Justin Upton's Love For Lefties

Justin Upton - USA TODAY Sports

Justin Upton has been a key piece in balancing out a once left-handed heavy lineup.

One of the Braves' goals this past off-season was to balance out their lineup and add a right-handed bat to what was previously a left-handed heavy lineup. With that goal in mind, the Braves went out and got two right-handed bats in BJ and Justin Upton, along with Chris Johnson to form what was originally an early season platoon. In the recent past, one of the Braves' biggest flaws was facing left-handed pitchers. In the three previous seasons (2010-2012), the Braves posted a wRC+ of 86 vs. LHP, third worst in the league during that span.

While BJ hasn’t exactly helped this cause, Justin and Johnson have more than helped balance out the once left-hand dominant lineup (Heyward has also improved his numbers vs. LHP this season). Today I wanted to focus on Justin Upton, because he has simply been one of the league's best hitters vs. LHP and has bolstered the Braves to having a league average wRC+ against lefties, tied for 7th best in the league this season.

Let's take a look at the leaderboard vs. LHP in 2013 (sorted by wRC+):

Player PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG ISO BABIP wRC+
M. Cabrera 127 17.3% 12.6% 0.413 0.520 0.856 0.442 0.400 268
D. Wright 142 19.7% 9.9% 0.339 0.472 0.598 0.259 0.351 198
J. Upton 138 21.7% 21.0% 0.280 0.435 0.617 0.336 0.290 186
M. Trout 145 16.6% 16.6% 0.336 0.448 0.563 0.227 0.385 185
B. Dozier 111 11.7% 14.4% 0.326 0.409 0.600 0.274 0.355 176

Before we get started with Upton, just take a second or two to admire what Miguel Cabrera is doing. It is absurd.

Ok, now to Upton. One of the first things you’ll notice is that he has currently walked more than he’s struck out vs. LHP; he is sporting a 30:29 BB/K compared to 32:99 ratio vs. RHP. With the highest BB% in the league, he is obviously seeing the ball extremely well coming from that side of the mound.

Not only is Upton getting on-base via the walk, but he’s crushing the ball when he does put the ball in play, sporting the second highest ISO in the league, trailing only Cabrera. While he is hitting line drives at a very similar rate vs. both RHP and LHP, his fly ball rate at 46.8% is ~11% higher vs. lefties compared to righties, a great sign for a player with deadly power. We can also take note that 27% of these fly balls are going for home runs.

One of the columns I decided to add is BABIP, simply to show how low Upton’s is compared to the other league leaders. You wouldn't expect his BABIP to be much higher than .290 to make it atop this type of leaderboard. Considering the relatively small sample we’re discussing, many times you see the leaderboard filled with highly talented players, who are also getting some batted ball luck as we see with the other four players who are all above .350. His relatively low BABIP makes his dominance that much more impressive considering he's actually been a bit unlucky.

Justin Upton has been a great addition to help balance out a once left-handed heavy lineup. While his triple-slash may suggest otherwise, he is currently putting up his second best offensive season of his career according to his 136 wRC+, which adjusts for park factors (e.g.: Arizona is more hitter friendly than Atlanta). The fact that Upton can split up two big lefties in the lineup creates a headache for managers late in games who are deciding when to use, and then pull, their LOOGY. Having a well-constructed and balanced lineup that can produce no matter the handedness of the pitcher is just another reason to be excited about the team this year.

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