BJ Upton's been receiving a lot of crap both across the internet and from commenters on this blog. For some reason people think he's been a disappointment, is lazy, and isn't good enough to play on a playoff team. I beg to differ. He's neck-and-neck with Evan Longoria as the Rays' most productive position player so far in 2008.
Yes, his complete lack of power is a surprise. If you want to consider his homerun total a disappointment, fine. But we need to focus on everything else Upton does well:
- He's getting on base. Even with a decrease in batting average (which was predictable based on his crazy batting average on balls in play last year), Upton's Upton's .385 OBP is the same as last year -- he's learned to take a walk. Overall on offense, he has a 116 OPS+. If you like linear weights (and you should), he's been 10 runs better than average overall on offense.
- He can play center field. Upton should be held to a totally different standard than the corner outfielders like Crawford, Hinske, Gomes, Gross, etc. Over a full season, you can expect the average outfielder to be ten runs worse in a corner spot than in center. Compared to the average position, center fielders get a five run bonus and corner outfielders get a five run penalty.
- He plays center field rather well. For a guy who struggled with his fielding in the infield, becoming a plus in center is a huge boon for the Rays. The advanced fielding metrics put BJ at about five runs better than the average center fielder so far in 2008. I know people pick on him for looking lazy, but good positioning, good jumps, good paths to the ball, and good speed are really what outfield defense is about. The man catches more flyballs than most.
Putting it all together, Upton is nearly twenty runs better than the average player overall (10+2.5+5). That's about two wins (1.75 for those who are math anal).
Ok, so how do other outfielders compare to BJ? I count seven center fielders in all of MLB who are better: Grady Sizemore, Josh Hamilton, Carlos Beltran, Curtis Granderson, Rick Ankiel if you buy his 2008 stats, and that's it. Only three of those play in the AL.
These are the AL center fielders who are definitely worse: Melky Cabrera, Coco/Jacoby, Adam Jones, Carlos Gomez, Nick Swisher, A's flavor of the day, Vernon Wells
These AL center fielders are in the ballpark, but are probably a small step down from Upton: David Dejesus, Torii Hunter, Johnny Damon if he played there, and Ichiro.
BJ Upton, even without any power, is at worst, the tenth best center fielder in the majors, and you could make a case for top seven. That's not somebody you need to look to replace or worry about. Let's start celebrating him, instead. If the power comes back in the second half, that's just icing on the cake.