Padres News: The Value of Melvin Upton Jr

Credit: UT San Diego
Credit: UT San Diego

To say San Diego Padres fans had high expectations for Melvin Upton Jr.when Atlanta traded him as a salary dump included in the Craig Kimbrel deal would be an overstatement. After setting the bar so low for himself in Atlanta, when Melvin came to San Diego and hit .259 and stole nine bases in 87 games in 2015 it was actually a pleasant surprise.

Is that production worth the money he’s paid? No, but at least he did something. He’s done enough so far in 2016 to hit in the middle of an admittedly weak Padres lineup. Is he on the verge of something better, or is this just a temporary improvement? To answer that let’s look at what he did during his best and worst seasons, and compare that to what he’s done since coming to San Diego.

One thing I’ve noticed when researching Upton Jr’s career statistics is that they’re all over the place from year to year. He’s hit .300 in a season, but usually hits under .250. He’s hit 28 home runs in a season, but usually hits fewer than 15. He stole 40 bases in three consecutive seasons, but hasn’t stolen more than 20 since 2012.

From 2008 to 2012 his home run output increased from year to year while his stolen base total decreased from year to year. He typically hits more fly balls than ground balls, but occasionally he has close to an even split, and so far this year he’s turned into a ground ball hitter.

When Atlanta signed Upton Jr in 2013, they probably thought they were getting a guy that could be relied upon to produce annual 20/20 seasons. Especially since his power had increased steadily for four consecutive seasons and he was entering his prime. However, his increase in home run totals from year to year coincided exactly with an increase in home run to fly ball ratio, which indicates he was getting luckier and luckier each year. And his luckiest year was his last year in Tampa. The fact that he was a fly ball oriented hitter at the time served him well in the short-term, but created a long-term bubble that was bound to burst when his HR/FB rate regressed to the mean. And burst it did, all over Altantas’ plans of creating a power hitting team with the Upton brothers at the center of those plans.

That explains Upton Jr’s power fluctuations, but why was he so bad at everything else in Atlanta? It seems logical to me that when he went to Atlanta and was fresh off of a 28 home run year. He was also on the same team as his power hitting younger brother (a team that planned on having a power approach) and tried to do something he shouldn’t have. He tried to keep up his unsustainable home run pace to compete with his younger brother on that front (who wouldn’t?), and fit in with the team philosophy. When it didn’t work, it got ugly for him.

Now in San Diego, and not on the same team as his younger brother, he’s showing a different approach. His GB/FB ratio is 1.14, which is the highest of his career, and his walk rate of 12.2% is his highest in eight years. While the ground ball approach will lower the chances of power resurgence, that approach along with his increased walk rate will help him get on base more often and play to his most stable skill set; speed. His six stolen bases in nine attempts suggests his speed is still there. He probably won’t steal 40 in a season again, but 25-30 isn’t out of the question.

After coming to San Diego as a salary dump, Melvin Upton Jr. has revived his career as a Padre. He might never hit 20 home runs in a season again, but that’s not the player the Padres should want him to try to be anyway. He’s better off focusing on getting on top of the ball, drawing walks, and stealing his way into scoring position. And there’s value there.

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Sean Stone
Sean grew up watching and playing sports in Louisiana, but is now living in San Diego pursuing a MBA at University of Phoenix. Always had a soft spot for San Diego teams and is excited about the new buzz surrounding the Padres.

2 thoughts on “Padres News: The Value of Melvin Upton Jr

  1. I guess what Im tryin to figure out, why he has to be traded. New guys coming, right?..blah, blah, blah…well, you’re going to need some veterans to lead the team if/when they sniff the post season.

    And contrary to popular belief, I dont think Kemp is as un-movable as many think he is. Lets say he’s traded, and they get his money off the books. Then MUp’s money isnt looking so bad. He can stay in LF…Margot in CF…Renfroe in RF. If, after sometime, their hopes of playoff contention in the near future turns out to be yet another ‘bullshit show’ (which is typical of the Padres FO) then move him, and let Jankowski or whoever earns LF, flat out, play there.

    But I dont get this silly urge to get the guy outta here ASAP…that is soooo right outta this FO’s playbook. As soon as a guy’s value goes up a tic’..”uh-oh!!”…HE GON’!!. And the crazy thing is, they RARELY get a nickel and a quarter back on the dollar…Solarte was a good one..Amarista was a pretty good one….Pomeranz, etc. These are right off the top of my head. And I believe Preller is doing more good than harm

    But at some point, the rotating doors have got to stop, bcuz its gotten so now, whenever we hear outta local press/media that the runor mills are spinning with Padre players, we just roll our eyes.

    1. I think it’s safe to say Preller does not follow the typical Padres FO playbook. And I’m not saying Melvin should/shouldn’t be traded. The more interesting thing for me is that fans have (rightly) talked crap about him the last couple years, but he’s actually playing ok now. And could be settling into a groove as a different type of hitter than he was the last time he played not bad baseball.

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