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2021 Angels Player Review: Justin Upton

It was another season of injury for left fielder Justin Upton, leaving him with 89 games played in 2021.

New York Yankees v Los Angeles Angels Photo by Rob Leiter/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Signed to a 5-year contract in 2018, outfielder Justin Upton’s past seasons with the Angels have resulted in a frustrating draw between average outfield performance and time spent on the injured list. And while fans hoped that 2021 would yield some of the same fire that earned him his long-term contract deal in the first place, the left fielder fell short. He played a total of 89 games in 2021 before a right lumbar strain ended his season with subpar statistics on his 2021 ticket.

In comparison to other players on the field like David Fletcher who logged 157 games last year, 89 times taking the field ultimately falls flat, but in comparison to his two previous seasons, Upton played more games than normal. In 2019, he played 63 games, taking time on the IL with a turf toe injury and a case of patellar tendinitis found in his right knee. A shortened 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic left him with 42 days of action, during which he was said to have recovered successfully from his 2019 injuries. Unfortunately, the threat of the IL was unwavering in 2021 as injury swept through the outfield, claiming not only Upton, but also superstar center fielder Mike Trout and rookie left fielder Jo Addell.

After being sent to the Salt Lake Bees for a rehab assignment following his first injury of 2021 – a right low back strain – Upton rejoined the Halos briefly before a right lumbar strain ended his season prematurely in early September. However, even without the two injuries, it was a disappointing season for the outfielder.

In May, head coach Joe Maddon moved him into the leadoff spot in the lineup, where he earned a .320 average over a 25-game period – the promise of an Upton hot streak. But after his first back injury in June, his batting numbers began to stagger following the recovery. He finished the season with a .211 batting average, resulting in 67 hits, 47 runs and a .296 on-base percentage. His OPS landed at .705 – a rough fall from his career-high .901 OPS which he achieved in 2017, the same year he joined the Angels.

Statistically speaking, he hasn’t achieved the best numbers since moving to Anaheim, and it’s unclear if 2022 will yield different results given his history with the Halos. While his track record in Anaheim is sprinkled with moments of promise, such as his improvement at the close of the 2020 season and his 2021 offensive streak in May, Upton’s overall success as a Halos left fielder has been clouded by injuries and a decline in performance. His 2021 season wasn’t the worst season he’s had in an Angels uniform, but it still lacked the fire that fans were hoping would catch.

2021 Stats

89 Games / 318 At Bats / .211 Avg. / .296 OBP / .409 SLG / .705 OPS / 67 Hits / 17 Home Runs / 41 RBI / 47 Runs / 12 Doubles / 39 Walks / 107 Strikeouts

Best Offensive Performance

April 16 vs. Minnesota Twins

Starting off in May, Maddon challenged Upton with leading the lineup in the No. 1 spot, and the pressure of the kickoff position lit a fire in his offense, resulting in several positive moments at the plate. But before he took over the leadoff spot, he stole the show with a grand slam in April that overpowered the Twins’ defense and helped cement the Halos’ 10-3 victory. There are plenty of moments from his No.1 hot streak that could be featured here, but nothing beats a grand slam.

Best Defensive Performance

May 19 vs. Cleveland Guardians

In the top of the 7th inning with one out and runners on the corners, Upton caught a pop up before making a quick throw to home plate to stop Cleveland outfielder, Amed Rosario, from scoring during a close 2-3 game.

What to Expect in 2022:

With one more year on his contract before free agency, Upton will undoubtedly take the field next season in an Angels jersey provided that he properly recovers from his 2021 season-ending back injury. Historically, Upton’s bouts with injuries have been frequent in Anaheim, but there’s always hope that 2022 will be a healthy year for the outfield with the hopeful return of Trout also looking to make the outfield defense stronger. Upton may not have produced the strongest numbers this season, but he’ll definitely have a chance to improve going into his last season under contract with the Halos. However, after Adell showed promise this season in the outfield, we wouldn’t be surprised if Upton did not return full time and instead ended up competing with a roundup of guys for playing time in left field.

2021 Overall Grade: D