According to a recent Mark Bowman column, BJ Upton has been spending the offseason fixing his swing. The swing does seem like it’s the thing, considering Upton’s strike zone contact rate dropped to a career-low 71.8% last year. If he can get back near his career average of 80.7%, that would go a long way toward restoring his offensive value. Is he correct in thinking it’s a timing issue, and second, have players historically turned things back around for the better after a comparable collapse?
First, let’s look at the swing:
Here’s what it looked like in Tampa Bay:
With the Braves, the stance is much more open, and the toe tap not as pronounced. I’m not sure which is better, but it is clear it’s different. Granted, this is from a playoff game after a year of tinkering and struggling, so take that into account.
Now, a look at the plate discipline. Upton is a K machine, and you will hear Braves fans groan each time he chases a ball out of the zone. The thing is, that’s not really a big problem for BJ. He chased 25.7% of the pitches he saw outside the zone last year, his lowest mark in 3 years, and well below the MLB average of 31.0%. Even better, he was aggressive in the zone, swinging at 69.6% to the league average of 65.5%. This is a good habit to have, taking balls and swinging at strikes, and it’s indicative of a good eye at the plate. The problem goes back to the zone contact, and that’s where the K’s came from. He made good decisions to swing, but couldn’t make consistent contact, and the contact he made wasn’t very good, with 19% of his flyballs not making it out of the infield. Everything else was very much in line with his career rates: an 18.9% LD rate (17.8% career), 45.1% GB rate (44.4% career), 10.2% HR/FB rate (12.0% career). A .266 BABIP suggests he had both bad luck and weak contact working against him, which again goes back to the swing timing. It seems Upton’s decision to work on his swing was a sound one, as it’s hard to really think anything else is the cause for his problems at the plate.
This is good news for the Braves, as a mechanical issue is one that is more likely to be corrected than an early decline in ability, which some had worried was the case. BJ Upton is still in his prime, and athletic players of his build tend to age gracefully, not suddenly. The Braves are betting he’ll bounce back, and at this point, it’s not a terrible bet to make.