Detroit Tigers outfielder Justin Upton was seen as one of the jewels of free agency this offseason. It wasn't just his incredibly consistent track record, it was also the fact that Upton would be reaching free agency at a young age compared to most players.
As a 28-year-old Upton was entering, or had just started, what many consider to be the prime of his baseball career. Hitters peak around 27 or 28, and typically produce their best seasons in the majors around that period. The Tigers signed Upton based on his strong track record, but also knew there was a good chance some of his best seasons were still to come.
At an age where everything most hitters are at their most dominant, Upton has completely cratered. Through 82 plate appearances, he's hitting just .205/.232/.295 with one home run. Upton, who has typically been a patient hitter over his career, is walking in a career-low 3.7 percent of his plate appearances. On top of that, he's currently leading the majors with 32 strikeouts.
Upton's struggles are one of the main factors responsible for Detroit's 9-10 start. Whether he, and the club, can get back on track will be one of the big story lines as the Tigers take on the Oakland Athletics in Yahoo Sports' Free MLB Game of the Day. The game, which begins at 1:10 ET, can be streamed at Yahoo's Sports Home, MLB index and video home.
While pretty much every single one of Upton's stats look awful, there's no reason to believe he's suddenly forgotten how to hit. Upton is an incredibly streaky player. When he's slightly off, the results can be disastrous. He's capable of leading the majors in strikeouts and making contact at career-low rates. It's not pretty, but that's what happens when a player like Upton goes into a slump.
It's also worth noting that he did change teams in the offseason. His current coaching staff may not be as familiar with his hitting mechanics at the moment, and working together to fix the issue may take more time than usual.
That said, his age and track record have bought him enough of a reputation that one month of terrible production should not erase what he's done over his entire career. Players don't suddenly turn into mush at his age, and it's entirely possible one at-bat is all it takes to get him back on track.
The Tigers are hoping that happens sooner rather than later. After spending $132 million on Upton in the offseason, big things were projected for both him and the club. While neither has lived up to that just yet, there's still hope for both to turn things around.
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