Archive for the ‘Utpon’ Category

I Approve of the Justin Upton

June 15, 2009

Wasn’t able to get a post together for this morning, so the Strasburg one will be pushed to tomorrow.

So how about this kid?
Everybody knew he was going to be good, but this good, this fast? He’s hitting .306/.389/.569 (143 OPS+) and on pace for 32 HR, 35 2B, 11 3B and 24 SB. This after putting up a .250/.353/.463 (107 OPS+) line in 2008, batting .220 for the rest of the season after a hot April. He’s also saved 4.4 runs above average with his glove and arm, according to UZR, after costing the team 6 runs last year.

Here is a complete list of guys who have batted at least 350 times at or before their age 20 season (Upton’s age last year) and put up an OPS+ in that season of between 100 and 110.

He’s already in pretty select company, with only 19 names (taking off the upper limit on OPS+ more than doubles the list and adds names like Mays, Mantle and Hornsby, but I’m interested in comparing him to guys who, like Upton, were good enough to play at age 20 but weren’t quite there yet). Here’s how those guys did the following year (prior year’s OPS+ -> next year’s (comment)):

Buddy Lewis: 102 -> 102 (big breakout the year after that)
Adrian Beltre: 101 -> 119 (then fell below 100 for three years)
Ruben Sierra: 107 -> 101 (broke out two years later)
Phil Cavarretta: 107 -> 65 (limited PA; broke out two years later and had an excellent career)
Freddie Lindstrom: 108 -> 111 (had two good years and somehow made the Hall)
Hank Aaron: 104 -> 143 (continued being Hank Aaron for 21 years)
Cecil Travis: 101 -> 103 (took a slight step up at age 23, career destroyed by the war after 27)
Edgar Renteria: 103 -> 80 (that’s been Renteria’s career in a nutshell)
Joe Torre: 104 -> 104 (jumped to stardom the following year; should be in the Hall as a player)
Travis Jackson: 103 -> 87 (see comment to Lindstrom, Freddie)
Ken Griffey Jr.: 108 -> 135 (the first was actually his age 19; jumped to 155 at age 21, and you know the rest of the story)
Clint Hurdle: 108 -> 96 (had a 120 OPS+ third year and flamed out)
Butch Wynegar: 109 -> 96 (Twins might have harmed his career with too much PT as a catcher at ages 20 and 21; good hitter for a catcher, but never had another full season as good as the first)
Roberto Alomar: 105 -> 107 (broke out two years later; no-doubt Hall of Famer)
Rick Manning: 101 -> 118 (fell to pieces immediately after that)
Ed Kranepool: 100 -> 93 (only had a couple years, much later, that were better than those)
Milt Stock: 102 -> 98 (same as Kranepool)
Whitey Witt: 100 -> 99 (missed the following year fighting in WWI; never got much better)

So that’s it. Being on a list in which Aaron, Torre and Griffey are among only 18 other names is pretty impressive as it is, but it looks to me that you can safely say this about it: being an average hitter at age 20 (or 19 in some of these guys’ cases) is great, but the real marker of a Hall of Fame-type talent is getting much better very quickly. Making the jump Upton appears to have made at age 21 rather than, say, age 23 or 24 might be the difference between becoming Hank Aaron and becoming Ruben Sierra.

Here’s another list: best seasons by OPS+ at age 21. If Upton maintains his 143 OPS+, he’ll slot in in a tie for 16th. All but two of the guys ahead of him and the majority of the 15 or 20 guys behind him are clear Hall of Fame talents (are in, are not yet eligible but will be in, or are Shoeless Joe).

So, we could be witnessing the beginning of something very special. Better start paying attention.

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