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Justin Upton hasn’t proven the naysayers wrong just yet

Apr 23, 2013, 6:30 PM EDT

Justin Upton AP

Justin Upton smashed his major league-high 10th homer Tuesday in the Braves’ 4-3 win over the Rockies. He’s hit three more homers than anyone else in the majors, and in just 19 games, he’s already more than halfway to surpassing his total of 17 from 150 games last year.

On the other hand, Justin Upton has driven in a total of 14 runs this year. That’s exactly as many as Daniel Nava has amassed. It’s the same total compiled by .191-hitting Anthony Rizzo. It’s also a match for Allen Craig, who is hitting .250 with no homers.

A lot of it is the Braves, no doubt. Andrelton Simmons, Jason Heyward and B.J. Upton have all struggled ahead of Justin in the third spot in the order. But a lot if it is Justin, too. He’s hitting .386 in 44 at-bats with the bases empty and .148 in 27 at-bats with runners on. Nine of his 10 homers have been solo shots.

Whether it totally fits into the “grit” narrative, Upton’s run production was part of the knock on him when the Diamondbacks decided to move him. Not only has he never topped 100 RBI, but he’s never even reached 90.

That’s not to say it’s ever been quite like this before. Last year, Upton’s average went down slightly with men on and RISP, but his slugging percentage went up. In 2010, he hit 50 points better with RISP than with the bases empty. Overall, though, his career line looks like this:

Bases empty: .286/.355/.509, 75 HR in 1,554 AB
Runners on: .267/.361/.449, 43 HR in 1,180 AB
RISP: .255/.363/.429, 23 HR in 645 AB

Upton averages a homer every 20.7 AB with the bases empty, every 27.4 AB with runners on and every 28.0 AB with RISP.

I don’t think any of that suggests Upton is poor in the clutch. Interestingly, he actually has better numbers in high leverage situations than medium or low leverage situations, as Baseball-Reference defines them. But up to this point in his career, there’s no denying that Upton hasn’t been all that productive in RBI situations. When he’s hitting solo homers every other game, that’s not a problem. Once he slows, the debate could rage again.

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