B.J. Being B.J.

What a strange, strange season B.J. Upton is having. If you didn’t see the play from last night, well, just imagine the laziest baserunning play possible, then carry that to an exponent of ten, and that’s how bad Upton looked getting tagged from behind by Mark Teixeira while not running out a double. He wasn’t running hard because he thought it was a home run, though it’s anyone’s guess why he kept jogging after the ball hit the wall . Given that he was just benched by manager Joe Maddon for a lack of hustle, doing his best Manny impersonation probably wasn’t a good idea.

However, that’s not the only reason why Upton’s having a strange year. Look at his line for the season, and then try to think of a similar performance:

.269/.380/.398, 435 AB, 8 HR, 82 BB, 107 K

The OBP/SLG line aren’t that strange, as there are always guys floating around that specialize in getting on base even though they aren’t much in the way of power threats. Often, these guys are middle infielders with great bat control (think Willie Randolph or Luis Castillo) who hit for a nice average and draw walks due to their control of the strike zone. That doesn’t describe B.J. Upton at all.

Instead, Upton has walk and strikeout rates that would be normal for a power hitting slugger, but he just has eight home runs. He’s not getting the fear walks that guys like Pujols and Berkman do, but instead, he’s drawing ball four by being willing to work the count – he has just a 40% swing rate and a 14% O-Swing%, showing that he’s just not willing to chase pitches out of the zone. Generally, however, pitchers will challenge hitters who work the count but aren’t long ball threats, which is why Marco Scutaro isn’t drawing 80 walks a year.

The only guy who has found success with a similar skillset in MLB history is Tony Phillips, who was the king of working the count without having a lot of power. For all of Upton’s physical abilities, though, he’ll have to be disappointed if his career ends up as a Tony Phillips type player – he really should be a star, but as last night made obvious, the work ethic still isn’t there. Hopefully he learns.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

15 Responses to “B.J. Being B.J.”

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  1. Scraps says:

    ESPN’s report says:

    Upton casually rounded first and jogged toward second with Angels first baseman Mark Teixeira following up the line to meet left fielder Rivera’s throw to an uncovered base. Teixeira fielded the ball on a bounce and made the tag just before a surprised Upton touched the bag.

    I guess he might have still been jogging because he didn’t see anyone covering second?

    Why wasn’t anyone covering second?

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  2. Scraps says:

    (Irritatingly, their video summary shows three or four home runs, and that’s all. The most interesting play in the game, the one they lead the story with, and they can’t put it into their video summary??)

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  3. Detroit Michael says:

    Of course, Tony Phillips was a pretty valuable player. Not a star, but still a guy who helped win plenty of games.

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  4. Isaac says:

    Upton’s power numbers are way down this year, but in my opinion, he is more likely closer to the player he is now than the player he was last year. So far in his short career, he has been a pretty extreme groundball hitter every year outside of last, and although 2004 and 2006 offer up very small sample sizes, they still show something. His HR/FB ratio isn’t terribly low this year, so if he would tweak his swing a bit he might get a nice power boost. This season is also strange for Upton in that he has walked much more and struck out much less, yet the increase in production you would expect of a player with those improvements haven’t come. Perhaps that can be attributed to the fact that he was so lucky last year that even in increase in skills wouldn’t be able to combat the inevitable regression he was due for this year. Either way, it’s just a bit weird.

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  5. Jay says:

    He looked safe to me.

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  6. Aaron says:

    No one was covering 2nd because in this instance with a ball off the wall it is a “sure double.” When this happens both middle infielders go out for the cut in case the throw from the outfielder is high or can’t be handled by the first middle infielder. The first basemen trails the runner in case the runner overturns 2nd.

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  7. Scraps says:

    Thanks, Aaron.

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  8. I echo those thanks. Is there somewhere one can go to read about cool things like how fielders react to a “sure double,” or does that just come from your personal store of baseball knowledge?

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  9. Tim says:

    Following up on something Isaac said, I think his HR/FB rate is low this year. According to The Hardball Times, his HR/FB rate is 8 percent this year after being 19.5 percent last year. My gut suggests that last year he was a little lucky and this year he’s been a lot unlucky. But I don’t really know.

    I guess the question for Dave or others is: is this a repeatable skill? Is there a way to calculate expected HR/FB?

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  10. Aaron says:

    I’m a high school baseball coach so it is just comes from my personal store. I would be happy to answer any other questions though.

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  11. Isaac says:

    Tim, I believe that HR/FB for a hitter can not be projected(accurately) using anything but that player’s track record in that department. As Upton is young and hasn’t played in all that many games, it’s tough to tell where his ratio should be; but as long as he keeps hitting as many ground balls as he is now, he’s gonna need a huge boost in his HR/FB to rack up high home run totals.

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  12. Wayland says:

    I would add Ferris Fain and Eddie Yost as two more examples of players that found success with a High OBP/Mediocre SLG mix.

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  13. Tim says:

    Isaac, thanks. Yeah, it makes sense that we would need more data to figure out Upton’s “true” HR/FB rate.

    My attempts to find more answers on teh Interwebs led me back to The Hardball Times glossary, which at least offers the following insight: “Research has shown that about 11% to 12% of outfield flies are hit for home runs. For pitchers, significant variations from 11% are probably the result of “luck,” but for hitters this stat is more indicative of a true skill (hitting the ball hard!).”

    So there is that reason to consider HR/FB a skill. Given the quality of Upton’s scouting reports, it seems to me fairly likely that he would produce an average HR/FB rate, or better. So I still think he’s been unlucky this year (and lucky last year) but I agree it’s difficult to say how much in either case.

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  14. ChapelHeel66 says:

    I thought one of the strangest things was this: about 10 feet from second base, Upton glanced left and saw Teixeira coming up on his left. Instead of thinking “Oh crap, here comes a throw” and sprinting to second, he just looked confused and continued jogging to second.

    When Tex caught the ball, and tried to tag him Upton tried a dodgeball move to avoid it.

    Weird. I think when he realized it wasn’t a home run, he thought “They’ll never get me” even after he saw Tex.

    No one has talked about this, but what a play by Tex! That’s heads up play that would rival Jeter if Jeter hadn’t done his in a playoff situation.

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  15. ChapelHeel66 says:

    And let’s not forget last night (Tuesday) on the bizarro call after Upton overran 1st base and was tagged out. The ump said he made a move to second, which is ridiculous, because he actually turned more into foul territory.

    But if you watch the vid, he wasn’t hustling out of the box on that hit. It didn’t affect the outcome, but how many clues does he need.

    I’ve seen his brother Justin play a few times in the Southern League, and he had the same sort of thing going on. He never appeared popular with his teammates. Carried himself as a star even in Double A. Not sure if that’s linked or not.

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