There is a lot to like about Justin Upton so far this season. For starters, he is number seven in WAR according to FanGraphs -- despite the qualms we have all seen with his defense. Using my eye test, I've seen him get to a lot of balls a lot of left fielders would not get to, but he also has an uneasiness about him on certain balls that seem not that difficult to catch. Regardless, he has a positive defensive rating so far and his offense has been a huge reason why the Braves have their current record.
What's interesting about Upton's offense this year is how he is doing it. His line as it stands is .303/.378/.597 with nine home runs and four stolen bases. That is a pretty great overall line. He is hitting for average, he is walking a good amount, he is hitting for power, and he is utilizing his speed on the bases. The worrisome part to us is not only the strikeouts, but the extraordinarily high BABIP.
As of now, he has the third highest BABIP in baseball behind Jason Kubel and Shin-Soo Choo. Additionally, he has the third lowest zone-contact rate in all of baseball behind only his brother and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Something has to give here. It is incredibly difficult to simultaneously miss the ball in the zone as often as almost anyone in the league and then also have such a large amount of the contact made land for hits.
In general, I do not mind strikeouts. The concept of striking out usually means you are working deeper into counts and often times when a player strikes out a lot, they are also walking a lot. This is especially true for guys like Upton who have such prestigious power. He has morphed himself into somewhat of a three true outcome guy despite having a high average so far this season.
My expectation is that his average is about to drop way down in the near future. We saw Chris Johnson put together a quality season entirely based off of a maintaining an abnormally high BABIP, but the key there is that "abnormally" word. Upton's previous career high in BABIP is .360 and he has often been a guy who can maintain a high BABIP. He swings so hard and violently that it makes sense that the contact he does make is harder than the average ranger's. I expect his BABIP will continue to be on the high side compared to league average, but what we should notice is that due to his high strikeout rate there is a rather large gap between his batting average and his BABIP, usually around 50 to 60 points.
Going forward, ZiPS and Steamer project Upton to hit in the .260's. While the .300 average has been a nice boost to an offense that has not done much of anything so far, it is important to understand that unless he drastically changes some things with his offense. I do not, however, hope that he changes anything offensively. I like the way Justin Upton hits and I think it's a big reason why the Braves won 96 games last year. The Braves had more of a three true outcome offense last year than they do this year. Hopefully the walks step up a bit, the strikeouts drop a bit, and the power stays absurd. Whether that happens or not is to be determined, but the one thing to be expected is a batting average dip in the near future. The hope is that while his average drops, we get improvements from the other guys around him.