It’s no secret that something happened to Detroit Tigers Justin Upton in the August and September. The left-fielder, whose bat was quiet for most of the season, came to life after the Boston Red Sox came to town in the middle of August.
Rumor had it that the turnaround was based on Upton spending time with Boston Red Sox DH David Ortiz.
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And that rumor was confirmed in the October 3 issue of Sports Illustrated.
An Interesting Read
In the issue, Tom Verducci interviewed Big Papi in a piece titled “The Exit Interview.” In this piece, Ortiz shared his love of helping younger players improve their game. During a dinner with Justin’s older brother Melvin Upton, Melvin said, “Man, what you did for my brother in Detroit the other day, it was like he hasn’t stopped since.” Ortiz said, “I sit down to talk to my boy [Justin] for a minute about hitting.”
Sep 18, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Detroit Tigers left fielder Justin Upton (8) runs the bases after hitting a two run home run against the Cleveland Indians in the fifth inning at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Whatever Ortiz said to Justin changed the course of Upton’s season. Prior to that minute, Upton had 13 home runs and an average of .228 with 46 RBIs. Since that minute (on August 21), Upton has hit 17 home runs with an average of .315 and 40 RBIs. In September alone, Upton hit 12 home runs and scored 18 runs in 88 at-bats.
Important Stats for Upton
Along with the added home runs, Upton’s strikeouts dropped dramatically. Since August 21, he has had only 33 strikeouts in 124 at-bats. From the beginning of the season until August 20, Upton recorded 142 strikeouts in 438 at-bats. Since the intervention with David Ortiz, Upton’s strikeout rate lowered from 32% to 26%. It’s not a huge drop, but it has helped the Tigers score more runs.
The beauty of Upton’s home runs is that they have occurred in clutch moments in late innings. Since the chat with Ortiz, Upton has actually had two games with two home runs. One was against the Red Sox on August 21. The other was against the Cleveland Indians on September 16. During that game, the Tigers only scored four runs and Upton earned all four RBIs in the 4-11 loss to the Tribe.
With Upton’s late season improvement, he joined Miguel Cabrera as one of two Tigers with 30 home runs. Cabrera currently has 38 and Upton has 31. Ian Kinsler, J.D. Martinez, and Victor Martinez have also contributed more than 22 home runs each. Kinsler has 28, Victor has 27, and J.D. has 22. So far, the Tigers have 211 home runs as a team. The current team record of the most home runs in a season is 225, which was set in 1987.
The other amazing thing about Upton’s late season hotness is the speed that the ball leaves his bat. His home run in the 7th inning against the Atlanta Braves left his bat at 114 miles per hour. Ouch.