When the Toronto Blue Jays went out and acquired Melvin Upton Jr. in late July, no one really thought that they were going to get offensive production out of him. Upton is well known for his speed and his defensive abilities in the outfield, aspects of his game that have already helped Toronto on the defensive side of things. However, defensive-oriented players still need to bring at least mild offensive abilities to the plate in order to be valuable. So far as a Jay, Upton has failed to meet minimum expectations as a batter.
Upton has appeared in eleven games since joining the Blue Jays a couple of weeks ago. During those games, he has had 32 plate appearances. His numbers, including Sunday’s game, for those 32 appearances are as follows:
0 Extra-base hits
4 TB on 4 singles
There are plenty of players that get regular at-bats in the Major Leagues that are big leaguers primarily for their defensive abilities. Take Jose Iglesias, for example, the everyday shortstop for the Detroit Tigers.
Iglesias leads shortstops in fielding percentage, and that has got him into 103 games this season despite the fact that he has limited offensive punch. However, his batting average/on-base/slugging is still .251/.300/.332 on the year for an OPS of .633, meaning that he’s not a pushover at the plate.
Looking at Upton, .285 for an OPS as a Jay is crippling. In fact, I don’t think the Jays can play him much longer if he keeps it up. That is the case even if a few would-be doubles have died in his glove in the outfield over his short tenure.
When Upton headed over to Toronto from San Diego, he didn’t actually bring bad offensive numbers with him. His OPS on the whole season remains over .700; he has a solid 16 home runs, he has 20 stolen bases, and he has scored 47 runs this season. I actually thought that his at-the-plate production might improve due to the change from playing primarily in San Diego to playing in Toronto. After all, the Rogers Centre is a much more friendly ballpark for hitters than Petco. From that point of view Upton’s poor production is hard to understand.
And I think the media have been easy on him so far. He did receive some criticism from Sportsnet in a Sunday article, but the criticism was spread around:
“Practically every player…struggled to produce over (a recent Jays’ road trip). Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion each went 5-for-27; Michael Saunders and Melvin Upton Jr. both went 3-for-22. Russell Martin was 4-for-21; Kevin Pillar was 3-for-20; Darwin Barney was 1-for-18.”
Call it Canadian manners, but maybe since Upton is still new to town few are going to single him out too quickly. Ten games counts for something, but it’s still not a large sample space.
However, I think the probationary period is almost over for the outfielder. Analysts can talk about his defensive contribution all they want, and that’s fine. But unless he gets that .285 OPS up to something like at least .650, the acquisition of Upton might end up being a bust.
What exactly has negatively affected Upton’s play since joining Toronto isn’t clear. Perhaps he is unhappy after being moved from Southern California to Toronto, a move that most life-style oriented athletes wouldn’t like. If that’s the case, then it’s not something that is going to change as the trade deadline came and went last week.
The Jays certainly aren’t a lock for the post-season at this point. In order for them to be firing on all cylinders, they need Upton’s offensive production to improve. That’s especially the case given that Jose Bautista isn’t back to his old self yet following his missed time from injury.
This week the Jays are back home with a set against Tampa Bay and then a weekend series against Houston. After back-to-back losses to Kansas City and quiet bats, going 4-2 seems like a tall order. However, that’s probably what it will take just to keep pace in highly-competitive American League. In many ways, things aren’t looking good for Toronto.