B.J. Upton is an exasperating player. He's also a very rich man after signing a five-year, $75 million contract with the Atlanta Braves. He should be a superstar, right? Upton had a huge age-22 season back in 2007, looking like Carlos Beltran Jr. by popping homers (24), getting on base (.386 OBP) and swiping bags (22). The number two pick in the 2002 draft seemed blessed with a full tool set, and he showed the savvy to make the most of his skills. Yet since then, Upton has mostly just kept his head above water at the plate (his career on-base-plus-slugging percentage is five percent better than the league average).
What gives? Upton has certainly tapped into the power present in his svelte 6-foot-3, 185-pound frame. His home run total has climbed every year during the Pitch F/X era, from nine in 2008 to a career-best 28 last season. But those bombs have come at a cost: Upton has sold out for power, chasing far more pitches off the plate and often coming up empty.
Take a look at Upton's swing rate by pitch location back in 2008, and then his swing rate this past season:
Upton's swing rate in 2008
Upton's swing rate in 2012
B.J. chased 17.5% of pitches thrown outside of the strike zone back in 2008, far below the 28% average for MLB hitters in recent seasons. Last year, however, Upton hacked at 29% of pitches thrown out of the zone.
In addition to widening his strike zone, Upton has whiffed more often while aiming for the fences. Here's his contact rate by pitch location in 2008, and then in 2012:
Upton's contact rate in 2008
Upton's contact rate in 2012
Upton missed 20.8% of the pitches he swung at in 2008, slightly above the 20.2% average that season. Last year, he whiffed 31.5% of the time he swung. Granted, the overall MLB whiff rate has climbed (to 22% in 2012), but Upton missed a higher rate of pitches than every AL hitter not named Josh Hamilton, Adam Dunn, Carlos Pena and Mark Reynolds. Homers are sexy. They earn fat checks in free agency. But are they worth it if they come with a sub-.300 on-base-percentage?