2016 Blue Jays Season Review: Melvin Upton, Jr.

 Jul 26, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays left fielder Melvin Upton Jr. takes batting practice before a game against the San Diego Padres at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

By: Jay Blue and @JaysFromAway

Blue Jays From Away

Now that the season is over, the crew at Blue Jays from Away will take a look at the Blue Jays one by one and review how each player’s season went, whether he met expectations (or not) and look at how he fits into (what we think of) the Blue Jays’ plans going forward.

Blue Jays fans could have been forgiven for saying “Who?” when the club acquired outfielder Melvin Upton, Jr. from the San Diego Padres on July 26, just before the trade deadline. Upton changed his name from “B.J.” several years ago and is the same “B.J. Upton” who struck fear into Blue Jays’ catchers by stealing at least 30 bases a year for the Tampa Bay Rays between 2008 and 2012. Upton’s numbers went downhill, first with his OBP falling to sub-.300 in 2012 despite hitting 28 home runs for the Rays but he truly fell apart when playing for the Atlanta Braves in 2013 and 2014, accumulating a .198/.279/.314 slash line with 21 home runs and 32 stolen bases in two seasons.

Upton was traded to San Diego for 2015 and the first part of 2016 and then, in exchange for prospect Hansel Rodriguez, the Padres were happy to get rid of Upton and pay most of his salary for 2017. The Blue Jays figured that the right-handed hitting Upton would be a nice complementary piece to platoon with lefty Michael Saunders (who had been slumping in the second half).

Before the trade, Upton was actually hitting a respectable .256/.304/.439 with 16 home runs in 92 games for the Padres, adding 20 stolen bases. After the trade, however, Upton’s production flagged again, and he hit just .214/.252/.350 for the rest of July and August (in 32 games) while slumping to a .156/.278/.244 slash line in September/October, getting into just 13 games.

Upton was 0/1 in the Wild Card game against Baltimore and was 2-for-6 with a double and a home run in the Division Series against Texas. Upton only came to the plate four times, playing in five games in the ALCS against Cleveland and struck out all four times.

Upton figures to be a part of a left-field platoon for the Jays in 2017. Known to hit lefties well, Upton had an overall split of .275/.341/.533 with nine of his 20 home runs (in about one-third of his plate appearances) against lefties. In Toronto, he batted 43 times against lefties, hitting .257/.349/.429 with a pair of home runs. With the Jays on the hook for less than one-third of what Upton is making this year, it’s not a bad price for a part-time left fielder who provides good defense and can hit lefties well.

Contract Status

Upton has one year at $16.45 million left on his contract, but the Blue Jays are only paying $5 million of that.

Emily Says

Melvin Upton Jr. hit .256/.304/.439 with 16 home runs in 92 games for the Padres before being acquired by the Blue Jays on July 26, in the midst of a three-game series between the two teams. He made his Toronto debut that same day as a pinch-hitter.

He only started in two of his first five games, being used as a pinch-hitter twice and a defensive replacement once. He only had one hit over those five July games, but stole two bases in that span.

He started almost every game in August and hit .226 in 93 at-bats, with three home runs (all in a four game span), three doubles and one triple. However, he struck out 31 times – exactly one out of every three AB. Compared to that, he took just six walks. His best game was August 25th when he was 3-for-4 with two doubles, two runs scored and a stolen base.

Upton’s playing time was reduced somewhat in September, again being used as a pinch-hitter/runner or late-inning defensive replacement. In 41 AB he had just six hits, giving him a .146 monthly average, and 14 strikeouts.

With Toronto, his slash line was .196/.261/.318, with four home runs, four doubles and a triple. He also stole seven bases, which combined with his numbers from San Diego gave him 27 stolen bases for the season, including the 300th of his career. He struck out 29.7% of the time and walked 8.5%.

Upton spent 373 innings in the outfield, primarily in left. He made one error, had one assist and made 75 putouts for a fielding percentage of .987.

On August 19th, he made a memorable defensive blunder in Cleveland when he allowed a Tyler Naquin fly ball to drop, then failed to retrieve it quickly. Naquin rounded the bases and ended up walking off the game on an inside-the-park home run. It wasn’t ruled an error, but was still a sore spot for fans as far as Upton’s fielding was concerned.

Upton appeared in every postseason game, but only started one. In 11 at-bats, he had only two hits – but one of them, in ALDS Game 1, was a home run. The other was a pinch-hit double in ALDS Game 3. He also walked once and struck out five times, resulting in a .182 average, a .250 OBP, and a slugging percentage of .545. He did not attempt to steal any bases. Four of his five strikeouts occurred in pinch-hitting situations.

Regular Season Grades

Jay: D
Emily: D

Postseason Grades

Jay: C-
Emily: D+