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A look at four players who had Septembers to remember and what that means for their future
On Tuesday I discussed four players who set career highs in home runs in 2012, and use a quick and dirty method (month by month power output) to look at their consistency and their likelihood of repeating their 2012 power spikes. I also referenced Bret Sayre's article on What It Means To Be A September Surger, and this column will be a bit of a cross between the two. I apologize in advance if any information is duplicative, but I present to you four players who had strong Septembers and what that portends for 2013.
B.J. Upton - OF - Rays - Upton so intrigued me that I had to discuss him despite Bret's coverage of him in the September Surger article. Hell, I almost bagged the Truth or Dare concept and went straight to 7 Minutes in Heaven with him. Upton cracked an astonishing 12 home runs in September, five more than in any other month. He's similar to Chase Headley in that his August/September home run production outproduced all his other months combined. Much of this increased homer production can be attributed to a fluky rise in home runs per fly ball (HR/FB), with his September HR/FB registering at an Adam Dunn-like 27.3%. Upton's one-month wonder status was limited solely to home runs though. He also recorded 10 steals in May, accounting for 32% of his season total in just one month. The difference in the two categories? Upton swiped at least 5 bases in four separate months (including May) while accruing more than 4 home runs only twice this season (including September). So what am I trying to say with all of this? Draft Bossman, Jr for his stolen base security and 20+ homer upside, as he's no lock to crack the 20 home run mark, much less the 30 homers he approached this season. For those who like to gamble, keep in mind that Upton only logged 9 games in March/April due to injury, and you could therefore view his August/September as him rounding into form. I still consider him a risky pick for anything but stolen bases.
Adam LaRoche - 1B - Nationals - LaRoche is another interesting guy. Often overlooked come draft day because it seems everyone knows his limitations. He's not going to be a monster. He doesn't have the upside of Eric Hosmer or players of that ilk. He is what he is. While that's not sexy, he does get the job done. Excepting 2011, in which he was limited to 43 games due to injury, LaRoche has hit 25+ home runs in every season since 2008. He's hit at least 20 home runs in every season (but 2011) since 2006. Not only has LaRoche proved that he's a capable power hitter, but with at least 4 round-trippers in every month this season, he's shown that his consistency isn't limited to a yearly basis, but goes month to month as well - a valuable trait for head-to-head leagues. 2012 would have to be considered LaRoche's best season since his only other 30 homer campaign back in '06. What I'm arguing, is that despite a worse product than in '06 (lower OBP and SLG), LaRoche's process was better, as he enjoyed a higher BB% and a lower K% in 2012. The difference in overall results probably stems from 21 point difference in his BABIP, and a 4% difference in his HR/FB between the two seasons. All this is to say, LaRoche will likely be undervalued next year, despite a 30 home run season that wasn't really out of character for him. If people continue to sleep on him, don't be afraid to snag him in the middle rounds, as the low end of his production still more than justifies the value.
Chris Davis - OF/1B/DH - Orioles - Chris Davis has me questioning everything I thought I knew. I thought I knew that he was somewhere between a bench bat and a 4A player. I thought I knew he struggled against lefties. I thought I knew he wasn't consistent enough to get 500 at-bats. I thought I knew his swing was too long to thrive at the major league level. Well...turns out I thought I knew a lot of things, and I was just plain wrong. Davis enjoyed a re-breakout year in Baltimore (and really, who didn't?), bashing 33 home runs while batting a solid .270. Davis exploded in September, with 10 home runs, but also displayed consistency in his production, hitting 4 or 5 home runs in every other month. What also struck me, was Davis' lack of a platoon split versus left handed pitchers' this year. Granted 118 plate appearances is not a large sample, but even his HR/PA was higher against lefties than it was against righties. The major difference in 2012, as one might expect at this point was his HR/FB percentage, which registered at a cool 25.2%, 5% higher than any other season in his career. While regression is still likely in this category, Davis has the kind of raw power to sustain a HR/FB above 20%, unlike many of the other players we've looked at so far. Another thing to note on Davis would be that his general approach at the plate hasn't changed from recent years, despite better results. He continues to strike out in about 30% of his at-bats, though his BB% mirrors his career average of 6.5%. So what does all of this boil down to? Is Davis trustworthy or are you going to get burned taking him in drafts next year. My gut feeling is that it's somewhere in between. If you're expectations are a small regression from 2012, you have a good chance of being rewarded. If you think he takes a step forward or repeats his performance, you will likely be disappointed. I don't think a 25% HR/FB is repeatable for Davis, especially as pitchers begin to adjust to him. That said, Davis hits fly balls at a clip of almost 40% over his career, so even a drop in his HR/FB rate means plenty of home runs. Davis is going to be one of those guys that I like, but I probably won't end up with, as there will always be people who like him more than me. That might be for the best as I am probably better off letting him be someone else's problem.
Justin Upton - OF - Diamondbacks - Upton the Younger might not quite fit the criteria for this column as well as the other players on this list, being that his offensive "explosion" in September was limited to a .304 average and 6 home runs, though the latter proved to be 35% of his season total. Upton continues to tantalize with his tools and disappoint with his production, despite owning two seasons with an OPS+ of 129 or higher ('09 and '11). What's interesting is that relative to his impressive '11 campaign, Upton's BB% increased by more than one percent while his K% rose only .6%. The big difference between his two seasons lies in his power production, as his slugging dropped precipitously from .529 to .430 and his ISO fell correspondingly (.240 to .150). Once again, we look to the HR/FB rate to see if he was just getting unlucky and while there was a dropoff, it's not as high as you'd expect given the difference in his overall power numbers. His HR/FB declined 3.8% from 2011 to 2012, but the real culprit is that decline coupled with a steep decrease in his overall FB% from 44.8% to 35.6%. When you were hitting fly balls 44% of the time and 15% of them go for home runs and all of sudden those rates switch to 35.5% fly balls and 11% of those go for home runs...well...you're looking at a steep decline in overall power, which is exactly what Upton got. To Upton's credit, he's bounced back from relatively poor seasons twice, posting his quality '09/'11 years after questionable '08/'10 years, so we may well see the "good" Justin Upton come 2013. He'll only be 25 years old entering the 2013 season, so we have to allow some room for growth and adjustment while fearing that what we saw from Upton this past season is what we'll see from him from hereon out. I'd expect him to go in the 4th/5th round based on his ADP from 2011 (after a statistically similar 2010) and given my strong belief in his tools, he's a great grab there. If 2012 is his floor, the 4th/5th round is a great area to take a risk on a player who has 1st round talent and has produced at that level before. Upton may never against see a 45% FB or a 15% HR/FB rate but his career averages are just under 40% and 14% respectively, and as he nears his prime, I would take a chance on a rebound in those categories.
All in all, a mixed bag. I never expected to be a LaRoche apologist and have been vocal in my distaste for him in the past. That all changes come 2013 where I plan on watching others reach for Davis and struggle through BJ's slumps while I bask in the glory that is the late-round productive first baseman and the potential MVP level season Justin puts together. Am I buying high on LaRoche and missing something on Davis? Do I have the Upton brothers backwards? Let me know in the comments!
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