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.

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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.

33 Responses to “Justin Upton is Suddenly Bad at Everything”

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  1. Tim says:

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

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    • Brandon says:

      Prado up to -.8 WAR

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    • Joe says:

      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.

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  2. d says:

    I wonder if he’s been hiding an oblique injury.

    In a game in late April (I think) Upton grabbed his left side after a big swing and miss. He did the same thing about once a game for about a week, and still does it on occasion.

    The announcers (Joe Simpson I think) noticed it and wondered if his oblique was bothering him.

    Since McCann tried to play through an oblique in 2011 and tanked his season, the Braves have been cautious with obliques. Freeman did the exact same thing as Upton in his 5th game this year, and was immediately DL’d (to his strong objection).

    So part of me thinks he injured, baaed on Upton’s actions, but his continued play with few days off makes me wonder.

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    • Yahmule says:

      That would be pretty unusual. Traditionally, everyone is always made well aware when something is wrong with Justin Upton physically.

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    • Joe says:

      I have seen the same thing speculated on the Braves SBN blog

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  3. Jason Castro's mother says:

    Sell him for Jean Segura or Jason Kipnis? Keeper league…

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  4. Kenny Powers says:

    He was just given a couple days off last week due to a “sore hand.” His right hand I believe. I have no idea the significance and whether it’s a thumb thing etc. But it’s possible that’s played some part in this 2 month stretch.

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  5. shibboleth says:

    Up, Up, and a Hey where did our outfield go?

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  6. Nick says:

    Well to be fair, not everything as he’s still walking at a well above average rate and thus scoring runs. That at least makes him playable in mixed leagues, esp those that use OBP instead of AVG. Too many grounders are the problem; if he can reverse the GB/FB rate, he should OK.

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  7. mwash1983 says:

    modern day ruben sierra

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  8. TD says:

    So try selling him for what you can get, or try buying low on him?

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  9. dirck says:

    Before the start of the season ,I traded Upton and Lincecum for Harper . I liked that deal even in April when Upton looked like an MVP ,and I like it even better now that Upton has crashed to earth and Harper is coming back off the DL .

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  10. Sweetdickwillie says:

    Time to buy low, methinks.

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    • dirck says:

      Depends on how low you can buy him .I wouldn’t pay for him on the assumption that he is going to be a huge superstar going forward ,more like a good to very good regular .

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      • majnun says:

        So your definition of buying low means “not like he’s a huge superstar”

        Good advice!

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  11. Rico says:

    Let me save everyone some time. You can just cut and paste this in future posts: “I traded [inset player A] for [insert player B] in a [dynasty/redraft (choose one)] league. Aren’t I a genius?”

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    • dirck says:

      Same team ( 16 team dynasty ) where I traded for Harper ,my team is C -McCann, 1B-Chris Davis ,2B- Altuve ,SS -Reyes ,3B- Headley ,LF- Harper,CF -Cain,RF- Stanton ,DH- Fielder ,SP-Cashner,SP-Griffin,SP-Corbin,SP-Latos,SP-Kershaw ,RP -Frieri . I am in first place ,but just barely because injuries have hit the team pretty hard .Since Rico has already poked me for bragging ,I figured I might as well really brag .

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    • Ruki Motomiya says:

      I don’t see the problem with people talking about their fantasy deals, and ones related to the article at that, on the part of the website specifically designed for fantasy baseball.

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  12. FreeHugs5 says:

    He’s injured. I saw somewhere that his average swing speed has experienced a major drop from last season. I think it’s his back or oblique, as he seems to grab at those areas with frequency after his swings.

    He’s stupid for trying to play for it, and the Braves are stupid for letting him do so.

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    • nathan says:

      where can we get that data? i’m curious about a couple other players swing speeds.

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      • FreeHugs5 says:

        I tried to find it again earlier today, but I couldn’t. It may be data that you have to pay for.

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      • D says:

        It’s on this site- the MASH report from last week shows J Upton has the biggest drop in bat speed in MLB this year.

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  13. Mike says:

    Amazing how bad the Upton’s have been, but the Braves continue to dominate the NL East. Just imagine if the Upton’s finish strong…

    I just bought low on Justin in an NL only league and now roster both Uptons.

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    • Ruki Motomiya says:

      My OF has Heyward (Drafted) and both Uptons (Traded) on it. I hope my entire roster doesn’t become the Atlanta Braves. D:

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  14. Rodney says:

    Flipped him today for Segura, Sabathia and Ryu in a keeper league. Hopefully I got enough…did I?

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  15. Jon L. says:


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  16. Jon L. says:

    I’m not sure anyone will see a comment added here, but what the hell is wrong with Justin Upton? Can you please do a story on why he is an awful player, and also make a post defending why your raters here all still have him in the upper echelons of major league outfielders? I keep holding onto him as he continues to OPS under .700 for half a season, with hardly any home runs or steals, based primarily on the opinions of writers on this site. Is it just based on his performance in Arizona? Is there evidence that nothing has changed? It doesn’t seem that he was often awful for three months at a time in the past.

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