Justin Upton's alarming strikeout rate

Kevin C. Cox

While Justin Upton has been one of the more dangerous hitters in the National League so far he is still struggling at the plate in ways as he leads the league in strikeouts.

We all know by now that the Braves lineup is going to strike out quite a bit this season especially when they go up against pitchers such as Jose Fernandez who hits 96 mph with his fastball consistently and has a slider that seems to practically disappear. However, one player in the starting lineup has consistently shown that he has a hard time making contact with even pitches right in the strike zone.

If you take away Justin Upton's torrid four-game stretch where he completely obliterated the baseball against the Mets and Nationals from April 10-13, he would be hitting .190 (12-of-63) this year with 31 punchouts, that means he is striking out nearly in half of his at-bats and he is currently on pace to finish the season with over 250 slow walks back to the dugout.

Although the younger of the two Upton brothers has an impressive triple slash line of .299/.382/.545 and is in a three way tie for the team lead in bleacher burners with five he has been on one of the worst stretches of his career lately. Over the past nine games he has struck out 20 times in 33 at-bats and seems like he is breaking the number one common accepted approach in baseball: see the ball, hit the ball.

His swing right now seems to have a loop in it and he is not getting his bat head in the strike zone in enough time or is either missing right above pitches that would be right in the wheel house for others. We all know he has plenty of bat speed; it's just a matter of timing for him now and being locked in. When Upton is getting his bat through the zone and making good contact he has been a pitchers worst nightmare and is 3rd in the Majors with a .439 BABIP. The problem is his 41.6 K%.

Unfortunately contact is not something that is happening all that often for the seven year professional who struck out a career-high 161 times in his first season with the Braves last year. In fact, he has been one of the worst everyday players in terms of contact percentage this season at the plate.

Z-Contact% Contact% F-Strike% SwStr%
70.8 67.8 58 16.5

His career contact percentage on pitches in the strike zone (Z-Contact) is nearly 10 percentage points below his average of 81.1 percent and his contact and swinging strike percentage are both at career lows. His Z-Contact percentage ranks 196th in all of baseball followed right behind by his older brother who has a 69.7 mark. He also comes in at 8th in the league with the highest percentage of swinging strikes.

Pitchers have noticed his trend of not being able to make good contact in the zone especially on fastballs. This year pitchers are throwing far fewer off-speed pitches to Upton, as 62.8 percent of the pitches that he has seen so far have been fastballs.

This season he has seen 394 pitches and has yet to put 50 balls into the field of play in 20 games. His strikeout percentage is definitely something to keep an eye on.

There's no question that Upton has great potential at the plate and if you didn't look at his contact and strikeout percentages so far this season one would think he is having his way at the plate. So far through his career with the Atlanta Braves he has been a very streaky player and the big thing Fredi Gonzalez and others would like to see from his is more consistency.

In no way shape or form should he continue to strikeout at the rate he is, but it's something that can't go unnoticed or talked about. Upton should continue to be a big threat in the lineup behind Freddie Freeman and is in no trouble of being benched. This Wednesday was his first game off of the season after starting in the first 20 games.

Just see the ball and hit the ball.

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