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Brave new fantasy baseball world for B.J. Upton?
By Tim Heaney
The former Tampa Bay Rays enigma seems to be stabilizing his statistical identity crisis. (See a telling summary in Erik Hahmann's second Fangraphs paragraph). Attitude and effort questions, however, have clouded that consolidation.
Joe Maddon and Fredi Gonzalez seem to have different styles in managerial personality and ability. There's probably some difference in clubhouse attitude beyond the Rays' frat-like activities and the Braves' seemingly antics-diminished dugout. Will they allow B.J. to be B.J., sometimes-lackadaisical method and all? Or will his new culture force him to act more like Melvin Emmanuel?
It's more rational for fantasy analysts to move past an overrated attribute over which we have no control. Upton's on-field output should, regardless of environment, trend toward his last three seasons and not his power-starved 2008-2009 window.
Expect Turner Field to mirror Tropicana Field's influence. Sure, Upton took advantage of the Rays' short left field porch (315 feet), but the new 335-foot distance he faces wasn't a problem last year. His home-road splits haven't shaded in one dynamic direction when it comes to his thump.
That, plus the handedness balance that Upton provides, may help reduce the statistically negative ballpark factor Turner Field exudes. A down year from Dan Uggla and the fact that Martin Prado's game isn't dinger-centered mean we should now take with a grain of salt this stadium's stigma for righty sticks.
Upton's swing percentages showcased a hacker that might've been motivated by his contract year. Might've. Let's not make that the end-all, OK? He's in position to keep on clubbing, though. Atlanta finished second (behind Tampa Bay, ironically) in hitter walks last year, but in joining Dan Uggla and Jason Heyward, Upton will reside in a lineup that has many breezy spots.
For fake baseballers playing with normal categories, Bossman Junior's rampant back-to-dugout marches were blissfully concealed by his power boom.
Its catalyst might've come sometime before the final two months of the season, during which he cleared an MLB-leading 19 fences and posted monthly infield-fly percentages of 0.0 in August and 4.5 in September. Sadly, that outlandish loft efficiency will correct itself.
But from what Stan McNeal reported in September, it looks less like an overall fluke and more like a rediscovered program:
When Upton's first homer - on the first pitch he saw - was shot to the opposite field, Maddon smiled. "The right-central stroke was beautiful," Maddon said. "The ball came off the bat so hot. He still is a kid but when he was a kid-kid, that's what he used to do - drive the ball to that gap like that."
"Out of the three, that's the one that felt the best," Upton said. "If I can hit the ball the other way, I know I'm going good. I hit a ball pretty hard to the right side (Saturday) night and that kind of gave me a little something."
So why doesn't he do it all the time? "Him and (hitting coach Derek) Shelton have been talking about it a lot," Maddon said. "I actually believe this surge you see him on now began with him starting to accept the other side of the field. Once he started doing that, then all of a sudden he started to hit the ball well again."
The all-fields direction doesn't distinctly translate in the year-end homer spray chart, and Upton probably still prefers to pull. However, increased plate comfort shouldn't be ignored, especially with the detail of the poking and prodding his old organization performed over his bat abilities.
A decrease of infield cans of corn means you're squaring the ball. Going with pitches permitted Upton to do so, in theory. That means more potent connections, leading to Upton's brilliant season-ending stretch.
Hopefully Greg Walker starts taking notes soon.
There's coach speak, and then there's foundation for a statement via empirical evidence. Getting back to his right-center roots lines up Upton to continue displaying the latter in finally producing "that year" we've all speculated he'd have.
(Tangential meditation: Would you want him to risk diminishing the impact of his elite power-speed combo for what would most likely be modest gains in batting average? Improvement there wouldn't be much more beneficial than his current crippling wheelhouse in the grand scheme.
From what he's shown us so far, he'd have to change too much of his game to reach that fantasy pipe dream. Let B.J. be B.J. If he crashes through his lofty ceiling, cool. If not, he remains a money maker.)
Even so, he's still quasi-underrated. I doubt he'll come at a much higher cost than he did last year considering he yielded similar numbers to those from 2011, besides the notable tater increase. His move to Atlanta won't keep me from once again paying a 2012 price for him.
He's not a top-20 mixed commodity, but top-50 with a smidge of elite pay-off that becomes more alluring the more your fellow drafters scoff at his clip? Absolutely.
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