Archive for July, 2010

Berkman to the Bronx

The Big Puma is now a Bronx Bomber — the New York Yankees acquired Lance Berkman from the Houston Astros in exchange for RHP Mark Melancon and INF Jimmy Paredes. Berkman, 34, will take over as the Yankees’ DH. The switch-hitter is owed a little more than $7 million for the rest of the 2010 season, and the Astros will pick up $4 million of that salary. Berkman has a $15 million club option for 2011, with a $2 million buyout.

The Astros’ first-round pick in the 1997 draft began the year on the DL following surgery to remove loose cartilage from his left knee. With a .242/.372/.436 line and a .356 wOBA in 358 plate appearances, Berkman has fallen short of his pre-season projections — a .381 wOBA from CHONE and a .397 wOBA from ZiPS. Lance is still working the count exceptionally well, drawing a walk 16.8% of the time and swinging at just 21.2% of pitches thrown outside of the strike zone (28.9% MLB average). However, his BABIP (.279) and power (.191 ISO) are down.

Berkman’s line drive rate (16.7%) is three percentage points below his average since the 2002 season, though it’s hard to say whether that’s an actual change or a scoring issue. His 14.6% infield fly rate is higher than his 11.2% average since ’02 and the 7-8% MLB average. But even with those figures, Berkman’s expected BABIP (xBABIP) is .316. That’s awfully close to his career .318 average. The chances that he remains a .240ish hitter are low.

As for the power, Berkman’s hitting more ground balls than usual. His GB% is 47.4%, his highest mark dating back to ’02 (42.2% average over that time period). Lance’s 15.9% home run/fly ball rate is his lowest mark since 2003. When he has gone yard, it hasn’t gone as far as usual.

Hit Tracker Online keeps track of a players’ average speed off the bat on homers, as well as the “Standard Distance” of dingers. Standard distance “factors out the influence of wind, temperature and altitude, and is thus the best way of comparing home runs hit under a variety of different conditions.” According to Hit Tracker, Lance’s speed off the bat on HR in 2010 is 100.7 MPH (103.5 MPH average for major leaguers), and his standard distance is 380.5 feet (393.8 MLB average). In 2009, Berkman’s speed of the bat was 104.5 MPH and his standard distance was 403. In ’08, those figures were 103.7 MPH and 397.2 feet.

Lance Berkman’s days as a .400+ wOBA force are probably over, but he’s still a highly useful hitter. ZiPS projects him to bat .267/384/.489 with a .383 wOBA from here on out. He’ll see regular ABs in New York, though there’s some thought that he’ll occasionally sit vs. lefties in favor of Marcus Thames — Berkman has a .343 wOBA against LHP in 1,344 PA since ’02, while Thames has a .361 mark in 755 PA. If Berkman’s available in your league (his ownership rate is 74% in Yahoo leagues), he’s worth a roster spot. The Puma’s performance should pick up, though not to the level of his glory days.

Who Will Close in Minnesota?

We’ve already gone over the trade of Matt Capps from a real-life angle, but most fantasy managers really only want to know one thing: who’s closing in Minnesota now? Incumbent interim closer Jon Rauch has not been great, but he hasn’t been terrible either.

The kicker about this one is how similar these guys are. Just look at their FIPs right now – Capps has a 3.46 FIP, Rauch a 3.42 – and you realize that maybe the Twins didn’t need a second dude just like the first in their bullpen. The comparison runs even deeper than that, as Capps (7.43 K/9) and Rauch (6.34 K/9) are not the traditional closers, but instead are two relievers that rely on control (Capps has a 1.76 BB/9, Rauch a 2.11 BB/9). But already we have a clue here that Capps is teensy bit better, because he is slightly better in both categories.

The nail in the sabremetric coffin, for Rauch, is groundball percentage. He’s a flyball guy, with 33.4% career flyballs and 37.3% this year. Capps, at least this year, is a comparative grass-guzzler, with a 48.3% groundball rate this year. On the other hand, we should be careful not to put too much stock into this number – his career number is much more modest (37.8%), and Capps is now (199 BF) not far past the total batters faced benchmark (150) for groundballs.

