Everyone with a laptop has written something about BJ’s recent offensive spurt.
Jeff Fletcher AOL/FanHouse even posted a story yesterday arguing that BJ still has unfulfilled potential to tap into.
Then BJ goes out and strokes the first pitch of the game into the seats (anyone still think it was a bad move to deal Kazmir and his belt high fastballs?) before doubling in another run in his next at bat.
All of that could lead you to believe that BJ is finally going to be the 2nd overall pick everyone thought he was going to be (by the way, the first pick in that draft was Brian Bullington. Seriously. That is not one of those draft classes everyone is going to remember in sepia tone).
But be vigilant, because Upton will break your heart when he eventually makes his long trip back to the middle.
In the end, it doesn’t matter to me that he is 26, or that he is just in his fourth full season in the big leagues. For now, to paraphrase Dennis Green, we know who BJ is and we shouldn’t let his potential for hot streaks change that evaluation.
Sure he is fast. Yes, he has a flare for making dramatic, over-the-shoulder catches. Occasionally, he shows a game-changing kind of arm in centerfield. And yes, his hands do sometimes remind pitchers that he is very dangerous with the bat.
BUT (and, in my mind, that is a NFL-tackle sized but[t]), he doesn’t do any of those things consistently. It’s almost as if he bought a bat-bag that can only hold three of his tools as a time so two get left home every night. And, there is almost no way to predict which tools BJ will have at any given time.
I spent some time this morning looking through the advanced metrics provided by Baseball Reference and Fan Graphs. I honestly, don’t understand many of them. But, there are a few things that jump out at me:
- His career splits by month really confirm his tendency to hit peaks and valleys offensively.
- He only has 10 bunt hits, in his career. Six of which came in 2009.
- There are 17 centerfielders in the Major Leagues that would be harder to replace, based on runs created and runs allowed, than Upton according to FanGraphs.
- There are also 17 centerfielders in the Major Leagues with a Win Probability Added rating better than Upton’s -1.03.
To me, those numbers seem to bear out what your eyes and gut tell you about BJ. His performance fluctuates because he isn’t internally driven. Rather, he puts it in gear when the jockey goes to the whip (be it criticism in the media, a pointed reminder from a teammate, or one of Maddon’s mind games). Internal motivation, in my opinion, is not something that can be taught and will ultimately be BJ’s Achilles heel.
He is either egotistical or thick-headed. We all know he can run. And we all know his OBP is, kindly, mediocre. Why wouldn’t he add a dimension to his game with the bunt? His ego or his stubborness are the only explanations.
Finally, his value as compared to other Major League centerfielders shows that he is just an average player despite his brief flashes of brilliance.
In the end, the Rays have Upton for one more summer. They could try to deal his final year to another team for some new parts but, it is likely that other Major League teams recognize just how average BJ really is as well. He will be a cheap option in centerfield next summer (there is just no way he is crazy enough to sit through another arbitration hearing this winter to hear the Rays recount all the ways he has underwhelmed) and then the Rays will ultimately let him fade into that good night.
Hopefully, his current hot streak carries through the pennant chase and into October. That is about all the value we can hope for at this point.