Assessing the Angels outfield situation with predictions (Part 1)
By Justin Gideon
In 2017, the Angels traded for All-Star rental left-fielder Justin Upton in a push for the playoffs. Unfortunately, they came up short, finishing five games behind the Twins for the final wild card spot. In his brief time, Upton impressed.
Even with an underwhelming .245 batting average, Upton hit seven home runs in 27 games. For context, that would be 42 home runs over a full 162-game season. That performance was good enough for the Angels to extend him a five-year/$108 million deal. He was the clear-cut choice to patrol left field.
That clarity is no longer the case. Since Upton signed his extension, he has been, for the most part, a disappointment. On the positive side, in 2018, Upton hit for a .257 batting average, with 30 home runs and 85 RBI. On the negative side, after missing the first two and a half months of the 2019 season, he has never returned to the level of play expected of him. Over the last two seasons, Upton has recorded a slash line of .210/.301/.418 with 21 home runs in 105 games played.
Justin Upton needs a bounce back season to remain an everyday outfielder for the Angels.
Is this the new normal for Upton? He has not been the elite performer that the Angels were relying on. Although he continues to hit the ball very hard (87th percentile in exit velocity and 75th percentile in hard-hit percentage), Upton’s other Statcast numbers are atrocious (25th percentile in xBA, 32nd percentile in K%, 23rd percentile in BB%, 29th percentile in whiff %, and 11th percentile in outs above average).
Not only has his offensive production been suspect, but his defense, also. This past season, he recorded a UZR/150 of -16.6. Part of that atrocious number can be explained by his outfielder jump that puts him in the league’s 11th percentile.
In 2020, despite Upton’s lucrative contract, he saw starts taken away from him from the likes of Taylor Ward and Brian Goodwin. While the Angels are set to pay him $23 million this season, he will likely see starts taken away if he continues his regression.
As it stands now, Upton will get every chance to remain as the everyday left fielder role. Ideally, he would spend most of his time as a designated hitter, but as we know, that spot will be clogged all season by Shohei Ohtani and Albert Pujols. The Halos are a bit tied up with Upton.