If 2012 was a year of small disappointments, then none was more illustrative than Justin Upton. His play in right field was good, very good, but in the end it wasn't enough.
Excuse me if I indulge in a bit of laughable recollection of the 'hard times' of 2004-2006. It wasn't really that bad, not when compared to other franchises like the Pirates and their 20 year losing binge. These valleys can be tolerable, as long as they don't last too long, because the fan's view extends to the horizon, expands and holds up the big sky.
The Snakepit barely existed during this Second Valley of the Diamondbacks (the first being when the franchise was founded, which was a short lived period), so most people here only really reference the Third Valley, 2009 and 2010. The Third Valley produced players such as Bauer, Skaggs, Corbin, Bradley, Eaton, and Goldschmidt, amongst others. These Valleys, if they don't overstay their welcome, are useful because they give promises.
Justin Upton was the product of such a scenario. He was drafted as the number one overall pick in the 2005 draft, the reward for a 100 loss season the year before. From nearly the moment he washed up on the shores of the Diamondbacks system he was proclaimed to be the savior, the superstar Arizona would finally develop instead of buy.
Silly Diamondbacks. You shouldn't make promises you can't keep.
It isn't Upton's fault, he can't help that people demanded more from him than anyone could possibly deliver. When he lived up to, or approached, the hype, he was largely loved by the fanbase and front office. When he stumbled, though, he became more man than myth. And mythmakers can't stand to be defied.
2012 was not a great year for Upton. We can speculate how much injuries might have hampered his power, but at the end of the day the production for the year was fairly average. If you were filling teams with the top fWAR producers for outfielders, the younger Upton you could fill 13 outfields before his number was called.
His numbers were generally not significantly far off from his career numbers, except for power. His slugging dropped by 99 points from the year prior, and his wRC+ went from 139 to 108 (just barely above average). Average and on-base went down a little, but not nearly as severely.
So which is the Real Upton? The Odd Years Upton, who is an All-Star and MVP candidate? Or the Even Years Upton, who can't stay healthy and is decidedly average?
His decline in 2012 wouldn't probably as derided if the rest of the team, and his struggles and averageness was symptomatic of the rest of the team. But Upton, for better or worse, has more expectations, and he did not fulfill them in 2012. That probably won't be a popular assessment, but if you strip away the name and just show the numbers, you don't see a great player last year, you see a good one.
Maybe we're just spoiled here in Arizona. There's no real reason for our state to garner any attention. There's not a particularly great economic reason for Phoenix to boom. Yet, here we are, with a little too much a little too soon. On the other hand, Upton has had 5 1/2 seasons to be jet packs and flying cars. Sometimes he has been, but 2012 was maybe a little more like hybrid cars and iPads.
What the other Snakepit Writers think:
Clefo: Despite Upton’s power woes, he still got on base a decent amount, and definitely picked it up at the end of the season. Playing through an injury all season was pretty gritty and done to try to help the team, but I wouldn’t tell Todd Walsh that, he might get angry. Funny how this report card falls on this week. I’m not saying that there is a conspiracy, but there definitely is something going on and I should tell you tha- Oh crap, black helicopters. Gotta run! C.
Jim: It seems almost that, as Upton went, so did the Diamondbacks. When he succeeds, we have a year like 2011, where everything else clicks too. But in his off-years, it seems that nothing goes right. Certainly, what we got out of right-field this year was a pale shadow of what we had in 2011: 123 OPS points less, in fact, though oddly, the position still scored five more runs. Home-runs were particularly down, from 33 all the way to 18, though it is at least a reasonable hypothesis that Upton’s power outage was due to his thumb. It’s going to be really weird without Upton and Young oiut there in 2013. Cody Ross has certainly got some big shoes to fill. Let the record show that the Upton era ended on October 3, 2012, with a line-drive to center. C-