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Entries in Justin Upton (3)


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

Hitter Called 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.


Justin Upton's Contact

Justin Upton of the Diamondbacks upped his batting average and OBP to new highs this season, and could be on the way to the best year of his young career.  The change that stands out most for Justin is his reduced strikeout rate.  In his first three full seasons, Justin struck out in between 23 and 29% of his plate appearances.  His three year average of 26% was the sixth highest in the majors.  In 2011, that's down to 17.5%.  That number is not low, but he's now in the middle of the pack rather than near the top.

Justin's strike zone judgment remained the same.  With two strikes, Upton swings at strikes:

Justin Upton, swing rate with two strikes, 2008-2010.Justin Upton, swing rate with two strikes, 2011.The heat maps are nearly identical in terms of inside/outside the zone.  In fact, it looks like Justin swings a bit more frequently this season.  The big difference comes in terms of contact:

Justin Upton, contact rate with two strikes, 2008-2010.Justin Upton, contact rate with two strikes, 2011.In the past, if the pitch was not inside, Justin had trouble hitting it.  He knew to swing, the swings just failed.  Now, he's handling the high and low outside pitches better, and fouling them off or putting the ball in play more.  He's playing this season as a 23 year old, and it appears he's learning to adjust, a good sign as he approaches his peak years.