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This is the latest in a long-running series of articles debating the overall ranking of some of the most fantasy-relevant players of the 2018 baseball season.

RotoBaller's expert writers have come up with our consensus rankings for mixed leagues, but that doesn't mean we agreed on everything. In this space, we'll hear from rankers with the biggest differences of opinion on a well-known player and have them defend their position against each other.

In today's debate, Harris Yudin and Jeff Kahntroff argue over where Justin Upton should be drafted.  While Harris states he is worth the 31st overall pick, Jeff believes he should be selected a full two rounds later. Let's see which argument is most convincing.

Editor's Note: Stay on top of our MLB off-season news and fantasy analysis all year round. Read our daily fantasy columns about MLB prospects, dynasty outlooks, player outlooks and much more. It's always fantasy baseball season here. Let's Go!

 

2018 Draft Rankings Debate - Justin Upton

Rank Tier Player Position Kyle Nick Pierre Jeff Harris Bill
38 4 Justin Upton OF 32 38 31 51 31 44

 

Harris Yudin's Ranking: #31 overall

Justin Upton is about as consistent as they come in terms of fantasy production, having hit 25 home runs with at least 160 combined runs and RBI in five consecutive years.

Perhaps five years is going back too far, though. Over the last three seasons, he has totaled 92 HR, 266 R, 277 RBI, 42 SB and a .256/.336/.487 slash line. Only five other players -- Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Paul Goldschmidt, Anthony Rizzo, Brian Dozier -- have averaged 25 HR, 80 R, 80 RBI and 10 SB across that span.

Jeff ranks Upton behind Domingo Santana. The two corner outfielders had very similar 2017 campaigns, so Santana is essentially Upton minus the track record and guaranteed playing time, plus some questionable batted ball luck (30.9 HR/FB).

Give Me the Sure Thing Every Time

Upside is always exciting, but sometimes it’s better to go with the proven commodity. After all, aren’t you hoping the guy with upside will soon turn into the proven commodity? Outside of Rhys Hoskins -- and sure, throw Ronald Acuna in here -- there is no player who will be available beyond the top 30 whose upside is likely to surpass Upton’s yearly production.

The prospect of hitting in the middle of the Angels’ loaded lineup should entice fantasy owners to pull the trigger on the four-time all-star. Albert Pujols spent much of last season batting behind Trout, and managed to knock in 101 runs despite posting just a .286 OBP. Upton is projected to assume the No. 3 spot in the lineup, which will lead to a ton of run-producing opportunities.

There are no major red flags in Upton’s batted ball profile. The .341 BABIP, while significantly higher than it was in the previous two years, isn’t far off his career average. Sure, Angel Stadium is less hitter-friendly than Comerica Park, but Upton showed in a small sample size that he can produce there-- seven homers, .887 OPS in 115 plate appearances, despite his BABIP reading just .293 over that span.

Upton isn’t the sexiest pick simply because we know his ceiling, but count me in for a consistent, five-category contributor who should step into the box with Mike Trout on base more than 250 times.

 

Jeff Kahntroff's Ranking: #51 overall

Harris paints a picture of Justin Upton as Mr. Consistency over the past five years. Even though Upton has met some arbitrary measures of consistency, Harris is asking the wrong question. The proper questions are (1) what draft position does Upton's performance in years prior suggest is appropriate, and (2) is there any reason 2018 should be different?

What Draft Position Does Upton's Performance In Years Prior Suggest is Appropriate? 

Upton's 5x5 rankings over the past five years are 17th, 101st, 54th, 30th, and 56th. Upton's average rank over that span is 51.6. That is exactly where I ranked Upton. Harris ranked him two rounds higher.

Harris also suggests looking at a three-year span. Over that period, Upton's average rank is 57.3. Over the past two years, it is 64th. Unless you solely focus on last year, any average of Upton's prior rankings actually supports my ranking of 51st, not Harris's ranking of 31st. In fact, if you drafted Upton 31st each of the past five years, you would have received a one round surplus last year and been right on target in 2014. However, in 2016 you would have drafted him seven rounds too high, and in the other two years you would have drafted him more than two rounds too high.

Harris states that there are no players outside the top 30 whose upside could match Upton's yearly production, but that is clearly false. Because Justin Upton's average ranking over that span is 51.6, there have to be over 20 players outside the top 30 who can outperform his yearly production. Last year, there were nine players ranked outside the top 30 who outperformed even Harris's lofty ranking of Upton. While Harris disagrees with my ranking of Domingo Santana relative to Upton, I defended that position here, and thus will not repeat it.

Harris also portrays Upton as more valuable than he is by finding an arbitrary consistency categorization. In that grouping, Upton joins five far superior fantasy options: Mike Trout, Paul Goldschmidt, Bryce Harper, Anthony Rizzo, and Brian Dozier. While Harris's grouping is factually accurate, it is misleading. These are 5x5 rankings, and his categorization leaves out a batting average requirement. Batting average is Upton's weakest category. During that span, Upton batted .256.  Most of the others excel in that category. Over the prior three years, the average 5x5 rankings of these players are (Goldschmidt 7.0, Trout 13.3, Rizzo 27.0, Dozier 34.0, and Harper 44.0, Upton 57.3). During that span, their worst single season ranks are (Goldschmidt 9, Trout 29, Rizzo 36, Dozier 65, Harper 84, and Upton 101). Thus, let's not believe that Upton being in a group with these five players at all suggests that his value is near theirs.

Overall, Upton is a player who has stayed relatively healthy and thus put up somewhat consistent production. But, he has failed to record double-digit stolen bases in three of the prior five seasons. He also has struck out in over 30% of his at-bats during that span. He has never hit over .273 in that stretch. That is why his average ranking over that span is not as high as some may initially perceive it to be. Thus, my ranking is appropriate unless there is a reason to think that he should be better in 2018.

Is There Any Reason to Think that 2018 Should Be Better For Upton than His Prior Years' Averages

Harris did not explain why Upton's 2017 is more indicative of his true performance than his years prior. In fact, Harris even pointed out that Upton had an abnormally high BABIP last year. Upton also is coming off a career-high HR/FB ratio. Yes, his hard hit percentage climbed last year, but that has happened in the past with Upton and it dropped back down the following year.  Without a clear reason why Upton is a different hitter, I chose to keep him at his recent averages.

Moreover, Upton is moving to a worse park for righty power and average. He is not at an age where players typically improve. While he possibly moves to a spot behind Trout in the lineup (as we know lineups are susceptible to change), he also leaves a Tigers' offense that has been significantly better than the Angels' offense over the prior two years. Even though the Angels' lineup should improve this year, there is no guarantee it will be better than the Tigers' lineups in which he played the past two seasons.  In Upton's admittedly small sample with the Angels, he was on pace for fewer runs produced (runs + RBIs) than his 2017 numbers with the Tigers.

Conclusion

Harris's argument suggests that I am predicting Upton to be worse than he has been. But, I am not. Rather, my ranking for Upton is slightly better than Upton's average finish over the past two, three, four, and five years. I saw no reason to expect a significantly better performance from Upton in 2018, and Harris has failed to provide one. Thus, there is no reason that Upton's five-year average finish (51.6) is not an appropriate ranking for him in 2018.





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