What Is Wrong With Justin Upton?

PHOENIX - MAY 22: Outfielder Justin Upton #10 of the Arizona Diamondbacks in action during the Major League Baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Chase Field on May 22, 2010 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

In a world where Tim Lincecum has a 6.42 ERA, Rickie Weeks is batting below the Uecker Line, and Adrian Gonzalez has only 6 home runs, Justin Upton's numbers suddenly don't seem so terrible. The word is already out, though, and it's worth investigating - WTF has happened to Justin Upton? Who turned the lights off? Where have all the good times gone?

Let's see if we can figure this out:

For starter's, it's no secret what the main problem is this season. He hates the fans and he doesn't want to hit the ball to them anymore. Upton's ISO has freefalled to .128, far below his career average of .201 and his impressive .240 from a year ago. He's averaging a homer per 41 at-bats compared to a career average of 24. To help put that in perspective, guys like Casey Kotchman and Brandon Inge are hitting for more power. Do we simply attribute this to the thumb injury? Perhaps, but we'll get back to that...

Despite Upton's new game show, 'Where in the World Did Upton's Power Go?', it's interesting to note that he's still getting on base at a normal clip and scoring a ton of runs. His .273 batting average and .353 OBP are right on par with his normal production. He's scored 54 runs (9th best in the NL) and should be able to steal 20+ bases for the third time in his career. Even more, his BB%, K%, and BABIP are all right about normal with career averages. So what gives?

His batted ball and plate discipline data over on Fangraphs sheds a little bit of light on the situation. Upton is hitting more ground balls and line drives than he has at any point in his career while his fly ball rate has fallen off a cliff and is at its lowest. Maybe it's bad pitch selection then?

Let's see:

O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone% SwStr%
2012 26.5% 66.2% 43.9% 83.4% 76.1% 43.9% 10.2%
Career AVG. 25.9% 66.9%
45.1%
81.7% 73.4%
46.9%
11.6%

Key:

O-Swing%: The percentage of pitches a batter swings at outside the strike zone.
Z-Swing% : The percentage of pitches a batter swings at inside the strike zone.
Swing% : The overall percentage of pitches a batter swings at.
Z-Contact% : The percentage of pitches a batter makes contact with inside the strike zone when swinging the bat.
Contact% : The overall percentage of a batter makes contact with when swinging the bat.
Zone% : The overall percentage of pitches a batter sees inside the strike zone.
SwStr%: The percentage of total pitches a batter swings and misses on.

Without splitting hairs, nothing there brings up any red flags. Upton appears to have the same exact approach at the plate as he normally does. It's also interesting to note that his first/second half splits aren't very revealing either. He's been a steady performer throughout the season each year in his career. No significant ups or downs to indicate a surge may be on the way. So with that being said, why is this happening? If you're thinking to yourself - "Seriously, how long do I need to read this article before you convince me that Justin Upton isn't doing this because he hates me and doesn't care what I think" - I'll try to answer that for you now.

Honestly, I can only guess at this point and it boils down to two things: 1) he has a lingering injury or 2) that he flat-out doesn't have the mental make-up to recover after all of the media blitzing this year. It's extremely hard for me to believe in the second option so let's try and look at the first. Upton has been no stranger to injuries in his career. He has missed a total of 94 games since 2007 and has been placed on the 15-day DL on two occasions (2008 and 2009 for oblique injuries). The biggest thing that stands out:

Upton has missed a reported 24 games due to a left shoulder injury.

The first stint happened in 2009 but more noticeably he missed 12 games in October 2010 for the same reason. It's completely speculation, but I'd have to start wondering if maybe Upton re-aggravated that shoulder at some point this season. Combine the thumb injury with a nagging shoulder injury and you have a pretty good recipe for sapping power from a hitter. If not that, I'd need someone with a keener eye explain to me why he can't hit home runs anymore. Perhaps he truly does hate us fans and wants us to suffer.

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