Justin Upton came with a warning from anyone who had watched him at his prior stops: He’s a terribly streaky batter.
For a few weeks, he can do no wrong. Then he can do no right.
He started off on the wrong foot with the Tigers, leaving a large swath of onlookers wondering just what it was Tigers GM Al Avila saw in him.
After an 0-for-5 performance Thursday against Oakland, Upton’s average fell to .195 with a .221 on-base percentage and paltry .280 slugging average. He managed to strike out an outstanding 35 out of 82 at-bats.
There were times he looked absolutely lost at the plate, all the while doing it from the No. 2 spot in the Tigers’ batting order.
Following a seven-hit weekend, including a home run Saturday and three hits Sunday, Upton’s got the appearance of going from cold to hot.
Only time will tell if he has, but in baseball, it’s better to trust the track record of a player rather than get too caught up on any single week or two of performances.
Upton’s track record is one of success. In each of the eight seasons he has played at least 100 games, he’s put up above-average numbers.
There’s no reason to believe a 28-year-old player in the prime of his career would suddenly become washed up after signing with Detroit.
Yes, his strikeout rate is high, his walk rate is low and he’s hitting with half the power typical of his career.
But when he runs into one, like he did against the Pirates when he delivered the ball to the camera well in center field at Comerica Park, you’re reminded the power is still there.
Upton’s average exit velocity, as listed on MLB.com’s Statcast leaderboard, is 91.85 mph this season. In fact, Upton’s actually hitting the ball harder than he did last year, too.
He just has to make contact more often.
There’s signs he’s starting to come around there, too. After having multi-strikeout games in nine of his first 16 games, he’s only struck out more than once in a game one time in the last eight games.
While he still makes contact on pitches inside the strike zone at the same rate as he always does, he’s chased a few too many outside the zone with nothing to show for it.
As Upton continues to lock in on the ball, he’s going to show why signing him was such a good decision. In fact, he might go on a prolonged streak and you’ll forget April happened at all.
Just don’t judge him to harshly when he goes cold again this year, because he will.
That’s just the kind of batter Upton is.
One to rise
Anthony Gose is off to a bad start to the year: barely hitting above the Mendoza line at .209, and striking out nearly a third of the time. While no one expects Gose to win a Silver Slugger award any time soon, even those numbers seem excessively low. It might just be a little bad luck. Gose’s line-drive rate is on par with last season (20.5 percent) and his hard-hit ball rate is at a career-high 35 percent. He just hasn’t had much to show for it. Don’t write him off quite yet. Like Upton, Gose seems primed to go on a little run.
One to fall
Jarrod Saltalamacchia has been phenomenal at the plate since joining the Tigers and leads the team in home runs with six. If he were to keep this up, he’d put together the best season of his career. He’s mostly done it by pulling the ball more, hitting the ball harder, and hitting fly balls every three out of four times he makes contact. More than a quarter of those fly balls have been home runs. He’s never hit with this much power in his life, with his isolated power stat twice as high as his career norm. While it’s a nice story, Saltalamacchia either found the fountain of youth or he’s set for a little regression. The smart bet is on the latter.
Kurt Mensching is the editor of Bless You Boys, a Tigers blog (www.blessyouboys.com). He can be reached at email@example.com.