Ever since Bossman Junior returned to the Tampa Bay Rays in 2007 as a center fielder, and not an infielder, he has had the potential to take the league by storm and be the 2nd-best position player on the team next to Evan Longoria. His 2007 season was great, his 2008 playoffs were amazing and everything in between has been less than stellar.
Personally, I think everyone read B.J. wrong from the start, reading too much into batting average when they should look more into on base percentage. With that said, it appears that B.J., given a prominent role in the Rays lineup, should bat around .250-.260, 20-25 home runs and 75-90 RBI’s.
These stats are very solid for a center fielder that’s as amazing as B.J. is defensively (somewhere between 2-4th in the MLB).
B.J. has also appeared to get the raw end of the deal in terms of the criticism he receives from fans, bloggers and analysts. In three of his first four years (2009 being the exception), he has had a WAR of four or better, which is definitely above average, especially for a player who bats 6th in the lineup.
He’s had a top-10 WAR in defense two years out of four, is consistently a top-10 thief on the base paths, and as his total WAR shows, is an above average hitter.
In perspective, last year, B.J. Upton had a better WAR than the following center fielders: Andrew McCutchen, Matt Kemp, Alex Rios (who had 21 HR and 88 RBI last year), Adam Jones, and Denard Span. There just aren’t that many elite CFs, and B.J. would’ve been third on the list behind rookie Austin Jackson and the Astros' Michael Bourn.
This year he started off hot, but has cooled down significantly. In the last 23 games, B.J. has hit .143 with a .489 OPS and only seven stolen bases. This prolonged slump seems to happen for at least one month in every year of B.J.’s career thus far.
This time, it just so happens to be as the trade deadline approaches and the talks are heating up.
To dig deeper in the stats, there are a couple of other indicators to show how B.J. is really doing this year. He has been a bit unlucky with only a .263 BABIP, about 20 points below the league average.
His walk percentage is the same as last year and about average for his career thus far, and his strikeout rate is down almost two percent.
His home run and RBI percentage rates are the highest of his career; however, his extra base hits are down significantly. This seems to indicate, along with his BABIP, that he has been a bit unlucky with some balls that he has really blistered but just haven’t made it to the gap.
Upton has hovered around 40 doubles per year and this year only has 11, though this will seem to increase as the year progresses.
So what to do with the inconsistent but immensely talented center fielder? I say the Rays should keep him, at least for the year, unless they are just absolutely blown away by an offer.
The Rays have Desmond Jennings in waiting to take Upton’s spot, but they don’t have a long-term answer in left field. Sam Fuld and Justin Ruggiano are both classic examples of 4-A guys that are nothing more than platoon players. Brandon Guyer, who was called up earlier in the year, still has some mechanical issues with his swing, and they aren’t quite sure if he is going to pan out.
With no long-term solution, why not keep Upton? An outfield of Jennings, Upton and Joyce is pretty formidable, and about as good defensively as a team is going to get. The pitching seems to be set for the next few years, with Alex Cobb and Matt Moore waiting for rotation spots. With good pitching, a team can compete for a title.
If the Rays hold on to Upton and he leaves after next season, which most experts consider likely, they would have paid roughly $6 million for a center fielder who delivers a four or above WAR.
He would leave as a type-A free agent and the Rays would get pick compensation. Why not gear up for a title run, if not this year, then next, with a player from whom, given the correct expectations, you know what you are going to get?