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Powerful Upton in MVP Discussion

As the Arizona Diamondbacks chase the Giants for the NL West title, Justin Upton is making a strong case that he's the most valuable player in the Senior Circuit. No longer burdened by the left shoulder injury that short-circuited his power last season, Upton popped his 25th home run of the year yesterday (one short of tying his career high set in 2009), and his career-best .564 slugging percentage ranks in the top 10 among qualified hitters.

Back in June, David Pinto examined Upton's more aggressive two-strike approach, which has cut his strikeout rate from nearly 27 percent in 2010 to about 18 percent in 2011. Today, I want to look at where within the strike zone Upton is making hard contact. First, here's where pitchers have thrown to Upton over the past two seasons:

Upton's pitch frequency by location, 2010 Upton's pitch frequency by location, 2011

Pitchers try to stay away against Upton: about 47 percent of the pitches that he has seen over the past two years have been thrown away. Now, look at Upton's in-play slugging percentage by pitch location over the past two seasons:

 Upton's in-play slugging percentage by location, 2010

Upton's in-play slugging percentage by location, 2011

Upton thumped high pitches in 2010, but he struggled badly on pitches thrown on the outer third of the plate. This year, however, he's hammering outer pitches: Upton has a .475 slugging percentage against outside offerings, compared to .287 last season (.344 league average for non-pitchers).

Now that he's handling outside pitches, Upton ranks among the game's offensive elite. His 155 OPS+ at age 23 places him between Hall of Famers Orlando Cepeda and Hank Greenberg and is the best age-23 season by OPS+ since Prince Fielder in 2007 (157), according to Baseball-Reference. Suffice it to say, there will be no trade talk surrounding the younger Upton this off-season.


Dan Uggla's Hit Streak Ends

Dan Uggla's 33 game hit streak came to an end versus the Cubs today in Atlanta.  One of the interesting things that stood out during the streak was his increased contact on pitches up and away.  Over the last two and a half seasons, you can see in the graphic below that Dan Uggla made most of his contact on inside pitches. However, during his hit streak, Uggla was putting wood on a lot of balls up and away. 

Dan Uggla
(Click image to enlarge)

The zone location breakdown of the 49 hits that Uggla accumulated over the streak was 8 inside, 19 middle, and 22 outside. His added contact on those outside pitches certainly helped keep the streak alive.


Best Offspeed Hitters

Top 20 Offspeed Hitters by AVG, 2010-2011 (Min. 300 offspeed pitches faced)

While Justin Morneau has the highest batting average on offspeed pitches of all players since the start of the 2010 season, Ichiro has collected the most hits (140) over that period....This season, new Phillie Hunter Pence leads all hitters with 63 hits on offspeed pitches....Cleveland Indian Lou Marson has the lowest batting average on offspeed pitches (.116) of all active players since 2010.