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Entries in Justin Upton (10)


Grounders Grind Justin Upton's Progress to a Halt

Who is Justin Upton -- the guy who hit 31 home runs in 2011 and seemed set to join baseball's inner circle of sluggers, or the guy who went deep just 17 times in 2012 and drew the ire of Uptown? GMs must ask themselves this question before piecing together a trade package for the 25-year-old, who is once again on the market according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports. If Upton is to re-establish himself as one of the game's great young talents, he'll have to cut back on the power-sapping ground balls that became all too common in 2012.

In 2011, Upton's ground ball rate (about 37%) was far below the average for big league hitters (about 44%). He rolled over when he chased below the knees, but he otherwise put the ball in the air more than the average hitter:

Upton's ground ball rate by pitch location, 2011

In 2012, however, Upton hit far more grounders on low and low-and-away offerings:

Upton's ground ball rate by pitch location, 2012

His ground ball rate spiked to a league-average 44%, as pitchers pounded him at the knees more often. Upton got a low pitch half of the time in 2012, up from 46% in 2011 (the MLB average is about 41%). He had the biggest increase in grounders on breaking stuff:

Upton's ground ball rate by pitch type in 2011 and 2012

Pitch20112012MLB Avg.
Fastball 32.3 37.6 40.9
Sinker 43.8 48.7 53.1
Curveball 48.6 61.5 50.3
Slider 39.8 53.3 44.9
Changeup 41.2 37.3 48.7


It's possible that Upton has already started to adjust to the deluge of low pitches: He decreased his ground ball rate to 2011 levels during the last month of the 2012 season (36%) while hitting six homers and slugging north of .500. Upton has to keep lofting pitches to tap into his considerable power, no matter what uniform he's wearing next spring.


Two-Strike Takes Hurting Justin Upton

Justin Upton entered the 2012 season as a trendy pick for NL MVP, and for good reason. The D-Backs' franchise player cut his strikeout rate from the mid-twenties to slightly under 19 percent in 2011 and posted a career-best 139 OPS+. But instead of competing for hardware, Upton has struck out in nearly a quarter of his plate appearances and has an 86 OPS+ in 2012. The 24-year-old's hitting woes are partially the result of too many takes on two-strike pitches thrown over the plate.

As you might expect, hitters let it rip when a pitcher throws a two-strike offering in the strike zone. Batters swing about 88 percent of the time in such situations. During his torrid 2011 season, Upton mirrored that mark pretty closely. Check out his in-zone swing rate on two-strike pitches, and then the league average:

Upton's in-zone swing rate with two strikes, 2011

 League average in-zone swing rate with two strikes

Upton swung at 89 percent of two-strike pitches thrown in the strike zone in 2011. In 2012, however, Upton is keeping the bat on his shoulder much more often:

Upton's in-zone swing rate with two strikes, 2012

He has taken a cut just 73 percent of the time on two-strike pitches thrown over the plate, which is dead last among qualified MLB hitters. In related news, Upton leads all big league batters in called strikeouts:

Most called strikeouts, 2012

HitterCalled Ks
Justin Upton 30
Corey Hart 27
Rickie Weeks 25
Ike Davis 24
Adam Dunn 22
Jose Altuve 21
Drew Stubbs 21
Cameron Maybin 21
Jordan Schafer 21
Dustin Ackley 21


Fans and analysts often talk of plate discipline in terms of not swinging at junk pitches thrown off the plate, but in-zone discipline is also paramount. Right now, Upton is letting two-strike pitches he needs to swing at to stay alive pass him by, and his K rate has climbed as a result. If this MVP-caliber talent is to help the D-Backs get back in the playoff race, he'll have to tune up his two-strike approach.


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.