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What is Justin Upton Doing Differently in 2012? | May
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In 2011, Justin Upton posted career highs in Home Runs, Runs Scored, Runs Batted In, On-Base Percentage, and Stolen Bases. But in 2012, things have started out very slowly for Upton - through the games of May 15, Upton is batting just .227/.319/.336. The biggest surprise has probably been the lack of power, as Upton has only 3 HR and 4 Doubles in his 34 games. One contributing factor has probably been Upton's left thumb injury, which he jammed while breaking up a double play on April 8th, and caused him to miss a handful of games. But in addition to the poor slugging, there are a couple of other numbers that jump out from Upton's stats - his fly ball rate, his strikeouts looking, and his home stats. Upton's hit chart also shows some interesting data. Let's take a closer look at the numbers.

Let's start with Upton's overall numbers for the last five years. His slugging percentage of .336 is over 100 points lower than in each of the past four seasons.

Year AB R H HR RBI BB K AVG OBP SLG
2008 356 52 89 15 42 54 121 .250 .353 .463
2009 526 84 158 26 86 55 137 .300 .366 .532
2010 495 73 135 17 69 64 152 .273 .356 .442
2011 592 105 171 31 88 59 126 .289 .369 .529
2012 119 22 27 3 10 14 34 .227 .319 .336

Upton is still drawing walks at a good rate, but his strikeout rate has bounced back up after a career low in 2011.

Year BB% K%
2008 12.9% 29.0%
2009 9.4% 23.3%
2010 11.2% 26.6%
2011 8.8% 18.7%
2012 10.1% 24.6%

Looking at Upton's batted ball breakdown, the most striking number is his declining fly ball rate. The good news is that his line drive rate is way up, to a career high 26.7%. But the low fly ball rate has led to a decrease in Home Runs and Extra Base Hits.

Year GB% LD% FB% GB/FB IFFB%
2008 37.2% 20.9% 41.9 0.89 10.2%
2009 45.5% 18.9% 35.7 1.28 14.5%
2010 41.4% 19.3% 39.4 1.05 9.5%
2011 36.9% 18.2% 44.8 0.82 15.8%
2012 41.9% 26.7% 31.4 1.33 7.4%

Some other interesting numbers are in Upton's plate discipline this year. His is swinging at fewer pitches than last year, 42.4% in 2012 compared to 46.6% in 2011. That swing rate includes swinging at fewer pitches both in the strike zone (Z-Swing% = 62.1%) and out of the strike zone (O-Swing% = 24.3%). While he is swinging at fewer pitches out of the strike zone, he has been making contact on more of them, 53.5% in 2012. Contact on out-of-the-zone pitches probably leads to more weakly hit balls. The final column in the table, Pace, shows that Upton has been taking more time between pitches in 2012. (These numbers are from the PitchFX data from Fangraphs).

Year O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Pace
2008 24.4% 64.1% 43.5% 51.7% 75.5% 22.1
2009 25.4% 66.7% 44.9% 53.8% 81.9% 23.0
2010 22.4% 60.4% 40.7% 51.1% 83.2% 22.8
2011 27.1% 68.1% 46.6% 50.3% 85.2% 22.9
2012 24.3% 62.1% 42.4% 53.5% 82.0% 23.5

One thing that has frustrated a lot of fans with Upton this year has been strikeouts looking. And the numbers show that has been much worse this year. The columns below show the percentage of pitches that were strikes, and what percentage of those strikes were looking, swinging, fouls, or in play. The final column shows the percentage of strikeouts looking. Upton's rate of 47% is much higher than in previous years.

Year Strike% LookingS% SwingS% FoulS% InPlayS% L/SO%
2008 60% 27% 24% 26% 23% 31%
2009 60% 25% 21% 26% 28% 26%
2010 59% 30% 19% 26% 25% 29%
2011 61% 23% 21% 26% 30% 28%
2012 59% 28% 20% 25% 26% 47%

Finally, a look at Upton's hit chart shows some interesting things (From FoxSports.com). At home, Upton has hit only one ball to right field all season, and there are very few deep fly balls at all. He has hit a lot of balls up the middle, but almost every ground ball has been hit toward the shortstop. Finally, through 16 home games, Upton has only 10 hits at home, for a line of .200/.305/.300, way below his home numbers from last year - .333/.411/.622. Of course, his road stats are not that great either in 2012, at .246/.329/.362, but those numbers are much closer to his 2011 line of .246/.328/.439. The only difference in the road stats is the power. 
Justin  Upton Hit Chart

Summary
Justin Upton is off to a very poor start, especially in the power department. The underlying numbers show a few interesting things. Upton is not hitting fly balls very often, and those he has hit have not been very deep. He is being called out on strikes at a much higher rate than at any time in his career. He has rarely hit the ball to right field this year, and his home batting numbers are way down from last year. It is possible that much of this has been due to Upton's thumb injury. The Diamondbacks really need him to return to form if they want to get back in the National League West race.