Oh great, more talk of B.J. Upton and his struggles; but that's what we do here. We analyze this, analyze that, and then when you think we're done we analyze it again. We're pretty much the Billy Crystal/Robert Deniro movie for the Rays. Once again we are going to talk about the season long slump of B.J. Upton. What started out as "eh, he's just getting some at-bats" then turned into "well, he's at the end of his spring training" and finally has turned in to "so, um B.J. should be hitting by now."
Over the weekend we saw some signs of life from Upton's bat as he had two hits in Saturday's rout and added another hit Sunday. Even last night in a 0-4 effort, B.J. probably hit the two hardest balls of his season. Unfortunately he hit them to a mirror image of himself in centerfielder Adam Jones. The key for B.J. is the first pitch.
After an 0-1 count, Upton has an OBP of just .250 with 23 strikeouts. That is terrible and definitely not the numbers you'd want from a leadoff man. However, after a 1-0 count, Upton's OBP jumps to .341 and the K's fall to 11. It's not quite the vintage .380 OBP B.J., but closer than the 0-1 version. The problem is B.J. is seeing 66% first pitch strikes. Remember this includes first pitches that are put in play for either a hit or an out. Upton is seeing a TON of fastballs right now, 68% in fact, which is about 7% more than he's used to seeing over his career.
Here is where things get a bit tricky. Do we want Upton hacking at the first pitch or do we want him taking? No, it doesn't have to be one or the other, but if a pitcher is throwing a fastball to B.J. 68% of time, I'm guessing that the number of first pitch fastball's he's seeing is even higher.
So far I think we can all agree Upton's timing is off. If he swings at first pitches with bad timing, he's going to continue to hit those roll over ground balls between short and third which drive us mad, or miss the pitch completely which he has done 23.3% of the time. If he takes the first pitch, more than likely he will fall behind 0-1 which is when bad things happen. Upton has taken a career high 33.3% pitches for strikes.
I know this isn't the answer that most people want to hear. There are many that want B.J. dropped in the order or even more ridiculously, benched, but the answer is probably giving him more at-bats which means leaving him right where he is. At .236 Upton is still way below his career BABIP of .350. Also, his line drive percentage remains 4% lower than normal. He is not going to up those percentages or get that timing back by watching Jason Barlett get more ABs.
Just like most of the Rays' frustrating first six weeks the remedy isn't more cowbell; it's more patience.