Ah, but Capps has 26 saves! Whoo!

The fact that the team traded for him, and his numbers are just slightly better across the board, probably means that Rauch is out of a job. But since the two are so close, Rauch owners should probably hold on to their now-devalued asset for just a little bit to see how things shake out. (That is, unless they can pick up Drew Storen in Washington, who is the favorite there if just because of his recent draft status and age, but that’s enough for another post.)

I’ll leave you with some Twins-centric anger from Aaron Gleeman, who excoriated the trade today on his website, because hey, who better to rant about a move than a die-hard fan of the main team involved:

In reality they traded Ramos for a setup-caliber reliever who accumulated saves on bad teams and is thus overrated and soon overpaid. Among the 93 pitchers who’ve logged 150-plus relief innings in the past three calendar years, Capps ranks 38th in xFIP, 49th in FIP, 50th in ERA, 61st in strikeout rate, and 85th in opponents’ average.

You’d think the Twins would have learned something about the created-not-born nature of the closer role and often spurious value of saves from Rauch’s relatively successful stint filling in for Nathan, but instead they just paid a premium for a guy whose perceived value and ability are much higher than his actual value and ability solely because of his role and save total. Capps is a good reliever, but the Twins paid for a great reliever and did so for all the wrong reasons.

RotoGraphs Chat

New Astro: Brett Wallace

For a player taken with the 13th overall pick in the 2008 draft, Brett Wallace sure has spent a lot of time packing suitcases. The Arizona State Sun Devil star was originally selected by the Cardinals, but he was shipped to the A’s as part of a trade for Matt Holliday last July. Oakland then swapped him to the Blue Jays this past off-season in a rare prospect challenge trade, with outfielder Michael Taylor going to the green and gold. And yesterday, the Astros acquired Wallace in exchange for Anthony Gose, a 19-year-old OF prospect just picked up in the Roy Oswalt deal with the Phillies. In Houston, “The Walrus” looks like the heir apparent to Lance Berkman at first base.

Wallace was a third baseman in college, and he mostly manned the hot corner in the minors up until this season. But scouts panned his work there (Baseball America said he “lacks the agility and athleticism for the position”), and Sean Smith’s Total Zone rated him as a poor fielder. The stoutly-built 23-year-old shifted to first base with the Jays’ Triple-A affiliate in 2010. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that Wallace’s value lies entirely in the quality of his bat. So, how good is that bat?

Here’s what Baseball America had to say about his offensive ability prior to the ’08 draft:

Many see the best natural hitter in the West. Wallace has a strong swing with above-average bat speed; his swing path stays in the zone a long time and he has outstanding plate discipline…Those that don’t care for him cite his body and the short careers of players built similarly, such as Bob Hamelin. Wallace’s bat should get him drafted in the first round regardless, and most scouts give him at least above-average raw power grades.

Wallace hit the ground running in pro ball in 2008, putting up a .337/.427/.530 line in 234 plate appearances spent mostly in the Low-A Midwest League (he also logged some time in the Double-A Texas League). The lefty hitter walked in 8.1% of his PA, punched out 19.3% and had a .193 ISO. Wallace didn’t draw a ton of walks and he did benefit from a .400+ BABIP, but it was still a quality debut.

Since then, Wallace has hit well, though it would be difficult to say that he has lived up to the “hitting machine” label often bestowed upon him. Last season, he batted a combined .293/.367/.455 in 600 PA taken in Texas League and the Triple-A Pacific Coast League (for the affiliates of both the A’s and Cardinals). He worked a free pass just 7.8%, while striking out 21.8% and posting a .162 ISO. In 2010, Wallace has hit .301/.359/.509 in 423 PCL plate appearances. Wallace has walked 6.4%, whiffed 21.6% and holds a .208 ISO. It’s worth noting that Cashman Field, home of the Las Vegas 51’s, is a fantastic offensive environment. According to Minor League Splits, Wallace’s park-adjusted line is .287/.349/.479.

