Thursday, January 17, 2008

Justin Upton

I've got a short list of players I'm planning to write about in the near future, and at the top of that list is Justin Upton. He's not necessarily the best on the list (but there aren't many that are better than him, no matter where he is on the list), he just happens to be at the top of the list today . I'm going to make a few comparisons to other players , and we'll see how it goes.

The first guy I'm going to mention is none other the Justin Upton's own brother Melvin E. Upton, or B.J. for short. I can't imagine how Melvin E. got turned into B.J., or why anyone wouldn't want to be called Melvin on a daily basis, but such is the case with B.J. Upton (actually, I just checked into B.J. and found out it stands for "Bossman Jr." since his father was known as "Bossman", so there ya' go). He was the 2nd pick in the 2002 draft and was immediately shipped to A-ball by the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays at the ripe old age of 18. Here's a quick look at his stats through 2004:

Age 18, A .302/.394/.445
Age 18, AA .276/.376/.381
Age 19, AA .311/.411/.519
Age 19, AAA .327/.407/.471

In 2005 B.J. got called up to play with the Rays. Between his time in the minors that year and his time with the Rays it's hard to make sense of his stats, and since we're really here to talk about Justin Upton, we won't talk much more about B.J.. I just want to give you a point of reference and generally illustrate the trends in B.J.'s numbers. He basically started in A ball and ended in AA ball 2 years in a row, and you can see his initial adjustments to AA ball dropped his numbers a bit, but his 2nd year was much better than his 1st, especially in terms of slugging %. So keep those numbers in mind, and we'll move on to Justin's stats:

Age 18, A .263/.343/.413
Age 19, A+ .341/.433/.540
Age 19, AA .309/.399/.556

Justin didn't have the A/AA, A+/AA yo-yo seasons that B.J. did, but the stats are comparable enough to make some surface level judgments. Justin's season in A-ball wasn't very impressive, but for a home-sick 18 year old in A-ball, those numbers are still very solid. His following season is where I really think we can begin to get a feel for the type of player Justin may become. Having never played above A-ball, he shot through A+ and AA-ball and not only kept pace with B.J.'s stats, but out-slugged him by quite a bit (especially in AA-ball). I attribute the difference in power to the fact that Justin is about 1 inch taller and 25-35 lbs heavier than his older brother. In the words of one scout, Justin is "man-strong". His swing isn't a classic power swing, but he's powerful enough to put a charge in anything.

Ok, I know I said I wouldn't spend much time on B.J., but I want to get back to him real quick for the sake of making some points about Justin's potential. I've read a lot of comments about B.J. "not developing" like Tampa hoped he would, or "being a disappointment", but if you look at his numbers and make some basic comparisons, B.J. is a very good player. Recently Bill James ranked Hanley Ramirez as the #2 impact player under 25 years old (or something like that), but if you look at the numbers, B.J. -- for his age -- is arguably as good as, and maybe better than Ramirez ( I know I sound crazy to some people on this board right about now, but that's my opinion and I'm sticking to it). Both players are generally listed as 23 years old, but Ramirez is actually almost a year older than Upton and if you stretch Upton's numbers for this year out to 708 AB's like Ramirez had, Upton could have had close to 30 HR's while having an OPS just .050 points below that of Ramirez. Looking past K% and BB-rates, I think those numbers are pretty comparable. If you want to further compare the 2, look at Hanley's minor league stats.

Anyways, I don't really care if Ramirez is better than B.J. or vice versa, I just wanted to point out that with a year between them, B.J. is at least close to Ramirez in terms of OPS. Also, if you compare Ramirez's 2006 season to B.J.'s 2007 season, you can get a better feel for where each player is at on their individual progression curves. Speaking of progression curves, let's move on to our next comparison:

Ken Griffey Jr.

Keep in mind that I'm using Griffey as a comparison and not a projection parallel.

When it comes to young prospects like the Upton brothers and guys like Griffey Jr., there is a very noticeable progression curve that can be followed through their careers, especially once they reach the majors. You can use the website to compare different players from different eras and match their progression curves for various stats. Really good players have these absurd progression curves that shoot up in their first 2-4 years in the majors, and then out pace league averages for a decade until they finally come back down towards the end of their career. Look at guys like Willie Mays and Babe Ruth and you'll see what I mean. Then look at guys like Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa and you'll see what I don't mean. But to get back on topic, let's use Ken Griffey Jr.'s stats as a modern day measuring stick to draw some conclusions about Justin Upton:

Age 17, A- .313/.445/.604
Age 18, A+ .338/.431/.575
Age 18, AA .279/.353/.492 (61 total AB's in AA)

These stats cover a total of 462 AB's, which doesn't give us much to go on, but I think it's enough for today's discussion. You can compare Griffey's numbers to B.J. and Justin, and you get a feeling that Justin falls somewhere between the 2. Of course Griffey has some other important stats that we won't discuss right now, but you can see that Justin probably is not as good as Griffey was at the same age, but he's not terribly behind Griffey either. Griffey went on to hit about 20-25 HR's with an OPS of about .900 for the Mariners until the age of 22, afterwhich he consistently hit 40-50 HR's until he was 30 (barring injury of course). Applying those trends to the Upton brothers probably translates into 30-40 HR's and an OPS between .900-1.000 for the prime of their careers, with Justin being on the higher end of the numbers and B.J. on the lower end.

So that's what I've got for today. Hopefully I haven't reached too far with any of my comparisons, but I feel comfortable with my analysis. Projections like these would be more accurate with higher sample numbers, but the unpredictability of prospecting due to such low sample numbers is also what makes it fun. Let me know what you think and if you have any other players that compare to the ones I've mentioned.


silentcombustion said...

You have BJ's age 19 stats mixed up. It should be:

Age 19, AA .327/.407/.471

Age 19, AAA .311/.411/.519

He never played in A ball in his 2nd season, only AA and AAA.

Adam said...

Thanks for catching that for me! -Adam

Daniel said...

Hey, I really like your blog. Your projections seem plausible and well thought out. Keep it up.