Underrated Outfielders: Justin Upton and Khris Davis

Khris Davis and Justin Upton have plenty of things in common. Each player switched leagues to join an American League team, and each started their season slowly, only to go on a tear to end it. Most important for this article – both are being undervalued in 2017 drafts.

Justin Upton

Upton started his six-year 133-million-dollar contract with the Tigers in terrible fashion, as he had a .217 average with three home runs, 11 RBI and 22 runs scored through the first two months of the 2016 season. In contrast, Upton posted a .262 average and 27 home runs from June forward. However, the slow start tarnished his perception among fantasy owners, and his early 2017 ADP reflects that.

Looking at stat lines from previous seasons reveal similar slow stretches like the one Upton endured in 2016. In 2015, Upton hit just .181 in June and July with six home runs, 19 RBIs, and 18 runs scored. Similarly, in 2014, Upton had two months with respective batting averages of .226 and .169. Given that, it’s clear multi-month slumps are not rare for him. Yet, over those three seasons, cherry-picking his worst production in each 5X5 fantasy category would produce a line of 26 home runs, 81 RBIs, 77 runs, eight stolen bases, and a .246 average.

Despite that strong floor, Upton’s ADP is falling. In 2015 and 2016, Upton was the 36th overall and 49th overall pick off the board respectively. In early NFBC returns from this season, he is the 83rd overall pick and 21st outfielder selected. As illustrated, his production doesn’t merit this change. There are some troubling signs in his peripherals from 2016, including a career high strikeout rate and a career low walk rate. However, his strikeout rate was heavily influenced by a 38.7% strikeout rate in April and a 34.7% strikeout rate in May. In contrast, in the second half of the season, Upton’s strikeout rate was a high, but manageable, 24.8%.

What all this should tell fantasy owners is that Upton is sorely undervalued. George Springer is currently the sixth outfielder off the board, while J.D. Martinez is 10th. That makes little sense when comparing their production over the past two seasons.

George Springer 1032 45 175 123 .278 25
Justin Upton 1112 57 166 168 .266 28
J.D. Martinez 1056 60 162 170 .293 4

There are formats that are better suited for Upton’s streaky play. His value is at its peak in season long roto leagues, where the consequences of his cold streaks, because his season-long numbers, is meaningless. On the other hand, he would be more frustrating to own in head-to-head leagues because he has the potential to cost you multiple matchups during those prolonged cold streak.

Khris Davis

There was much consternation when Davis was traded from Milwaukee to Oakland prior to 2016, concerning how his power would translate to the poor hitters’ park of the O.co Coliseum. A 26.6 HR/FB% spoke for itself and indicated that his power could play anywhere. While that was his career best rate in a full season of action, it wasn’t a huge outlier from his career rate of 22.3%, indicating that a large amount of regression need not be the expectation.

Metrics also illustrate that his power production was earned. Though relatively new to the peripheral scene, Davis’ barrel rate is elite. (This is a statcast metric that measures how many times a batter hits the ball within a desirable range of both launch angle and exit velocity). He had the fourth best total number of barreled balls behind only elite power hitters Miguel Cabrera, Mark Trumbo, and Nelson Cruz, and had the highest barrel rate per plate appearance of all qualified major league batters. Given those numbers and his track record as a power hitter, expecting 30+ home runs from Davis this season is a safe assumption.

Elite power is enough to carry fantasy value alone, but Davis also has the potential to bring elite run and RBI production to fantasy owners. Given his thunderous bat, Davis is a good fit in the middle of the order. The A’s took advantage of that and batted him either fourth or fifth in their lineup for just under 86% of his at-bats last season. In the only other season he recorded full-time at-bats, 2014 with the Brewers, he batted sixth or lower in the order nearly 69% of the time. Batting in the fourth of the fifth place in the order will give him increased chances for RBI and runs, and given the A’s lineup, there is little risk that Davis bats any lower. This combination of home runs and place in the order should keep his RBI and run production safely around a combined total of 175.

The downside to Davis is his mediocre to poor batting average. He has little chance of improvement in this area is given his high strikeout rate and low BABIP. His career BABIP is .277, and that should be expected to continue due to his high flyball rate. Similarly, his strikeout rate is likely to remain high due to the massive swing and miss in his game, illustrated by his 16.6% swinging strike rate last year and 15.1% career rate.

We have seen other sluggers succeed in the fantasy context with the same skill set. The easiest comparison is Mark Trumbo, as they matchup in skill set, output, and peripheral stats. Despite this, Davis is going nearly 40 picks after him. That makes him a very underrated fantasy asset and is a place fantasy owners should look when seeking value in early drafts this season.


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Dan Marcus

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Dan recently moved to Columbus, Ohio but is a lifelong Pittsburgh sports fan. Fantasy baseball was and always will be his favorite fantasy sport, but he also enjoys football and basketball as well.