ST. PETERSBURG - APRIL 25: Outfielder B.J. Upton #2 of the Tampa Bay Rays doubles against the Toronto Blue Jays during the game at Tropicana Field on April 25, 2010 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
Patience is a part of the game of baseball that few professional players learn well. Heck, who wants to be patient in anything they do? Personally, I am a very impatient person especially when I am waiting for something good. And, for most professional baseball players, they are waiting for that one pitch that could boost their line and their stats and it sometimes comes when the count is 0-0.
B.J. Upton is a patient player. It is one of the many ways he brings value to a team on the offensive side of the ball. He has shown excellent patience throughout his professional career. In 2182 minor league plate appearances Upton has a 13% walk rate and in 3663 major league plate appearances he owns a 10.9% walk rate.
Upton became a full-time player in 2007 and from 2007 through the end of the 2011 season he drew a walk in 11.7% of his plate appearances, good for the 11th best mark in the game over that span with a minimum of 3000 plate appearances.
But 2012 has been a different story for Upton and patience. Sporting a 6.9% walk rate, which is easily the lowest of his career in any full season, Upton seems to have ditched the art of patience in what could be his final season as a Tampa Bay Ray.
In 2012 Upton has put the ball in play on the first pitch 16.7% of the time, the highest mark for Upton in any count and below his career mark of 14.1%. And it is not just putting the ball in play that has been the problem. Upton has swung at the first pitch 102 times in his 233 plate appearances this season including swinging and missing 30 times. Take a look at his strike zone plot on the first pitch:
He is getting some good pitches to swing at but he is also chasing too many pitches out of the zone and around the edges. I get it, though. Upton is hitting .361 with a .472 slugging percentage when he puts the ball in play on the first pitch this year and .370 with a .619 slugging in his career when he puts the first pitch in play.
Upton also drops off significantly when he falls behind in the count 0-1, hitting .220/.250.358 in 2012 and .230/.292./370 in his career.
I have no problem with Upton putting the first pitch of an at-bat in play, but what I do have a problem with is his inability to make contact with that first pitch nearly 30% of the time and forcing himself into a pitcher's count to begin the at-bat.
Upton's overall 2012 has shown a lack of patience. Take a look at his swing rates this year compared to his career marks:
Upton is seeing a lot more pitches out of the zone this year, swinging more than ever, thus chasing out-of-zone pitches at an alarming rate making his swinging-strike rate the worst of his career.
Maybe it is the hope of big things on that first pitch that will make his 2012 line look like a $100M player at the end of 2012. Maybe he has a newfound fear of falling behind in the count. Maybe he is simply losing focus and losing patience in the process. I do not know what it is but I do know that the Rays need the patient and disciplined Upton back in the lineup.