Wednesday, January 21, 2009

TPC 2009 Projection: Justin Upton

Last year, Justin Upton started the season crushing the ball, before he cooled off and finished the year with a .250 average and a .816 OPS.

So, what can we expect from J-Up in 2009?

Here are the CHONE, Bill James, and Marcel projections for Upton:

CHONE: .257 average, 16 home runs, 60 RBI, .793 OPS
Bill James: .263 average, 22 home runs, 68 RBI, .844 OPS
Marcel: .264 average, 13 home runs, 45 RBI, .806 OPS

Everyone seems to be projecting basically the same numbers, except that the Bill James numbers are based off of 576 plate appearances, the CHONE numbers are based off of 492 plate appearances, and the Marcel system is going off an estimated 424 plate appearances, as compared to the 417 plate appearances Upton made in '08. While I think the projections are very reasonable, I think there are a few things to consider that might help us create a more accurate projection.

First, each of the above projections has Upton striking out somewhere between 27-29% of the time in 2009. While that's a bit of an improvement over his 29% in 2008, it severely downplays the capacity of a young player with Upton's talent to improve his contact rates early in his career.  Here are just a few examples of the improvement young hitters can make in just a single season:

Obviously, not every player sees such improvement so quickly (Justin Upton's brother, B.J. actually saw his K% increase by about 7% in his second year, before it dropped in his third full season).  But Justin kept his K% below 26% in July and September with the Diamonbacks, and I think we're more likely to see him decrease his strikeout rate in '09 rather than an increase or no change at all.

Another point I'd like to make is that I doubt the Diamondbacks are going to spend much time moving Upton back and forth between the majors and the the minors this year.  Instead of 417 plate appearances, we can extend Upton's '08 home run rate to 600 plate appearances, which gets us somewhere around 22 home runs.  If Upton improves on that rate by just a fraction, I think 25 home runs is not an unreasonable expectation.  

One last thing to point out is that Upton posted a .169 batting average during away games.  Young players have to make a lot of adjustments when they reach the majors, and traveling to new ballparks can often overwhelm them.  While they may have had a consistent travel routine in the minors, traveling in the majors requires adjustment to new cities and new schedules, and it can all amount to one major distraction.  Given time, I expect Upton's away game stats to dramatically improve, and as a result his overall stats should get a nice boost.

So, with all that said and out of the way, I think Upton should be good for the following stats in 2009:

TPC 2009 Projection for Justin Upton: .268 batting average, 24 home runs,  75 RBI, .835 OPS

Overall, those stats are most similar to the Bill James projection, so we'll revisit this post in 10 or 12 months and see how it looks.  I wouldn't be surprised if Upton hits closer to .275 or .280 with 25 to 30 home runs, but for now we'll stick with the above numbers.

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