April 18, 2013
The Uptons in April
If baseball players really are just like us—hint: they’re not; they’re way more amused by remote control cars than any of us over age seven are—then the Upton family is just like the Levine family.
Not in the sense of anything related to baseball ability or the older brother’s badass initials, but in the way time works and an age gap that tends to be neutralized.
When Justin Upton and B.J. Upton hit their 100th career home runs on the same day, it was written as some sort of perfect synchronization of fraternal tendencies. Whereas really all that happened was that B.J. had been lapped. While he was going deep for the 100th time a couple weeks shy of his 28th birthday, Justin was doing it more than three full years earlier in age. (Their birthdays are three years and four days apart.)
It’s the same way time worked when you were the older brother. The fact that bedtime advanced to 9 p.m. for you and your younger brother was great until you realized he was getting it two years before you. And when you realized that you vs. your brother in some sport or another was a fair game or a fair race, it actually meant he was two years ahead of you.
While Bossman Junior is owed $75.25 million over the next five years and Justin just $38.5 million for three, it’s been exaggeratedly evident that the younger Upton is the better one, as expected. That 100/100 day was just roughly 75 games ago, and their starts to their first season as teammates couldn’t be much more different.
Justin Upton, who has to face the burden every day of having been traded for the best player in baseball, went 1-for-4 in the Wednesday matinee to level off at .333 with a .383 on-base percentage and a cartoonish .852 slugging percentage. He leads all of baseball with eight home runs, and even if there really was something about his personality that makes the Diamondbacks not regret trading him, they should certainly wish they got more for him.
Meanwhile B.J., who has split his time between the extremely counterproductive leadoff spot and a somewhat more reasonable no. 5 position in the order, has yielded very poor results, hitting .140/.232/.240 after his 0-for-4 day Wednesday. He and no. 2 hitter Jason Heyward, both of whom will surely improve, have actually helped minimize Justin’s potency with Heyward’s .128/.281/.298 mixed in. (Justin’s home runs in this admittedly tiny sample have averaged 0.375 runners on base—five solo, three two-run—while the average home run last year came with 0.576 runners on and the average home run from the no. 3 spot was with 0.603 runners on.)
PECOTA forecasted Justin to be a 3.8 win player, while B.J. was forecasted as a 3.2-win player. No biggie.
Yet as we’ve watched the two brothers seem to diverge after Justin’s lapping of B.J. was symbolically completed, it’s worth wondering at this early juncture just how much of these performances has been real. How much is just small-sample-size happening that is bound to approach some career numbers at some point?
Look at Justin’s peripherals, and you actually won’t see that much outside of the home run rate.
This is not to say that home runs per fly ball always regresses to some big population number, especially not for hitters—if Upton is fully healthy now, we'd expect that number to rise—but let’s slow down a minute.
The younger Upton is crushing the ball, but home runs are the only positive difference in his game. His plate discipline stats don’t show much of a difference, either—Justin has actually chased more pitches outside of the strike zone, though he’s also (perhaps unsustainably) made contact with them more often. The Diamondbacks perhaps foolishly sold low on his 2012 season, and now he’s striking out more and walking a negligible amount less.
As for Big Brother, he’s also right where he’s always been in the peripherals. B.J.’s is a BABIP issue.
B.J.’s plate discipline stats reveal that he’s chased fewer pitches outside the zone, and made contact with those he has chased more often. Except for the BABIP and the fact that to keep pace, he should really have two home runs instead of one, B.J.’s 2013 is pretty much exactly what the Braves figured they’d be getting as a replica of his 2011 and 2012 seasons.
Whether they overpaid for that is another question, but right now, the two aren’t nearly as far from what we expected—or from each other—as what their production is saying.
Or maybe that’s just big brother bias talking.