Despite Petco, Justin Upton has big fantasy upside after trade to Padres
- A gradual increase in loudness in a piece of music.
- The San Diego Padres' 2014-15 offseason.
The Padres have been the most active team this winter, and their acquisition of Justin Upton was a broadside against the rest of the National League West. San Diego has completely remade its outfield, with an eye on turning around an offense that hit just .226/.292/.342 last year. In a few short months, we’ll see how the experiment of playing Upton, Wil Myers and Matt Kemp (and Matt Kemp’s arthritic hips) in the same outfield goes for the Padres, but there’s little doubt the trio will vastly improve the Friars at the plate.
We’ve already tackled the Kemp and Myers fantasy spin. Now it’s Upton’s turn.
By nearly all measures, Upton’s second year in Atlanta was better than his first. He hit .270/.342/.491 with 29 homers, 102 RBI and 133 weighted runs created plus. His 3.9 fWAR was the third-highest total of his career, trailing his two monster seasons in Arizona. Upton didn’t cut back on his proclivity to swing and miss, posting a 26.7 percent strikeout rate, and at this point of his career, that ship has likely sailed. What he did do was keep his walk rate at a respectable 9.4 percent and make hard contact nearly as often as ever. He had a 20.1-percent line-drive rate and a 17.9-percent HR/FB ratio last year, both of which were the second-best rates of his career.
The concern for any hitter going to San Diego, especially a right-handed power hitter like Upton, is his new home stadium. Petco Park stifles power as much as any stadium, particularly for right-handed hitters. According to Stat Corner’s park factors report, Petco suppressed homers by right-handed hitters by a whopping 19 percent last year. Turner Field, Upton’s old home in Atlanta, boosted them by seven percent.
Few hitters, however, have Upton’s raw power. His average true home run distance last year was 409.6 feet, and even that was the lowest total of his career. Below is Upton’s home run spray chart with an overlay of Petco Park. As you will see, Upton’s power should play just fine in San Diego.
The ball travels differently through the air in Southern California than it does in Northwest Georgia, but all 29 of Upton’s homers from a season ago had the distance to get out of Petco Park. Maybe normal, two-dimensional screenshots aren’t enough for you, though. Maybe you need some moving pictures to get you excited. Well, we have those for you as well.
Do you think Jenrry Mejia is convinced that the confines of Petco Park won’t be able to contain Upton and his mammoth power? I sure am, and you should be too. Thanks to Upton’s tenure with the Diamondbacks, we actually have a decent sample of 192 plate appearances at Petco Park, which translates to about one-third of a full season. In those plate appearances, Upton has amassed a .291/.359/.541 slash line with 10 homers and 11 doubles.
Of course, thanks to baseball’s unbalanced schedule, Upton is trading about 75 combined games per season at Nationals Park, Citi Field, Marlins Park and Citizens Bank Park for the same number at Coors Field, Dodger Stadium, AT&T Park and Chase Field. The homes of the Nationals and Marlins significantly limit right-handed power, with home run park factors of 77 and 81, respectively, for righties. That means they suppressed right-handed power by 23 and 19 percent. Citi played at nine percent better than average of righties, while the home of the Phillies had a ridiculous 146 park factor.
The good news for Upton is that three of the four NL West stadiums he'll travel to have positive park factors for right-handed power. Chase, Dodger and Coors lifted the home run numbers of righties by seven, 14 and 20 percent, respectively. (AT&T suppressed it by 26 percent.) In other words, playing in the NL West shouldn’t mean a power downgrade from playing in the NL East.
Upton has been around for so long -- 2014 was already his seventh full season in the majors -- that people seem to forget he’s just 27 years old. He’s just now entering his theoretical prime and already has 22.5 fWAR in his career. This tweet from Hardball Talk’s Aaron Gleeman caught my eye:
Justin Upton is 33rd all time in Runs Created through age 26. In spots 24-31 are Rickey, Ruth, Santo, Speaker, Mays, Bench, Musial, Raines.— Aaron Gleeman (@AaronGleeman) December 19, 2014
Upton is a wildly talented player in the sweet spot of his career with more pure power than anyone this side of Giancarlo Stanton. The move to Petco from Turner should not sway you from drafting him. He remains my No. 7 outfielder and is likely a late second-round pick in 12-team leagues.