FanPost

Will Atlanta Braves' Justin Upton Become Elite in 2013?

If Justin Upton can keep up the pace he's on--even at a lower production rate--the Atlanta Braves may have pulled off the trade of the season. Upton is playing like a (way) early MVP candidate--his .508 wOBA is tied with Baltimore Orioles' Chris Davis and slightly ahead of the Colorado Rockies' Carlos Gonzalez for league best. Including his eight home runs in 54 at-bats, over half of his hits are for extra bases (.518 ISO).

Quick inspection of the offensive leader boards three weeks into the season and it would appear that Upton is the sole reason why the Braves are (currently) the best team in Major League Baseball. Additionally, taking a look at his WPA outputs shows he's had his hand in several Atlanta victories--the most impact has come against the Chicago Cubs on 6 April (.51) and on the 12 April against the Washington Nationals (.37).

Upton is simply a production machine--putting himself on base to score runs and knocking runners in. Has he simply been opportunistic? Somewhat, but his BABIP is within his career norm and has not strayed far from the league average. His contact rate isn't any higher than it normally has been in his four year career so its hard to find any flags that would indicate hes soon headed for regression.

What does is his power numbers--obviously Upton will never be able to maintain his ISO and he's on pace to hit 40 doubles. He hit 39 in 2011 which is the same year he hit his career high 31 home runs. Upton also could be what I like to refer to as a roller-coaster hitter--a guy who goes up one season, down the next then up the following season. Upton is poised for his 'up' year in 2013.

Another interesting feature of Upton's hitting thus far is his elevated fly ball rate which is the result of over half of the pitches he makes contact with. Normally if a hitter is popping the ball up at that high a rate, he's making a lot of outs--unless 40% of their fly balls end up over the fence like Upton's are. Neither of those rates are going to be maintainable and as a hitter, your going to want to replace some of those fly balls with line drives.

The high fly ball rate for Upton could be attributed to the two pitches he's having the most success with--breaking pitches like the sinker and the curve. He's been the best at landing the curve for hits as displayed by the spray chart below:
4577082013040120130417aaacuspray-chart_medium
(via pitchfx.texasleaguers.com)

And his total spray chart for the season:
4577082013040120130417aaaaaspray-chart_medium
(via pitchfx.texasleaguers.com)

The pitches he's hitting for home runs vary but he's been very consistent on the curve.

I think at this point its a given that Upton is going to be a reliable hitter for the Braves, just as he was for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Regardless if Upton makes his way up the MVP voting polls, I think this might be the year Upton will establish himself among baseball's elite.

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