Considering Wallace’s limited positional value, I think it’s fair to say that his lumber to date has been somewhat underwhelming. Though BA once praised his plate approach, Wallace hasn’t drawn all that many walks. And that above-average raw power hasn’t really been on full display. It’s not that he projects poorly in the majors, but his secondary skills don’t exactly stand out a position with a cumulative .270/.355/.460 triple-slash in 2010. Wallace could become an average starter at first base, perhaps a tick above that if you’re optimistic. But I don’t see a future offensive juggernaut here.

New Astro: J.A. Happ

As part of the four-player deal that sent long-time ace Roy Oswalt to the City of Brotherly Love, the Houston Astros picked up 27-year-old lefty J.A. Happ. Philly’s third-round pick in the 2004 draft has missed most of the season while rehabbing from a left forearm strain, but he returned to action recently and he’ll make his Astros debut tonight against the Milwaukee Brewers. Is Happ, under team control through 2014, a good bet for long-term success? Let’s take a closer look.

A 6-6, 200 pound product of Northwestern University, Happ has punched out 9.4 batters per nine innings in 281.2 career frames at the Triple-A Level, with 4 BB/9 and 1 HR/9. According to Minor League Splits, Happ’s park-and-luck-adjusted FIP in the International League is 3.76.

With those sort of numbers, you might think that Happ’s a power pitcher. That’s not the case, though — he sits 89-90 MPH with his fastball, supplementing the pitch with a low-80’s slider/cutter, a low-80’s changeup and a scarcely used low-70’s curveball. Prior to the 2009 season, Baseball America mentioned that Happ’s heater “gets on top of hitters quickly” and that he “has deception in his delivery.” However, BA also warned that “Happ lacks a standout pitch and doesn’t figure to get all those strikeouts on fastballs as easily in the majors as he did in Triple-A.” Happ’s high heat in the minors produced lots of balls in the air (40.8 GB%), so concerns over homers were voiced by BA as well.

Happ has thrown 217 major league innings to this point, the majority of which (187.1) coming out of the starting rotation. His ERA looks fantastic, at 3.11. His peripheral stats, by contrast, are more run-of-the-mill. J.A. has K’d 6.59 hitters per nine, issuing 3.48 BB/9. Happ has been a flyball-centric hurler, getting grounders just 36.5% of the time. There’s more than a one-and-a-half run gap between Happ’s actual ERA and his xFIP, which is 4.65.

That huge split is partially predicated on a low BABIP (.273). While more harmful overall because of a much higher slugging percentage, fly balls do have a lower BABIP than ground balls. So, it’s possible that Happ will post a slightly lower BABIP than most pitchers. A mark in the .270’s is pushing it, though — ZiPS projects a .291 rest-of-season BABIP for J.A.

Another, larger reason for the ERA/xFIP gap is an incredibly high rate of stranding base runners — 84.3%. For comparison, the MLB average is in the 70-72% range. You’d be hard-pressed to find evidence that he’s pitching exceptionally well with ducks on the pond, as Happ’s career xFIP with the bases empty is 4.54 and his career xFIP with men on base is 4.77. The big difference? his BABIP with the bases cleared is .330, and with men on, it’s just .202. For comparison, the NL average BABIP with runners on base has ranged from .301 to .306 in recent seasons.

As an extreme fly ball pitcher with average control and modest stuff, Happ looks like more of a decent big league arm than a prime fantasy target. While Minute Maid Park isn’t quite as homer-happy as Citizen’s Bank Park, it also inflates dinger production — six percent for lefties, and 18 percent for righties aiming for the Crawford Boxes. Happ’s a decent pickup in NL-only leagues. If you’re expecting a top-shelf starter, though, you’re going to be disappointed.

