It’s Still Early

It’s way too early in the season to make sensible, balanced comment on the potential of a player or team for the rest of the season. However, it is the perfect time to be making presumptuous, stab-in-the-dark, over-reaching comments about players and teams, so here goes with a small sample of four players whose performances so far may…or may not…have any bearing whatsoever on the rest of the season. 

Justin Upton (Atlanta Braves) – 8HR, 12RBI, .340/.404 AVE/OBP*

Upton was a major frustration for the Arizona Diamondbacks, from whom the Braves acquired the alleged 5-tooler in a trade over the winter. The Braves gave up top pitching prospect Randall Delgado and All-Star outfielder Martin Prado. Upton had shown flashes of brilliance, and bucketloads of promise, but in 5 seasons in the majors had proven to that point only to be above-average. However, he’s only 25 years old and barely into the usual prime age for a hitter.

He’s currently on pace for 150+ RBI’s and over 100 HR’s, the second of which stat would be 30 more than the record…which isn’t going to happen. However, Upton’s a legit talent, and the D-Backs always thought he’d turn into this kind of hitter – they just hoped it would be for them.

BJ Upton (Atlanta Braves) – 1HR, 2RBI, .152/.250 AVE/OBP

Justin’s older brother BJ arrived as a free agent – a prized pickup from the Tampa Bay Rays who made no real effort to bring him back. There was a reason for that.

ImageThey knew that BJ’s potential – writ large in the first few years of his career – would likely win him a deal way richer than they could afford…or thought he was worth. In his last 4 years in Tampa, his batting averages went .241, .237, .243 and .246, as he tried to turn his natural speed game into a power game that his body wasn’t designed for.

I thought at the time of his signing that it was a terrible move by the Braves, and I’m more convinced than ever right now. He’ll get back over .200 no doubt, and he may steal 30 bases, but this guy’s main claim to fame in future years will be that he was Justin’s brother… 

Ryan Howard (Philadelphia Phillies) – 1HR, 5RBI, .241/.276 AVE/OBP

7 years ago, Howard was probably the best hitter on the planet not named Albert Pujols. 58HR, 149RBI’s, .313 batting average – he was an absolute monster. In 2009 he was still very, very good. However, after the following season, when his performance was already on the wane, the Phillies signed him to one of the stupidest contracts ever: 5 years and $125m to a man two years away from free agency.

The early-going this season is merely the further unfolding of an established pattern: that Howard is being overpaid by at least $15m/year. I can hardly bear to watch his at-bats against lefties any more (he’s 1 for 15 so far this year), and after his achilles tendon injury Imagenearly 1.5 years ago, even now he runs like he’s just blown out a knee.

 Three years ago he was a cornerstone of the franchise – now he’s more like a millstone…and he has nearly four years left on his deal.

 

Josh Hamilton (Los Angeles Angels) 2HR, 8RBI, .200/.258 (AVE/OBP)

Hamilton’s performance dropped off the map in the second half of last season, he’s been known to take at-bats “off”, he swings at a ton of bad pitches, he’s injury prone and he’s fighting an ongoing battle with alcohol abuse…but he’s a prodigiously gifted power hitter. That last fact explains the Angels’ decision to give him a free agent contract worth $25million a year for five years, but it sure doesn’t mean it was a good idea. The Rangers’ apparent unwillingness to go north of $15m/year should have been a warning sign – after all, as his former team they know him best.

 Hamilton won’t stay in the performance basement for very long, and he may even end up better value for his contract than Ryan Howard. And even if he plays well this year, being as he’s the wrong side of 30 you’ve got to think the Angels are only a couple of years away from a severe bout of buyer’s remorse.

So really, I’m not over-reaching at all – the early-season form of each of these guys is utterly predictable, and sadly for the Phillies, Angels and Braves (as well as happily for the Braves), whatever improvement they see for the rest of the season is unlikely to balance the books of satisfaction.

*AVE/OBP = batting average/on-base percentage

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