Ask Rotoman: Down on Upton? Raising the Aybar?

Dear Rotoman:

Should I drop BJ Upton and take Erick Aybar? Upton has not hit anything.


Dear Greg:

The last three years BJ Upton has earned $20, $24 and $24. Erick Aybar has earned $13, $13 and $18.

Going into this season I expected Upton would be worth paying $27 for, while I priced Aybar at $18.

Upton is a little younger than Aybar, but both are in their late 20s, pretty much prime time for established players, which both of them are.

So far Upton has earned -$1, while Aybar has earned $1 after missing 15 days on the DL with a sore heel.

Since we’re just a month into the season, recent performance is really not a trusted indicator of performance the rest of the season, unless we can find a reason for Upton’s problems that suggest something new. So, what has changed since last year?

Well, he’s playing on a new team in a different league, so maybe there are some familiarity issues, with ballparks and pitchers, but one of the reasons for bumping his price was that he was moving from a pitcher’s park to a neutral run environment for his home games. That should offset, at least partly.

He’s been seeing the usual mix of pitches but hasn’t been getting ahead in the count quite as much as he did last year, but the difference isn’t great and he hasn’t hit when he’s been ahead. When he does hit the ball he’s hitting more ground balls and fewer flies and line drives, but these differences aren’t huge.

Upton has always been a hitter who works the count, walks a fair amount but strikes out a lot, leading to a low batting average. If that doesn’t bother you, however, he has good speed and home run power (which is no doubt why you rostered him). The alarming thing is that he’s striking out more this year than he ever has before (31 percent versus 25 percent of plate appearances).

The bottom line here, however, is that despite his struggles Upton is on pace to hit 18 homers and steal 18 bases, and he’s not going to hit .143 the rest of the way. If he’s struggling because he’s facing a fresh set of pitchers and/or because he’s carrying the burden of a big new contract, as the season goes along he’s going to get more familiar with the league and the parks and the hurlers, and the contract will become a lot less new. So figure he’ll bounce back, at least partly, and hit about .220 with 15-20 homers and 15-20 steals, and hope for more and better (which is what he’s done historically).

Erick Aybar will hit for a better average, figure about .290 or so, and steal a comparable number of bases, but he’s likely to hit fewer homers. Figure him for 5-10, more are unlikely.

At this point, who do you like? If batting average matters you probably should have bought Aybar on draft day, but obviously context changes as the season goes on (especially when you’re carrying someone who is hitting .140). Aybar will deliver a decent to good batting average, but not the counting numbers overall that Upton is likely to. But Upton does carry the threat of total failure this year. It does happen, especially with low contact-type hitters (see Adam Dunn’s 2011), so if you want to play it safe Aybar might be the better choice for you.

I would stick with Upton because of the potential upside, the one that I saw on draft day. But if BA matters to you Aybar could prove more valuable even if Upton bounces back. That’s the decision you’ll have to make based on your lineup.

Unevenly floppy,

Ps. I found this preseason poll at
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