Waiver Wire: July 29th

Danny Valencia | 3B | Twins | 4% owned

There’s nothing like six games against the Orioles and Royals to help jump start the bat, eh? Valencia went 14-for-23 with four doubles and homer in those two series, enough of a surge to guarantee him some regular playing time until the Twins trade for someone better. David Golebiewski broke Valencia down in detail last month and concluded that he’s not an every day fantasy option, but there’s never anything wrong with riding out a hot streak while it lasts.

R.A. Dickey | SP | Mets | 30%

I’m not going to lie, I’ve been waiting for what I figured would be Dickey’s inevitable crash back down to Earth for a few weeks now, but I’ve got to hand it to him, the guy’s been great. Knuckleballers tend to be late bloomers, so it’s not out of the question that Dickey has gotten a hold on things at age-35 and can be a viable ML starter.

Will he maintain the 2.32 ERA he has following 8.1 shutout innings of work this afternoon? No, of course not. His FIP coming into today was rock solid at 3.24 thanks to an abnormally low 2.34 BB/9. That should rise in the future just because of the nature of the knuckleball, but he could very easily settle in as a ~4.00 ERA guy for the rest of the season with just enough wins and strikeouts to keep you interested. His next start comes against the Braves next week.

Ownership rates based on Yahoo! leagues.

Oswalt in Philadelphia

It looks like Roy Oswalt is on his way to Philadelphia today, and enterprising fantasy managers facing a trade deadline of their own probably want to know what the implications are for their fantasy team. Let’s take a look.

First, the park move is negligible. According to StatCorner, Minute Maid park boosts home runs for lefties 6% and righties 18% – but the Phillies’ home park boosts home runs 16% for lefties and a whopping 22% for righties. If he starts tomorrow as he is scheduled to do, Oswalt is on pace to make starts against the Dodgers, Giants, Mets, and Nationals (twice) at home in Philadelphia. He averages about 6.45 fly balls per start, so that’s about 32 fly balls, of which 10% would normally leave the park. Boost 3.2 home runs by about 5-9%, and you get somewhere between 3.36 and 3.48 home runs. This might (*might*) mean a home run extra over those five starts combined. The change in home parks is not a big deal, at least for 2010.

What will look better for Oswalt this year are his future competitors. Should the schedule line up correctly with Oswalt starting tomorrow, this is what he is looking at: @WAS, @FLA, LAD, SF, WAS, @SD, @LAD, FLA, @NYM, WAS, NYM, @WAS. Sign me up for some of that please.

Oswalt is currently showing the best strikeout rate of his career (8.37 K/9) and one of the worst groundball rates of his career (43%, 47.4% career) – and is also using the changeup the most he ever has (11.7%, 6.0% career). This is no coincidence. Going off of Harry Pavlidis’ benchmarks for pitch types this year, the changeup gets one of the better whiff percentages in the pantheon of pitches (only splitters and sliders average more whiffs). The lower groundball rate may be attributed to his career-high usage of his slider (16.9%, 10.4% career), which only gets about 45% groundballs according to Pavlidis’ work.

In any case, the added focus on his off-speed stuff has suited Oswalt well. He’ll know have one of the best offenses in baseball behind him, so the 6-12 record should rectify itself, and the schedule lines up well for him during the stretch run. There is little-to-no downside to Oswalt pitching in Philadelphia, unless he insists on driving his tractor from Texas to Pennsylvania.

Phillies summon Domonic Brown

Shane Victorino hit the disabled list earlier today with a strained abdominal muscle suffered when he dove back into first base last night, so now the Phillies are replacing him with the best prospect in baseball: outfielder Domonic Brown. Most of us expected Brown to get the call once the team traded Jayson Werth, but Victorino’s injury makes such a deal unlikely. Werth will instead shift to center to take over for the Flyin Hawaiian, and Brown will assume everyday rightfield duties. He’s in the lineup tonight, batting sixth.

