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Flying solo
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Hop aboard the Justin Upton Express.

Just a fair warning, if you're not on base when the train pulls into the station, he WILL leave without you.

That's right. Atlanta's star left fielder waits for no one.

Just like Zach Galifianakis in the "Hangover" films, the Braves' youngest Upton is a one-man wolf pack.

Eighteen games into his first season as a non-Diamondback, Upton is leading the major leagues with nine home runs.

That should be a cause for celebration, right?

Quite the opposite. One of my friends has Upton on his team and he's actually complained about him.

The nerve this guy has, insulting a man who is on pace to knock 81 balls out of the park this season.

But here's the catch: eight of Upton's dingers have been solo home runs.

That means that 88.9 percent of Upton's blasts have come with the base paths looking about as empty as Marlins Park. Most players are closer to the fifty percent threshold.

In fact, some players are actually better with runners on than with the bases empty. Take American League home run leader Chris Davis, for example. Four of the homers he's mashed this season have come with runners on base, while the remaining three have been of the solo variety.

Compared to his high home run rate, Upton's RBI total is embarrassingly low. With 13 ribbies in 18 contests, Upton ranks 21st in the big leagues in that statistic. That puts Upton five RBI behind Miguel Cabrera, who has homered just twice for the Tigers in 2013.

Let's say Upton hits a dry spell at some point and finishes the year with 50 HR, which is still a huge reach considering that he's never pounded more than 31 in a single season. If his nine to 13 HR to RBI ratio stays the same, Upton would end the season with just 72 RBI.

Can you imagine a player leading the league in homers with just 72 RBI? That's preposterous.

Last season, that total would have tied for 80th in the major leagues. In the last ten years, only once has a player who led the league in round-trippers finished outside the top 10 in RBI. That happened to Jose Bautista in 2011 (103 RBI, 15th in MLB).

If Upton keeps this up, he'll have a chance to become the 10th player since 2002 to crush 30 solo homers in a single season. The last player to reach that mark was Albert Pujols in 2009. Curtis Granderson hammered the most solo shots a year ago with 29 for the Bronx Bombers.

Overall, 27 hitters smashed 30 or more homers in 2012. Eight of them eclipsed the 60-percent mark when it came to solo homers, with two hitters reaching 70 percent (Giancarlo Stanton and Mike Trout). San Diego's Chase Headley hit the fewest solo homers of the bunch with 14 (45.2 percent).

Though Bautista didn't quite reach 30 homers, he was once again among the league leaders in solo blasts in 2012. Eighteen of his 27 taters came with the bases empty. Bryce Harper (72.7 percent), Jason Heyward (74.1), Trevor Plouffe (75) and Justin's older brother B.J. (78.6) posted similar solo home run rates last season.

While Upton might be the most prevalent example, he's far from alone when it comes to only hitting solo home runs. Toronto's J.P. Arencibia (71.4 percent solo homers) and Colorado's Dexter Fowler (85.7) have both hit mostly solo shots. Oakland's Coco Crisp is still waiting to belt his first non-solo homer of the season -- all five have come with the bases empty.

With Crisp and Fowler, it's understandable why they would fall into this category. As leadoff hitters, the opportunities to hit with runners on base just aren't there.

Of course, that's not the case with Upton, who hits between two-hole hitter Jason Heyward and cleanup man Evan Gattis most days, though Freddie Freeman should assume the fourth spot in the lineup upon his return from the disabled list. In 26 chances with runners on base this season, Upton has an ugly .154 average to match an equally incompetent .308 slugging percentage.

Meanwhile, Upton has been a .390 hitter with the bases unoccupied. His 1.049 slugging percentage with nobody on is the highest in the major leagues this season.

Historically, Upton has always been slightly better with the bases clear (.286 career AVG, .508 SLUG versus .267 and .449 with runners on) but the difference has never been that noticeable. In 2012, Upton's numbers with the bases empty (.282, 9 HR) were nearly identical to the ones he posted when he had at least one runner on the base paths (.277, 8 HR).

All signs point to Upton's solo act ending sooner rather than later. But while it lasts, let's just hope the Justin Express doesn't leave without us.




Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Jesse Pantuosco at jpantuosco@sportsnetwork.com.

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