Just when it looked like the Detroit Tigers were content with their offseason additions, they made one more huge splash by signing Justin Upton to a deal that spans six years and $132.75 million. We know that Upton will be spending his days out in left field, but manager Brad Ausmus has not announced a decision regarding his place in the batting order. A player with Upton's skill set could realistically hit at almost any spot in this loaded lineup, but the Tigers would be wise to make him their No. 2 hitter.
Since arriving in the majors, Justin Upton has been one of the best outfielders in baseball. He has hit .271/.352/.473 over the course of his career with 190 home runs and 115 steals. From 2009-2015, Upton ranks 45th with 125 wRC+ and 20th with 26.5 WAR among 436 qualified players, per FanGraphs.
In addition to his great overall numbers, Upton has a proven track record of consistency. Since 2009, Upton has appeared in at least 130 games. During this time span he has hit less than 20 homers only twice and he has stolen less than 15 bases only twice. Furthermore, he has reached 120 wRC+ during five of the past seven seasons and has accumulated 3.0 WAR five times, as well. Upton has set a solid baseline for his production, and the Tigers should not expect anything less from him in 2016.
Speed and OBP
Upton’s case for nabbing the No. 2 spot all starts with his speed and his ability to get on base. Even though he only stole single-digit bases in 2013 and 2014, his 35 steals over the last three seasons are still third most in the Detroit lineup. FanGraphs' baserunning statistic also grades him higher than any other Tiger during this span (9.7 BsR).
While his .271 batting average may not jump off the page, Upton does own a nice career .352 OBP due to a decent amount of walks. Over the past three seasons, Upton's .344 OBP and 10.7 percent walk rate rank fourth and second among current Tigers, respectively. However, just as important is his career .357 wOBA, showing that he not only gets on base at a high clip, but does so with quality hits.
These figures all point to the fact that Upton will get on base as much as anyone, while also demonstrating power. He has the ability to steal and he is a smart baserunner. In short, he sounds like the type of batter a team would want to hit right before Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, and J.D. Martinez.
If the Tigers decided to hit Upton somewhere else in the lineup, Ian Kinsler would be a logical choice for the No. 2 spot, with someone like Anthony Gose or Jose Iglesias leading off. However, while Iglesias does boast a higher OBP than Kinsler, neither player would represent much of an improvement. In fact, Kinsler grades out much higher than both Gose and Iglesias when it comes to baserunning. Additionally, it would be difficult to call Kinsler an upgrade over Upton in any area, meaning the production would fall at both the first and second spots in the order.
The other compelling option would be to hit Upton fifth or sixth and move up either J.D. or Nick Castellanos to bat second. However, even if Castellanos improves upon his low OBP and awful BsR, it is hard to see him reaching Upton’s numbers anytime soon. An argument could be made for batting J.D. second and Upton fifth, but there is little reason to think that J.D. is the better suited player for the No. 2 spot. While he would get on base at a high rate, J.D. lacks Upton’s speed and would be better off joining Cabrera and Victor in the middle of the order where he will consistently come up to the plate with runners aboard.
The Perfect Choice
In 2015, MLB teams averaged 19.7 home runs, 11.9 steals, a .267 batting average, a .332 on-base percentage, and 107 wRC+ from their No. 2 spot. There is great reason to believe that Justin Upton would surpass every one of these figures. Upton seems like the perfect fit to fill this role for the Tigers, and no other player on the team has his skill set. Because of his consistency, speed, and ability to get on base, Upton is exactly who the Tigers should want batting in front of their heavy hitters.