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Entries in B.J. Upton (12)


Smart Pitchers Throw Away From B.J. Upton

B.J. Upton would be the first to tell you: He wasn't very good last season.

In his first year donning the Tomahawk, the now 29-year-old posted career lows in batting average (.184), on-base percentage (.268), slugging percentage (.289) and OPS+ (53) en route to a -1.8 offensive WAR (another career-low digit), according to Baseball Reference. He also struck out at a career-high rate (33.9%), stole fewer bases (12) than in any of his 100-plus game seasons prior and again couldn't stay healthy, missing a good chunk of the season with a groin injury.

While Upton has never been one to maintain a high average (.248 career BA), lofty power numbers (.409 SLG%, 100 OPS+) or tremendous plate discipline figures (26% strikeout rate, 10.5% walk rate), his offensive regressions last season are concerning. After all, the Braves paid Upton a healthy $12.5 million last season to be less valuable (-1.8 bWAR) than a replacement-level player and are on the hook to shell out roughly $15 million on average over the next four seasons to the former Tampa Bay Rays top prospect.

Exactly what caused Upton's offensive setback last season? As in most cases, many things contributed. But there was one thing that smart pitchers picked up on: Upton's struggles with the outer-half of the plate.

Comparing Upton's Contact Rates over the Last Three Seasons

Upton's offensive regressions have stemmed mainly from his inability to put bat on ball. In 2011, his overall contact rate stood at 76.7%, fell to 70.6% the following season and plummeted to 66.9% last season with Atlanta, which was the third lowest among batters with at least 400 plate appearances, trumped only by Pedro Alvarez (66.1%) and Chris Carter (65.4%), according to FanGraphs.

Three seasons ago, he was able to place contact on just about any pitch in the strike zone -- boasting a 84% in-zone contact rate, which was just a shade under his career-high mark of 86.8% set in 2006. But over the last two seasons, his contact rate has faded almost exclusively to the inner-half of the plate. This has affected his ability to put outer-half offerings in play, posting a feeble 29.6% in-play rate on such pitches last season, which was fourth-worst among batters with 250 plate appearances. Knowing this, pitchers threw 49.4% of their offerings 'away' from Upton last season -- an increase from 45.6% in 2012.

Word on the street is that Upton showed up to Braves camp this past weekend with an improved swing that's eliminated unnecessary pre-swing movement. "He's a lot more efficient," Braves hitting coach Greg Walker told David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal Constitution. For Upton's sake, I hope he's right, because pitchers are beginning to recognize and attack his most glaring weakness -- the outer-half of the plate -- which has transformed him from former five-tool prospect to liability for Atlanta offensively.


Fastball Woes May Punch B.J. Upton's Ticket to Gwinnett

B.J. Upton signed a five-year, $75.25 million free agent deal with Atlanta over the winter, the largest contract handed out in franchise history. This time next week, Upton could be the wealthiest guy to ever suit up for the Braves -- the Gwinnett Braves. Manager Fredi Gonzalez and the front office are debating whether to ask the 27-year-old to accept a demotion to Triple-A. Upton has enough service time in the majors to reject the move, but he is off to an historically wretched start at the plate. B.J.'s 31 OPS+ is the worst for a Braves hitter getting at least 150 plate appearances in a season since John Russell (30 OPS+) in 1989.

If Upton does end up with the G-Braves, it'll be because he's chopping fastballs he normally pulverizes into the dirt. His groundball rate against heaters has jumped by nearly 20 percentage points this year, from 35% in 2012 to 53% in 2013. The big league average, by the way, is 44%.

Upton's ground ball rate vs. fastballs, 2012


Upton's ground ball rate vs. fastballs, 2013

All of those grounders have put a huge dent in Upton's slugging percentage against fastballs, which has fallen over 300 points from last year's .533 mark. In fact, Upton has outslugged just Miguel Montero and the recently-demoted Dustin Ackley versus fastballs this season:

Lowest fastball slugging percentage, 2013 


Upton has been somewhat unlucky this season (his batting average on balls in play is just .204, which is 90 points lower than in 2012), but his complete lack of punch against fastballs is disturbing. B.J. and Braves hitting coach Greg Walker are working on swing tweaks that would reduce the load in Upton's swing. Atlanta needs those sessions to pay off. First-place status and Upton's record paycheck aside, the Braves can't afford to keep him in the lineup when he's hitting like this.


A Tale of Two Uptons

The Atlanta Braves brought both Upton brothers to town over the winter, signing B.J. to a five-year, $75 million free agent contract and acquiring Justin from the Diamondbacks as part of a seven-player megadeal. The younger Upton has been the game's best player in April, pacing the majors with eight home runs while batting .333, getting on base at a .393 clip, and slugging .852. But big bro? B.J. has gone deep just once, and he's hitting .140/.232/.240. Why is Justin killing the ball for the 12-2 Braves, while B.J. is killing rallies? Here's a tale of two Uptons.

Justin Upton

  • Unlike last year, the younger Upton is crushing pitches thrown at the knees. Justin has hit 3 home runs and is slugging nearly .800 versus pitches in the lower third of the strike zone. He hit just 6 homers against low stuff and slugged .394 during the 2012 season.
  • One reason why he's performing so much better against low pitches is that he's not rolling over on the ball. Justin has hit a ground ball a mere 28% of the time in 2013, down from a 44% last year (the MLB average is about 44%).
  • Justin has been deadly with two strikes, swatting six of his eight home runs with his back against the wall. That already matches his two-strike home run total for all of 2012.

B.J. Upton

  • B.J. is making more contact against fastballs, with his miss rate against the heat being cut in half from 28% in 2012 to 14% in 2013. But that extra contact has been weak: His slugging percentage versus fastballs is just .370, compared to .533 last year.
  • While Justin is lofting pitches into the air more than ever, B.J. is struggling to get the ball out of the infield. His ground ball rate has jumped from 41% last year to 50% in 2012.
  • B.J. has been totally helpless with two strikes, going 0-for-23 in such situations. The elder Upton has never been a particularly good two-strike hitter, as his .127 average in two-strike counts since the start of the 2011 season ranks in the bottom ten among qualified batters. But 0-for-23? Brother, can you spare a bat?