Both Baseball America and Keith Law ranked Brown as the game’s best prospect at midseason, and with good reason. The 607th overall pick in the 2006 started his career as a tall and lanky 18-year-old that oozed athleticism but needed to learn how to convert his physical gifts into baseball skills. Brown has done that and then some, improving his performance each year of his career and with each climb up the ladder. Here’s his progression, using basic triple-slash stats:

2006: .214/.292/.265 in rookie ball
2007: .299/.363/.415 in mostly short season ball
2008: .291/.382/.417 in Low-A
2009: .299/.377/.504 with ~60% of his PA in High-A and ~40% in Double-A
2010: .327/.391/.589 with ~70% of his PA in Double-A and ~30% in Triple-A

“A free swinger as an amateur, Brown has developed a solid eye at the plate and recognizes pitches well,” said the BA gang when they ranked him the game’s 15th best prospect before the season. “The biggest question on Brown’s upside revolves around how much power he’ll develop. Some Double-A Eastern League observers thought his power would be average at best and would limit him to hitting at the top of the lineup, rather than being a middle-of-the-lineup factor.” KLaw wasn’t as skeptical about his pop, saying Brown “has 30-plus homer potential” when he ranked him the 14th best prospect in baseball before the season. As you can see above, Brown has increased his ISO’s from .126 to .205 to .262 in each of the last three seasons, so the power is definitely coming.

The Phillies promoted their best prospect to Triple-A for the first time this season after he hit .318/.391/.602 at Double-A Reading in the first half, and the 22-year-old has hit .346/.390/.561 in 118 plate appearances since the move. His MLE sits at .289/.320/.456 this season (according to, though CHONE was a bit more pessimistic before the season, predicting a .248/.348/.303 line. I’d definitely expect more of the former, especially playing regularly in Citizen’s Bank Park. He’ll even steal some bases, averaging close to 25 SB per 500 plate appearances in his minor league life.

Brown has exhibited a bit of a platoon split in each season of his career except 2008, but that appears to be an outlier at this point. Generally speaking, it’s about a 100 point drop in OPS, which is tolerable for a guy with a bat like this. We’re not talking about an Andre Ethier (or worse, a Curtis Granderson) kind of split here. I’d probably sit him against the better lefties at least early on just until he gets his feet wet, but there’s no question that Brown will be a viable fantasy outfielder almost immediately. There’s plenty of help around him in the lineup, so he’ll have RBI opportunities, and there’s nothing blocking his playing time (except for Ben Francisco’s .318 wOBA).

Brown has already been gobbled up in 9% of Yahoo! leagues, so make sure you run out and grab him while you can. He could play his way into #2 outfielder status by next month, and obviously has the potential to be even better going forward for those of you lucky enough to have him in a keeper league.

Promotion Watch: Zach Britton

The Baltimore Orioles are in the process of breaking in a cadre of a highly-acclaimed pitching prospects. Brian Matusz in entrenched in the big league rotation, while Chris Tillman and Jake Arrieta have struggled to translate their success in the minors to the highest level. Another blue-chip arm may soon make his major league debut — Zachary Britton could bump the oft-battered Brad Bergesen out of the rotation at some point. Even if Britton doesn’t get the call later this year, he’s a vital part of Baltimore’s rebuilding effort. Let’s examine his long-term value.

The O’s took Britton out of a Texas prep school in the third round of the 2006 draft. The 6-foot-3 lefty added lots of zip to his fastball during his senior year — Baseball America noted that his heater climbed from 86-87 MPH to 92-93 MPH — and he also possessed what BA called a “power curve.” Britton’s velocity did decline during his last few starts leading up to the draft, though. He tossed 34 innings in the Rookie-Level Appalachian League that summer, and he struggled to control the zone (5.6 K/9, 5.3 BB/9, 5.41 FIP). After the season, BA said that Britton sat 86-90 MPH in the Appy League, though they predicted he’d crack the 90’s more frequently as his 180 pound frame filled out.

