2012 Fantasy Baseball Preview: Is B.J. Upton a Legit Sleeper Pick?

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B.J. Upton and Bilbo Baggins have a ton in common, seriously. Just go with this allegorical journey…it’ll be over quicker if you don’t complain.

The ring Bilbo finds in the goblin tunnels is really the one thing that helped him survive an incredibly dangerous journey.

The fantasy baseball season is incredibly treacherous, as difficult to overcome as Moria. There are pitfalls throughout. However, if you can get that one guy (i.e., the ring) who helps guide you through, you’re set. Last year, Jacoby Ellsbury as a sixth rounder seemed to fit this mold.

This season, the one player you have to have is B.J. Upton (feel free to call him your precious, that’s not weird at all).

Upton can fit any budget and anyone can draft him. Yet, just like Bilbo, people are selling B.J. short: he could easily be a top 10 performer at the position. In fact, the only OFs guaranteed to finish higher than Upton are his brother, Jose Bautista, Matt Kemp and Ellsbury.

Upton got jobbed by his BABIP last season. In 2008, Upton posted a .273 average, .344 BABIP and 18.9% line drive (LD) rate. Last season, Upton posted an 18.3% line drive rate, yet his BABIP was just .298 and he hit .243.

Over the last three seasons, of the 26 hitters with LD rates between 18.3-18.5%, 12 had averages below .270. However, they weren’t exactly accomplished hitters, as that group includes Chris Getz, Colby Rasmus, Alex Gonzalez, Fred Lewis, Juan Rivera, Casey Kotchman, Jose Lopez and other similarly bad batsmen. The majority of players with similar LD rates to Upton last season hit above .270.

While it is, by no means, a given that Upton continues to post an 18+% LD rate, it has been trending up. If you look at his 2008 and 2011, you can make the argument that a .270+ average is certainly possible – and, at the worst, you only have to pay for a .250 hitter. In essence, the upside is free.

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What makes Upton such an attractive specimen is his power speed combination. For the last two years, Upton has an ISO of .186, which is totally in line with his minor league numbers, but a great improvement on his 2008 and 2009 (during which he hit 20 HRs total). Of the 75 players with an isolated power above .185 over the last three seasons, only one (Rod Barajas at 9.9%) has a single-digit HR/FB rate. Prior to his 14.1% HR/FB rate last season it was 11%, 6.8% and 7.4%.

As Upton reaches his peak, it seems a given, based on his recent ISOs, that he can post a double digit HR/FB rate. When Upton posts low double digit HR/FB rates he hits 20 HRs. Consequently, 20 HRs seem like the floor for Upton. If he can muscle up a bit more, you’re looking at 27+ HRs from him. Again, though, you’re paying for a .250 hitter with 20 HRs.

Lastly, Upton provides solid speed, stealing 44, 42, 42 and 36 bases the last four seasons. While his success rate dipped a bit last season, it remains at 77% for his career, which should keep him running. He’s a lock for 35 steals, but probably doesn’t have a ton of upside to much more than 40.

Upton’s draft and auction cost is that of a .250 hitter with 20 HRs and 40 SBs – he’s priced just a little higher than Drew Stubbs. However, Upton carries with him significant upside that makes acquiring him a no-brainer. Upton can bat .270 with 28 HRs and 40 SBs. In reality, will that be far off from Matt Kemp? I think not.

While this is not an ironclad argument, if you reach just a little bit for B.J. Upton as he enters the prime of his career, you’ll be rewarded. He’ll totally save you from giant spiders and the dungeons of the Wood-elves.

Written by Albert Lang exclusively for TheFantasyFix.com

Follow Albert on Twitter @h2h_corner or  for Free Fantasy Sports Advice use our Quick Fix to get help with your team!

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