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.