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Entries in B.J. Upton (12)


Soft Stuff Vexing B.J. Upton

B.J. Upton looked like a Carlos-Beltran-In-Training back in his early twenties. Power, speed, plate discipline and plus defense in center field -- Upton had all of those attributes in spades. Since then, however, we've been left waiting for him to put all of those tools to use at once and turn in another monster season. Upton is channeling his inner Corey Patterson in 2012 instead, seemingly unable to tell balls from strikes when pitchers snap off a breaking ball or pull the string.

It's not really fair to call him a disappointment (second overall picks in the draft produce an average of 12.4 career Wins Above Replacement, while Upton already has 11.2 before his 28th birthday), but Upton's bat is backsliding as he heads for free agency this winter. Upton's OBP is just .302 (lowest since he was a scuffling 21-year-old in 2006), and his OPS+ is just 89. He's still hitting at or near the top of Tampa's lineup, but Upton's strike-zone judgment against "soft" stuff (curveballs, sliders and changeups) has cost him walks during his walk year.

Take a look at Upton's swing rate by pitch location against soft stuff in 2011, and then the league average:

Upton in 2011


League Average


Upton swung at a lot of breaking balls and changeups last season, but they were good swings on pitches thrown over the plate. When pitchers tried to expand the zone, he didn't bite. Upton took a cut at about 70% of soft pitches thrown in the strike zone, above the 65% MLB average, but chased just 28% of soft pitches thrown out of the zone (32% average). That quality plate approach allowed Upton to slug .398 against soft stuff. While not elite, that beat the league average by over 30 points.

In 2012, though, Upton looks confused against curves, sliders and changeups:

Upton in 2012


His in-zone swing rate against soft pitches has declined to 61%. Upton's chase rate, meanwhile, has climbed to 34%. With such poor pitch recognition, Upton's slugging just .238 against soft stuff. Jordan Schafer, Michael Bourn, Jemile Weeks, Carlos Pena and Brandon Crawford are the only qualified batters to show less punch against breaking and off-speed offerings.

Maybe it's time to stop doting upon the player we thought Upton would become and accept him for who he is: a swift fielder and baserunner who likely won't do more than keep his head above water at the plate. Upton is still plenty valuable when he complements his range and wheels with occasional power and a good number of free passes. But his Patterson-esque approach so far in 2012 won't cut it.



Looking When it Counts

White there are plenty of selective hitters in Major League Baseball, there is one count in which batters need to take with certainty, 3-2.  Take a ball and in that count and win a free pass to first base, take a strike and walk back to the dugout.  During the last four seasons, 101 players took at least 100 pitches on a 3-2 count.  The following table shows the hitters who took the highest percentage of walks, or taking ball four:


BatterStrikeout %Walk %
Albert Pujols 9.4% 90.6%
Brian Roberts 8.5% 90.6%
Dustin Pedroia 8.7% 90.4%
Adrian Gonzalez 9.9% 90.1%
Joey Votto 11.0% 89.0%
Miguel Cabrera 10.3% 89.0%
David Ortiz 11.0% 88.4%
Derek Jeter 11.4% 87.9%
Luke Scott 11.4% 87.6%
Andrew McCutchen 12.5% 87.5%


I'm not surprised that sluggers like Albert Pujols, Adrian Gonzalez and Joey Votto are near the top of the list.  Often, pitchers will work carefully to these batters, since throwing the a strike might result in a home run.  It's better to try to get them to chase an outside pitch, but these sluggers have an excellent eye for the strike zone.

Note that along with the sluggers are table setters like Dustin Pedroia and Derek Jeter. Their ability to work the count and draw walks makes them so valuable at the top of the order.  You may also notice that the Red Sox stock up on players with great strikeout judgement, as three of these hitters currently reisde in Boston.

At the other end of the spectrum are the hitters who strike out quite often.


BatterStrikeout %Walk %
Drew Stubbs 28.4% 70.6%
Andruw Jones 26.2% 73.8%
Mike Cameron 25.0% 75.0%
Troy Tulowitzki 23.8% 76.2%
Jack Cust 22.1% 77.9%
Jorge Posada 22.0% 77.1%
B. J. Upton 21.7% 77.9%
David DeJesus 21.6% 78.4%
Hanley Ramirez 21.6% 77.8%
Dexter Fowler 21.6% 77.6%


Note that there are a number of good, or formerly good hitters in this list.  Jorge Posada saw his hitting prowess fade this season, but he still reached base at a good clip the last few years.  Troy Tulowitzki rates as the outstanding hitting shortstop in the majors, and Hanley Ramirez held that distinction in previous seasons.  With the exception of B.J. Upton, these are players that are very good, but have more flaws that the group at the top.  It seems that the willingness to take on 3-2 indicates a selective hitter, regardless of how well the 3-2 looks turns out.


Upton Pulling the Ball

B.J. Upton of the Tampa Bay Rays lived up to his potential this September, his hot streak contributing to the Rays surge toward the playoff.  After hitting .223/.308/.390 through the end of August, Upton upped his numbers to .311/.408/.557 in September.  Why the surge for the Rays centerfielder?

Most of the season pitchers worked Upton away:

B.J. Upton, pitch frequency and spray chart, 2011 season through August.Notice that pitchers seldom come inside to Upton, and B.J. was willing to go with the pitch.  While he tends to pull his home runs, his singles and other extra base hits get spread out across the field.  However, he hits for a much higher average on the inside pitch that he can pull.

In September, pitchers gave him more of a chance to pull the ball:

B.J. Upton, pitch frequency and spray chart, September 2011Hurler still try to pitch him away, but they're leaving a higher percentage of their pitches where B.J. and pull the ball.  Most of his hits in September are to the left side.  It will be interesting to see if Upton can continue to pull the ball successfully, or if this is just a small sample size anomaly.

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