Baltimore took a cautious approach with Britton in 2007, assigning him to the short-season New York-Penn League. He had 6.4 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 0.1 HR/9 in 63.2 IP. According to Minor League Splits, Britton’s park-and-luck-adjusted FIP was 3.95, and he generated ground balls at an impressive clip (64.5 GB%). Baseball America said that he showed “the live low-90’s fastball that made him a third-round pick,” while also developing a sharp slider in the instructional league.

In 2008, Britton enjoyed a breakout season in the Low-A South Atlantic League. Pitching 147.1 frames, he used his sinker/slider combo to strike out seven batters per nine innings, hand out 3 BB/9 and give up 0.5 homers per nine. Britton’s adjusted FIP was 3.92, and he maintained his Brandon Webb-like ground ball rate (63.8 GB%). The next year in the High-A Carolina League, Britton whiffed 8.4 per nine, walked 3.5 and coughed up 0.4 HR/9 in 140 innings. Scorching the earth with a 65 GB%, Britton posted a 3.37 adjusted FIP.

Leading up to 2010, Britton earned plenty of superlatives from scouting types. Baseball America named him the number 63 prospect in the game. John Sickels graded him as a B prospect. “Love the grounders, solid strikeout rate, I’m pro-Britton,” said Sickels. ESPN’s Keith Law was an even bigger fan, ranking Britton 25th on his top 100 list. Law liked Britton’s solid punch out rates and extreme ground ball tendencies, and noted the development of the lefty’s changeup:

Britton is a true sinker/slider pitcher with enough velocity to work as a starter and a potential out pitch in the slider to miss bats when he’s not getting ground balls. His sinker has solid-average velocity with legitimate plus sink, and he’ll flash a four-seamer up to 94. His slider — although not as consistent — flashes plus, and he’s willing and able to backfoot it to right-handed hitters, then throwing the sinker away to get a weak grounder or just a swing and miss. His changeup improved over the course of the season to the point that it’s an average pitch or better, eliminating a major concern for sinker/slider guys — a typical weakness against opposite-side hitters…He would slot in very nicely as a No. 2 starter behind Brian Matusz, or as an outstanding No. 3 behind Matusz and Chris Tillman.

Britton began the year with the Bowie Baysox of the Double-A Eastern League, where he posted rates of 7 K/9, 2.9 BB/9 and 0.4 HR/9 in 87 innings. He continued to induce grounders like few others (64.1 GB%) while compiling a 3.44 adjusted FIP. Bumped up to the Triple-A International League, Britton has 5.5 K/9, 2.9 BB/9 and nary a homer surrendered in 27.2 IP. The 22-year-old is — you guessed it — burning lots of worms with a 72.2 GB%, and his adjusted FIP sits at 3.47.

The chances of Britton getting ample major league innings this season are slim — the O’s aren’t playing for anything of consequence, and the southpaw is a little more than 30 frames away from his previous career high workload. In keeper leagues, though, Britton is an intriguing option. He’s not going to post elite K rates, but that’s mostly because he’s too busy getting batters to smack the ball into the dirt. Britton misses a solid number of bats, and his control has improved enough that it doesn’t figure to hinder his development. While Tillman and Arrieta get more attention, Britton might just be the better long-term buy.

Assessing B.J. Upton

Power. Patience. Speed. During the course of his career, B.J. Upton has shown more tools than Home Depot. Those tools are the reason that the Rays selected him with the second overall pick in the 2002 draft, and they’re what allowed him to cross the four win threshold in the majors in both 2007 and 2008. Since then, however, Upton has aggravated fantasy owners with his schizophrenic bat. B.J.’s wOBA sat at .387 in ’07 and .354 in ’08, but it dipped to .310 last season and has rebounded mildly to .324 this year. Is he a power hitter? An uber-patient batter with medium pop? Neither? And what about his declining BABIP? Let’s look at Upton’s core skills to get some answers.

