Justin Upton is a streaky son-of-a-gun


Sooooo ... Justin Upton, amirite? Yeah? Alright, thank you, good night! Please tip your waitress. Oh, I need to explain further? Ok, let's look at the fact that in his last seven games, he's hitting .138 with a .194 on-base percentage, and an OPS of .332 (if you're not one for advanced stats, let me just simply state that every one of those numbers sucks out loud). In his last 32 plate appearances, he's struck out 35 percent of the time and only walked 6 percent of the time. Last year's league averages were 22 percent and 8 percent, respectively.

Justin Upton: a very below-average player in his last week's worth of games.

The thing about a guy like Justin Upton, though, is that he has a solid track record which says he will be quite valuable before the season is over. Belief in that track record is what has to sustain us through the periods of famine. Over his last three seasons combined, he's hit .262, posted a hefty .344 on-base percentage, an .814 OPS, and averaged 27 home runs and 84 RBI per year.

Those are nice numbers, eh? "But," you object, "when do we get to see some of that in a Tigers uniform? Wheeeeeen?"

As the headline above suggests, Upton is incredibly streaky, and the data supports that. Let's dig into that, but first, let's talk just a little bit about run expectancy. Check out this handy chart:


Neat, right? You can see, at a glance, how many runs (on average) will score in an inning depending on the baserunner situation and the number of outs. I told you that story to tell you this one: we can use those numbers to either credit or debit a batter based on how he performs in any of those situations, and that number is called RE24.

For instance, if Upton leads off the inning with a strikeout, the situation goes from 0.48 expected runs (nobody on, nobody out) to 0.26 expected runs (nobody on, one out), so Upton would be charged for the difference and earn -0.22 RE24.

Conversely, if Upton leads off the inning with a single, the situation goes from 0.48 expected runs (nobody on, nobody out) to 0.84 expected runs (runner on first, nobody out), so Upton would be credited for the difference and earn 0.36 RE24.

If Upton has a great game and goes 3-for-4 with a couple of RBI, his RE24 for that game will be quite high, and if he goes 0-for-4 with strikeouts, his RE24 will be in the negative for that game.

Using RE24, let's look at three 100-game samples from Upton's 2013-2014 seasons. Any RE24 score above zero is an above-average game, and any RE24 score below zero in a below-average game. Here's the first sample:


There's a span of about 30 games, highlighted in green, where Upton's RE24 was anywhere from +1 to +3, indicating a "hot streak." This is immediately followed by a roughly 30-game span of RE24 scores below zero, showing a nasty dry spell.

Here's the next 100-game sample:


This shows the same trend, but perhaps with more extreme spikes. There are about 40 games where his RE24 is spiking above +1.5 and +2, but there are also some ugly dips in that span. The next stretch of 30 games or so have a lot of RE24 scores below -1, but there are a handful of good games mixed in.

One more sample of 100 games, then, just to show how volatile Upton can be:


Hooray for the RE24 score that landed above +4 (he went 4-for-5 with a home run, a double, and 3 RBI), and OMGWTF?! for the very next game, where he went 1-for-5 with a double play and struck out with the bases loaded.

This is Justin Upton. He's a boom-or-bust player who will frustrate the hell out of you with his many, many strikeouts (26 percent, based on his previous three-year average), but who will also fill you with joy during those month-long hot streaks when he's belting mammoth home runs and raking like a madman.

Just be patient. He'll heat up soon.
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