (55.2 O-Contact percent). This all led to his career-high 12 percent swinging strikes and a 30.6 strikeout percentage.

I'm considering 2010 his rock-bottom as a hitter.

What I see in Upton is a player who is just about to enter his power-prime and is coming off a season where he hit 18 home runs, despite all the negatives in his approach. In the final two months of last year, Upton slugged 10 home runs and stole 14 bases with a .255 batting average.

I don't have to remind you that players who end the season strong can carry it over into the next season (i.e. Jose Bautista).

Upton has hit 20 home runs in a season and stolen 40+ bases in three consecutive seasons. Upton's power is trending in the right direction as he has dramatically cut down on the ground balls the last three seasons (from 50.5 percent to 39.7 percent) and his HR/FB rate increased to 11 percent last season.

Color me optimistic, but I see a 20/40 season in Upton's near future.

So yes, I am accepting that I am a B.J. Upton apologist, but that doesn't mean I'm going to stop anytime soon.

2011 Fantasy Projection

.254 | 92 R | 21 HR | 63 RBI | 45 SB


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