The Detroit Tigers made a $130 million investment in Justin Upton and he paid them back with his worst season at the plate since he was a rookie. Upton’s struggles were thanks to a miserable first half that saw him strike out 112 times before the All-Star break with an on-base percentage below .290.
Upton was worth only 1.4 WAR last year (according to FanGraphs), nowhere close to the All-Star caliber player they signed him to be.
The good news for Tigers fans is that Upton began his bounce back in the second half of the season. He hit for .916 OPS after the All-Star break with 22 home runs in 68 games. He has typically hit the ball hard in his career but really smashed the ball from the middle of Jun onward. He was ninth best in baseball in hard hit percentage in the second half (Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez were also in the top ten) in that time frame.
He probably won’t match his second half pace for a full season, but it gave us reason to hope that perhaps he can put together the type of season we were used to seeing out of him at his peak. An Upton uptick would be massive for the Tigers’ postseason prospects.
It’s not clear what, exactly, leads players to get into deep slumps like the one Upton found himself in during the first half of the season, but hopefully he now has the type of comfort level with the club and coaching staff to help prevent that type of rut from ever forming again.