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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Baseball Analytics: Smart Pitchers Throw Away From B.J. Upton

Upton’s offensive regressions have stemmed mainly from his inability to put bat on ball. In 2011, his overall contact rate stood at 76.7%, fell to 70.6% the following season and plummeted to 66.9% last season with Atlanta, which was the third lowest among batters with at least 400 plate appearances, trumped only by Pedro Alvarez (66.1%) and Chris Carter (65.4%), according to FanGraphs.

Three seasons ago, he was able to place contact on just about any pitch in the strike zone—boasting a 84% in-zone contact rate, which was just a shade under his career-high mark of 86.8% set in 2006. But over the last two seasons, his contact rate has faded almost exclusively to the inner-half of the plate. This has affected his ability to put outer-half offerings in play, posting a feeble 29.6% in-play rate on such pitches last season, which was fourth-worst among batters with 250 plate appearances. Knowing this, pitchers threw 49.4% of their offerings ‘away’ from Upton last season—an increase from 45.6% in 2012.

Word on the street is that Upton showed up to Braves camp this past weekend with an improved swing that’s eliminated unnecessary pre-swing movement. “He’s a lot more efficient,” Braves hitting coach Greg Walker told David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal Constitution. For Upton’s sake, I hope he’s right, because pitchers are beginning to recognize and attack his most glaring weakness—the outer-half of the plate—which has transformed him from former five-tool prospect to liability for Atlanta offensively.

Thanks to Ed.

Repoz Posted: February 20, 2014 at 07:11 AM | 7 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: braves

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   1. attaboy Posted: February 20, 2014 at 10:02 AM (#4659554)
3 seasons ago, his contact rate was 84% in-zone, which fell to 29.6% last year! The author makes it seem as if it has been a continual decline, 'his contact rate has faded almost exclusively to the inner-half of the plate.' The use of the word faded makes me think this but perhaps that is not the case. If it is, if this has been a gradual decline over 3 years, the TB coaches ought to be shouldering some of the blame here and the Braves management who gave him a long term deal ought to be embarrassed. If however, the word 'faded' is not meant to convey a gradual decline over the 3 years then shame on the author for misleading me! It also makes me less confident that he can overcome this issue. This is no one year drop off. Upton needs to completely retool his brain.
   2. Jesse Barfield's Right Arm Posted: February 20, 2014 at 10:40 AM (#4659580)
3 seasons ago, his contact rate was 84% in-zone, which fell to 29.6% last year!

The wording is strange, but I think TFE is saying that it was 84% in-zone before, but was 29.6% only on outer-half pitches last year. The percentages are not referring to the same event.
   3. attaboy Posted: February 20, 2014 at 12:12 PM (#4659653)
So, half of the 'in zone' pitches he faced (49.9%) were outer-half of the plate pitches, which he held a 29.6% contact rate last year. His overall contact rate was 66.9% but without knowing how many pitches he swung at, which were out of the zone, there are little conclusions that can be made form the data provided. Is it reasonable to assume the vast majority of swings made were 'in-zone'? If so, the math is easy. Given his struggles last year, perhaps that is not a reasonable assumption. Either way, the point that this is not a one year issue but a trend which has grown to disastrous proportions (especially if you are BJ Upton) is still valid and I am unclear how you reverse that trend but should have been helped by TB coaches and identified by Atl management.
   4. bfan Posted: February 20, 2014 at 12:28 PM (#4659669)
grown to disastrous proportions (especially if you are BJ Upton)

Since his contract is in guaranteed money, it is disastrous to the Atlanta Braves organization, and a bit of an embarrassment to B.J. Upton.
   5. sinicalypse Posted: February 20, 2014 at 02:21 PM (#4659778)
well hey at least there isn't really anywhere for bj to go but up from these stats, right? or is this a big $$$ neifi perez reincarnate happening right before our very eyes?

if he got caught up for PEDs would we say " least he tried!" or, much like neifi, wonder how bad he would have been if he wasn't using PEDs (since getting caught usually gets us thinking he's been using them for awhile) ???
   6. Walt Davis Posted: February 20, 2014 at 04:31 PM (#4659918)
I'm not sure that adds up.

30% of 50% is 15%
overall is 66%
so he made contact on 100% of the other 50%?

I know there's OOZ contact but still the on-contact rate of inside pitches has to be close to 100%. And the man K'd in 1/3 of his PA (unbelievable) and walked in another 10%, he was not making contact with 30% of pitches no matter where they were and he made contact in only 53% of his PAs.

Got to be some lack of clarity. 30% of the pitches he made contact with were on the outer half? Of pitches on the outer half that he swung at, he made contact only 30%?

Anyway, like I said, the man K'd in 1/3 of his PA -- of course his problem is making contact. And the "solution" might be making even less. :-) OK, not really, but maybe Upton has just hit that wall that all batter hit eventually -- he's got to focus on the inner half, start his swing earlier, hope enough of the outside stuff drifts off the plate to draw even more walks than he does. That is, he's probably got to become even more like Rob Deer (or Chris Carter or Carlos Pena). It would also help if he played a better CF.
   7. Walt Davis Posted: February 20, 2014 at 04:58 PM (#4659944)
I'm also not sure where the numbers come from but the ones at b-r tell a much less dramatic story.

First, b-r defines "contact" as "contact given swing". His career rate is 73% and other than a couple of high contact years that's where he was until 2012. It was down to about 67% in 2012-13 but it was not substantially worse in 2013 than 2012. He started swinging at more pitches in 2010 (from about 71% to 75%) but with no success -- it seems to have only raised his swinging and foul strike %ages, not putting more balls in play but other than 2012 it's not clear his walk rate has suffered. (i.e. as long as it's in the zone, a swinging/foul strike is as good as any other.)

K-rate, overall strike % and 1st pitch strike % are all up starting in 2010 but I think those are league-wide effects. The change, such as it was, took place in 2010 when he started swinging a bit more often -- but, as I mentioned, this didn't really impact his ratios particularly.

Basically he just stunk last year. TTO hitters tend to be variable but he stunk even by bad TTO season standards. If he wasn't signed for another 4 years, he'd probably be begging for a job while it's also quite possible he's the same player he was 2010-12 and it was just a flukishly bad year. But players don't often get 2nd chances after years that bad.

Deer may be an even better comp than I thought. It seems that at age 30, he signed a 3-year contract with the Tigers. He stunk in year 1 of the deal -- 179/314/386. What could they do but keep him around and he had a good year at 31 (450 PAs). But then he stunk again at 32 (210/303/386) and was essentially done (brief comeback at 35).

And I love that Deer's top b-r age comp for 29-33 and even still at 35 was Gorman Thomas.

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