The Upton Conundrum
May 30, 2016
Justin Upton is one of the most talented outfielders in baseball. He has a decent chance to finish his career in the 300/300 club (300 homers, 300 steals), of which there are only eight members (Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonds, Willie Mays, Andre Dawson, Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran, Reggie Sanders and Steve Finley). Some others came close Ė Rickey Henderson, Craig Biggio and Bobby Abreu fell a few homers short Ė and plenty of power hitters didnít have the steals but itís a select group that proved to be a threat wherever they were on the field. At only 28 years old, if he continues to average 23 homers and 19 steals in each of the next five years (his average seasonal production in five of the last seven years), heíll have the 300 homers, roughly 210 steals and still be in his prime.
Unfortunately, this year
Part of it can be blamed on the change of leagues. Hitters often struggle initially facing a whole new stable of pitchers. But that doesnít explain this completely.
The key to his struggles,
I believe, is in his approach and it might have been due to manager Brad Ausmus putting him in the second spot in the line-up to
start the year. The thought was that he would see a lot of fastball hitting in
front of Miguel Cabrera. However, the top two hitters in a line-up are usually
asked to see a lot of pitches in order to get on base and thatís not really
This year heís seeing an
average of 4.25 pitches per plate appearance which is significantly higher than
his career average (4.02). For many hitters, that kind of developed patience is
a good thing; for
Heís also less pull-conscious than heís ever been - his lowest pull rate since his rookie debut Ė and his lowest home run per flyball rate by nearly 10%. In short, someone, perhaps Upton himself, has convinced him to be a completely different kind of hitter than heís ever been. Huge mistake. As a result, heís getting beaten badly with fastballs Ė a pitch he has always destroyed Ė and now seems to be unable to pull the trigger on them.†
However, the proof is there for him to take notice. His contact rate is at a five year high, but heís also swinging outside the zone more than he has over that same span. He needs to get back to waiting for his pitch and taking the walk if the pitcher is not going to throw it in the zone. If he does, we could see the player he was from 2007-2011: an average of 17 homers, 37 steals, .259/.347/.427. That would be especially attractive to a suitor looking to add a bat to a playoff caliber line-up at the deadline and give the Padres some desperately-desired salary relief.†