Will Justin Upton Return to 2011 Form for the Atlanta Braves?
The Atlanta Braves have been rumored to be interested in acquiring Justin Upton for a couple years. Even before the Braves signed his older brother, B.J. Upton, they talked to the Arizona Diamondbacks in regards to Upton. Eventually as this offseason wore on, trade demands and rosters changed, and the teams agreed to a deal. The Braves were willing to part with super-utility player Martin Prado in hopes Upton will return to his MVP-caliber form over the next three seasons.
2012 Recap: Upton struggled with a nagging thumb injury and dealt with rumors regarding his future with the Diamondbacks. The more glaring issue appeared to be the thumb injury that he hurt in the first week of the season and caused him to wear a brace into August. Likely playing around 80% last season, he hit .280 with 17 home runs and 67 RBI in 150 games last season. That’s a credit to his toughness but a huge decline from his 2011 season (.289/31/88).
2013 Outlook: The Braves are betting on a healthy Upton in 2013 and a season that more resembles his 2011 year when he finished fourth in National League MVP voting. Taking a look at his advanced stats offers little to pinpoint a reason for his down season. His line drive percentage actually improved from 2011 (18.2) to 2012 (20.6). The number of pitches he swung at out of the strike zone (O-swing) dropped and made better contact. The only significant changes were his ground ball-to-fly ball ratio was up, and he saw more curveballs. The increase in curveballs and ground balls could indicate Upton getting on his front foot and rolling over rather than driving the pitch. It also could relate to that thumb injury.
Braves’ fans should feel comfortable in Upton’s advanced 2012 stats matching those of his career. That indicates his swing was consistent in year’s past, and the injury was more likely the factor in the decline in numbers. It’s easy to see how a brace would severely impact the amount of pop he could generate. The growth he had shown before last season was steady. This leads me to believe Upton will bounce back and have a 25-80-20 type season for the Braves. The wildcard will be how he adjusts to playing in a new city, with his brother and a new position. I believe Upton will handle that transition over the course of the season and show fans why the Braves pulled the trigger on the 25-year-old All-Star.