After signing one of Major League Baseball‘s largest free agent contracts in the off-season, outfielder Justin Upton has been a major disappointment for the Detroit Tigers. After an extremely rough first two months of regular season play, however, the former number one overall pick appears to be slowly turning things around.
Justin Upton Heating Up For Detroit
Upton’s struggles at the plate were one of the few consistencies for a Tigers team that featured extreme highs and lows throughout April and May. At the end of May, Detroit was sitting in fourth place in the AL Central with a 24-27 record. Upton, who signed a six-year, $132.75 million deal in January, was hitting just .217 with eleven RBI at the time, striking out in thirty-seven percent of his at-bats.
Much has changed for Upton and, not coincidentally, the Tigers since then.
Since June 1, the 28-year-old Upton has doubled his RBI total (11 to 22), is hitting .277, and is getting on base at a .358 mark. He has also cut his strikeouts nearly in half; he’s getting punched out nineteen percent of the time in June. He is currently riding a four-game hitting streak. On Tuesady had one of his most productive games of the season, going 2-4 at the dish with four RBI in an 11-8 win over the Chicago White Sox.
And as Upton has been heating up, so have the Tigers, burst out of the gate in June to a 9-4 record. The Tigers are now two games above .500 (33-31) and sit only two games out of first place in the Central – behind the Cleveland Indians and the Kansas City Royals, respectively.
Upton still has work to do
Upton still has a long way to go to live up to the lofty expectations Tigers fans have placed on him. His power numbers are significantly down – he only has four home runs after hitting twenty-six for San Diego last year – and he still looks lost in left field at times. He also touts a .351 slugging percentage, by far the lowest of his career, other than a forty-three game rookie season. But like all of his other statistics, that’s also rising (.447 in June).
He’s still getting into a lot of 0-2 and 1-2 counts, but his confidence seems to be building by the game. It’s apparent he’s seeing the ball much better lately. According to FanGraphs, his line drive percent has increased from sixteen to nineteen percent, and his hard hit percentage has risen from thirty-two to thirty-five percent from May to June.
With a very tight and competitive Central Division – four teams within 3.5 games of each other – and a rotation that features only three reliable starters, Detroit needs all the offense it can get. When he’s performing up to his ability, Upton can make a potent lineup great or carry a struggling offense. If he continues to heat up, Detroit’s lineup could make a case to be talked about among the league’s best.