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 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:
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
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.