Plate Discipline

Upton walked in 11.9% of his plate appearances in 2007, 15.2% in 2008, 9.1% in 2009 and he has drawn a free pass 11.1% this season. As those above-average walk rates indicate, Upton does a better job than most in terms of laying off pitches thrown outside of the strike zone. This season, he’s venturing out of the zone more than he usually does. Here are Upton’s outside swing percentages over the period of 2007-2010, compared to the MLB average:

His O-Swing is about 86 percent of the big league average, compared to 76% in ’07, 59% in ’08 and 78% last season. In addition to swinging at more off-the-plate pitches, his first-pitch strike percentage is 66 percent (58-59% MLB average). It was 63.7% in 2007, 55.2% in 2008 and 61.8% in 2009. I don’t necessarily think this has a ton of predictive value, but Upton’s performance when putting the first pitch in play has plummeted. Here are his sOPS+ numbers on the first pitch over 2007-2010. sOPS+ is a stat that compares a player’s performance in a given split to the league average. One-hundred is average, above 100 means the batters is better than most and under 100 means he is worse than average.

2007: 204 sOPS+
2008: 105 sOPS+
2009: 89 sOPS+
2010: 62 sOPS+


The 6-3, 185 pound righty batter hit for elite power in 2007, posting a .209 ISO with 19.8% of his fly balls leaving the yard. Upton’s ISO fell to .128 (7.4 HR/FB%) in ’08 as he battled through a left shoulder injury that required off-season surgery. Fantasy players were hopeful that a supposedly healed Upton would start going deep more often in ’09, but his ISO barely budged (.132) and his HR/FB% was 6.8. In 2010, B.J.’s pop has rebounded to an extent — his ISO is .163, with an 8.3 HR/FB%. At this point, I think it would be safe to expect power output closer to his current clip — ZiPS pegs Upton for a .156 rest-of-season ISO, and CHONE forecasts a similar .153 ISO.


This is one area where Upton’s performance hasn’t varied much. He stole 22 bases in 30 tries in 2007 (a 73.3% success rate), then went 44-for-60 in ’08 (73.3%), 42-for-56 last season (75%). In 2010, he has 27 steals in 33 attempts (81.8%). He’s an efficient stolen base threat, and his Speed Score has increased each season (five in ’07, 5.6 in ’08, 6.8 in ’09 and eight in 2010; the MLB average is about five).


Upton’s BABIP has been all over the place in his four seasons as a full-time starter — .393 in ’07, .344 in ’08, .310 last year and .292 in 2010. Considering Upton’s wheels, it’s bizarre that his BABIP on grounders is fueling the dip — .341 in ’07, .285 in ’08, .270 in ’09 and just .218 this season. For comparison, The AL average over that period has ranged from .231 to .246.

Is there any particular reason for Upton’s continual BABIP decline? Let’s turn to this expected BABIP (xBABIP) calculator from The Hardball Times, which estimates a hitter’s BABIP based on his rate of home runs, strikeouts, stolen bases, line drives, fly balls, pop ups and ground balls:

While Upton’s actual BABIP has dropped precipitously, his xBABIP totals suggest that little has changed. I don’t think there’s much reason to think that a player with Upton’s speed will continue to post a BABIP on grounders that’s below the league average.

His overall rate of hits on balls put in play should improve. Something closer to his career BABIP, .334, is a good estimate of what to expect from this point forward. Upton should be more of a .250-.260 type hitter than his current .227 mark.

Upton is currently on the waiver wire in one-tenth of Yahoo leagues. If you’re in a league where he’s available, I’d certainly take a gamble. I also think he’s a shrewd buy-low candidate, assuming his recent ankle injury isn’t too serious. Upton possesses a good eye (though it hasn’t been quite as discerning this year) and above-average power, and he’ll add plenty of steals to boot. There’s still upside, too, with Upton not turning 26 until late August. Don’t give up on this guy.