In Defense of B.J. Upton (2010 Remix)

I don't really know who Clark Brooks is, but he says here he's done defending B.J. Upton. I'm not. It's easier to defend people when their performance is measured in every imaginable way and it's not about page hits or links. Joe Henderson wrote this:

He still battles with the strike zone; he struck out looking in one at-bat in this game. We've seen that before, too. Thirty-five percent of his strikeouts are of the caught-looking variety. The big-league average is 26 percent. He swings at the first pitch 41 percent of the time. The average is 28.

One problem here: Henderson's using statistics from both Upton's 2010 and his career. He's mix-matching and skewing the perspective on Upton by making things appear worse than Upton's 2010 actually is. That's dishonest or an honest mistake, but it's incorrect either way. The stats are mentioned are provided here and clear as day state that Upton is swinging at 41% of first pitches this season, which is above his career average. The stats also say he's being caught-looking 26% of the time ... or league average.

Further, Henderson conveniently ignored that Upton is walking 11.5% of the time. That Carlos Pena and Carl Crawford similarly swing at a ton of first pitches (Pena is at 40% this year, Crawford is at 37%).  That Upton swings out of the strike zone 25.3% of the time (league average is over 28%). That Upton swings 48.8% of the time (league average is 45.2%). That Upton sees 67.2% first pitch strikes (average is 58.5%) and maybe, just maybe, that's why he's more aggressive than he's ever been before in his career on first pitches. That Upton has one of the highest ISO on the Rays. That Upton has a .328 wOBA, which is above the league average mark of .325. That Upton has a .285 BABIP, which is well below his career .334 mark. And why is that? Because here's how Upton's BABIP splits match up:

 

BABIP GB LD FB
2010 0.179 0.686 0.18
2009 0.266 0.806 0.122
Career 0.275 0.765 0.138

 

You don't have to study sabermetrics to realize Upton's groundball and line drive BABIP are well below what he posted even last year, his worst offensive season. Maybe he's hitting the ball weaker, or maybe he's not. There's no way we can tell without hitfx or some assumptions that simply shouldn't be made without facts to back it up. Just like we shouldn't go around saying Jason Bartlett isn't hitting the ball as hard or that he's not fielding as well because, well, because.

This isn't just about Sunday's event - which I'm not defending. This is about being honest with analysis. His UZR is in the negative this year, yeah, and? It's less than a half season of fielding data. You shouldn't feel comfortable just using one season of offensive or defensive data to make true talent analysis from, and you certainly shouldn't run to the bank with half a season's worth of defensive data.

No matter what you think of Upton's effort level, he's been an above average hitter and baserunner this season with historically strong defense. In three of his four major league seasons since becoming a permanent major leaguer in 2007 he's posted above average offensive numbers. If he's lazy, then he's lazy, but he's been a good baseball player.

And yeah, I'm sure some will reply that I'm just an Upton fan and you're damn right I'm an Upton fan. I'm so much of an Upton fan that I'm ready for him to be traded just so I can attend games or watch them on television without having to hear about how my favorite player is a lazy bastard because he didn't catch a ball that landed ten feet ahead of him or because he took a ball he thought was a strike.

But I'm not asking for anyone to like him. I'm just saying be objective.

Oh, and be honest.

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