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The Truth About B.J. Upton

Let me preface this by stating the obvious: B.J. Upton is without a doubt my favorite Rays player. Understandably it irritates me on numerous levels when I hear sports talk radio shows or comments on sites bash Upton for "being lazy" or wanting to trade him because he's "not good". I've resisted from making a post on it, but I can't help but imagine these type of folks talking about Jesus:

Them: Jesus was lazy, he didn't even shave!
Me: He was God's child and the savior.
Them: He didn't hustle.
Me: He walked on water!
Them: Once.
Me: I should hurt you.

B.J. Upton strikes out too much.
This is only true if Evan Longoria also strikes out too much. Upton mentioned in his interview with our site that one of his focuses this season was decreasing the amount of times he struck out and he's done just that. This season is K% is down to 24.8, last season it was 32.5%. On top of that Upton has raised his BB% from 12.1 to 16.2%

B.J. Upton doesn't know the strike zone.
Yes, I have actually seen this commented. Upton swings at about 14.19% of balls outside of the strike zone. That's third best in the majors behind Jack Cust and Marco Scutaro (!). Upton also sees 4.07 pitches per plate appearance and 18 pitches per game, both are above average. It could be said that Upton knows the strike zone better than anyone else on this team.

B.J. Upton does not make enough contact to bat second.
Again, this is true, but only if you think the same of Evan Longoria who has a lower contact percentage than the paladin of sloth.

B.J. Upton is not a good defender.
Using THT's database I ran the numbers for each year since 2004, including this year, as well as a comprehensive 2004-2008 list of centerfielders. From there I used a technique that Sky Kalkman has used in the past with one exception; I only used the THT numbers and not the ESPN numbers. His technique is to add out of zone plays with plays made and divide by the balls in zone. It's possible to go over a "1.000" ratio, and as we'll see with our centerfielders it happens quite a bit.

From there plug the numbers in to this equation:
Balls in zone*(Player ratio - average ratio)

That gives us the plays made above average, and if you want to turn that into runs simply multiply by the run value of an out, 0.8, and you'll get runs above average.

Upton is roughly five plays above average using this metric, near the likes of Curtis Granderson and better than Grady Sizemore, Torii Hunter, Mike Cameron, Aaron Rowand, Vernon Wells, and Coco Crisp. For you Gold Glove lovers Upton is better than that group that features 16 Gold Gloves.

B.J. Upton is in a contract year.
Whoever started this one simply doesn't know how baseball's contracts work. Upton will end this season with about 2.050 (years.days) of service time. He won't qualify for Super-Two status and he won't reach arbitration until after next season. Upton won't be a free agent until after the 2012 season.

B.J. Upton is a "me" guy.
I don't know Upton personally, but even if he is a me guy (his initials spell out M.E. Upton after all) none of it escapes to the press. Even in Durham he wasn't the loud disruptive one, he was the leader, but not of the falsely labeled Three Am-egoes. After Delmon Young threw his bat Upton chased him into the clubhouse to scold him on an amazingly awful decision. Upton has been shuffled in the lineup without blasting Maddon in the press or speaking of ambushes.

B.J. Upton is lazy.
This is the one that infuriates me. I am B.J.'s height (6'3") and I can attest that when I run it doesn't look nearly as strenuous compared with a 6' person running. Upton has longer strides and obviously covers enough ground to continue going at the pace he's done all season. Look at the recent Manny Ramirez snafu and then examine how many players really do jog to first on groundballs to second. Also this:

B.J. Upton plays a lackadaisical center field. That's not to say he's a bad outfielder -- Upton has a plus arm and fabulous range -- but he's just a bit too nonchalant for my liking. Upton's casual approach in center completely counters the unadulterated hustle of Grady Sizemore, the AL's defending Gold Glove winner at the position.

And yet even BP rates Upton ahead of Sizemore this season in fielding runs above average.

B.J. Upton doesn't care.
Ask anyone who has sat within earshot of Upton after a pop up or misplay. If cursing doesn't matter towards care points then look at his dedication to lowering the amount of strikeouts. Upton cares, he cares a lot, just look at his attitude concerning moving from shortstop. His desire was to be the best at short, unfortunately that didn't quite work out.

B.J. Upton hurts this team.
This is the best one and has even become its own parody. Upton is second on this team in VORP behind Longoria, the leader in OBP, third in EqA, fourth in GPA, and second in Runs Created, and that's just offensively. He is unbelievably valuable and without him we would not be in first place.

Here's our report card on Upton:
Offensively he has a great idea of the strike zone and great plate discipline but just needs his power to come back. When it does Upton is going to be an offensive force.

Defensively Upton has played pretty well considering it's his first full season as a center fielder. Yes he has some aspects to work on, and I'm confident he will.

Therefore: B.J. Upton is a young, above average player in both regards with room to grow on each side that is unfairly treated by the local fans and media.