"When you have all those expectations attached to you as a young player, we have no idea what that looks like, what that means," Maddon said. "And he's had that, and he's had to do a lot of his learning right here. I know I like what I'm seeing right now."
That quote is from March 1st, 2012, but it could be from virtually any spring of Upton's career. He's been part of our lives since he was just 19, when he was called up to the majors far too early, still searching to find his position. We've watched him grow into a ball player and a person. This season will be his sixth, and likely last, as a Ray. He's the longest tenured Ray and over that time has done exactly what I want an athlete to do; made me give a shit one way or another.
Love him or hate him, he's the most polarizing athlete in the Tampa Bay area in the past 30 years, and possibly ever. Both sides have their cases, but at least he made you feel. He's kept sports talk radio hosts employed for the better part of four years.
His career with the Rays will likely come to an end sometime this calendar year, and when it happens I can't help but think I'll feel the same way former Houston Rockets' coach Bill Fitch felt about Ralph Sampson. After having coached the immensely talented yet underachieving Sampson in Houston, Fitch *said:
"I think, first of all, he was the victim of overstatement" "People would say he wasn't trying, but that wasn't the case. If anything he tried too hard. He just didn't have the bullets for the gun. And he needed a tank after what everyone had predicted for him."
*quotes taken from Chuck Klosterman's "Eating the Dinosaur"
That's not to say I haven't enjoyed the Upton experience. He's been the most intriguing player to watch, and he holds a big key to the Rays chances this season. If he hits well, in likely the second or sixth spot in the order, the Rays have a good shot of going deep in the playoffs. He's certainly capable of carrying an offense, as his 1.038 OPS last September can attest. On the flip side he can also hit like he did from June to August when his OPS didn't crack .700. His splits are just as confusing. Over the last three seasons his OPS against southpaws have been .572(!), .919(!!) and .746. Against right handers it's .734, .664(!), .763. His Isolated Slugging percentage splits are just as glaring: .260 vs LHP in 2010, .150 in 2011. Against right handers he increased from .153 to .199.
His plate dicipline numbers are still rather poor against same handed pitching, but he more than makes up for it against lefties. If he can maintain this newly found power stroke against righties that long predicted 30 home run season is still in his future.
He's been at least a four win player in four out of the last five seasons. He's just now entering his age 27 season, peak age for a player. He's a free agent after this season. If he comes back healthy from his DL stint he's going to make a lot of money, more than most will expect. Since 2007 only five centerfielders have accumulated more WAR than Upton's 20.1. Nothing he'll do will likely top his amazing 2007 season, but it's going to be damn fun to watch one last time.