Justin Upton is Suddenly Bad at Everything

Justin Upton was an early favorite for National League MVP after a scalding April. The 25-year-old seemed to put 2012 behind him, hitting .298/.402/.734 through the season’s first month. It looked like Upton was ready to stick it to the Diamondbacks for giving up on him in the offseason. That all changed in May. Since May 1st, Upton has hit just .224/.339/.311, with three home runs. It’s almost as if Upton has completely forgotten how to hit.

Upton has basically turned into the inverse Pedro Cerrano, hitting only curveballs and nothing else.

Month Four seam Sinker Change Slider Curve Cutter
April 0.280 0.389 0.158 0.222 0.556 0.222
May 0.143 0.250 0.200 0.286 0.375 0.273
June 0.233 0.143 0.222 0.188 0.444 0.286

The above chart shows Upton’s declining batting averages over the last three months against certain pitches. His biggest struggles have come against the hard stuff. This shouldn’t come as a big surprise if you’ve been reading Jeff Zimmerman’s MASH Report articles. In his latest one, Jeff created a new metric called SLOW, which measures whether a player is having trouble catching up to fastballs. Upton was the leader in the metric by a fairly large margin.

Pitchers have taken notice. Upton’s seen his fastball rates jump over the last two months.

Month Four seam (L/R) Sinker (L/R) Cutter (L/R)
April 30/30 25/15 7/7
May 45/39 15/11 5/10
June 30/34 20/19 7/11

This became a major issue in May. Upton’s four-seam fastball rates jumped to 45% against lefties and 39% against righties. Granted, these are relatively small samples, particularly against left-handers, but it seems the strategy was to throw hard stuff past Upton. This is also the case in two-strike situations, where both righties and lefties have relied on their hard stuff more when looking for a strikeout against Upton. Righties continued utilizing fastballs frequently in June, while lefties saw upticks in sinkers and cutters.

When he does make contact with hard stuff, he’s not doing much with it. Upton had a ridiculous 54.55% fly ball rate on four-seam fastball in April. While that wasn’t sustainable, he saw that number drop dramatically to 19.05% in May, and slightly rebound to 31.25% in June. He lost most of those fly balls to more grounders, which isn’t going to help in the power department.

The main problem is that he’s not hitting other pitches well either. Upton has struggled against changeups and sliders the entire season. Looking at his whiff rates by month, Upton has seen his whiff rate increase against breaking and off-speed pitches, according to BrooksBaseball.net. He just hasn’t hit anything well.

Upton has had some issues with his swing mechanics in previous seasons, and that could be what’s happening here. He did go through some of those issues last year, but that was attributed to a thumb injury that altered the way he could swing a bat. He even had some trouble in spring training, but was able to make adjustments. There’s no reason to think Upton has suddenly lost his ability to hit. And since there’s been no rumblings about a potential injury, it seems like Upton is stuck in one of the worst slumps of his life. While he’s destined to get better, it’s disheartening to know that his recent slump has been legitimate, and not fueled by bad luck.





Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

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Tim
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Tim

People enjoyed jumping all over the DBacks early in the season…

Brandon
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Brandon

Prado up to -.8 WAR

Joe
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Joe

Even though I am a Dbacks fan, we are lucky that the rest of the NL West sucks right now too. Horrible run differential right now, the team is being carried by Corbin and Parra/Goldschmidt. All the other starting pitchers and hitters either suck right now, are injured, or are inconsistent as hell.