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Justin Upton BABIP, Batted ball, Discipline Dissection: Where did the power go?

A lot of fuss has been made about who has won the recent Justin Upton-Martin Prado trade. The consensus is that the Braves ran away with this trade in terms of long-term value. Well of course, this is on the assumption that Justin Upton bounces back from a season that lacked the prestigious power production we came to expect after his 2011 season. Which seems like a reasonable assumption assuming that Upton is freshly 25 with three years of coveted control.

Lets take a look at Upton's BABIP and its correlation to his BA over the course of his young career. The R^2 I found was only a mere .064 in seasons with PA > 400, which paints a horribly fluctuating picture between Upton's BA and BABIP. Meanwhile the 2012 league R^2 between BABIP and BA was .64. So lets take a look at the batted ball info to give us some context into some fluctuating BABIP numbers:

For the sake of outliers I am going to ignore Upton's 2007 season in which he accumulated a mere 157 PA. In 2012, Upton's BA, .280, went down despite a increase in BABIP from the previous season's, .327, compared to .319 in 2011. Well this does not illustrate much other than that in 2011 the large differential between FB that landed inside the field and out for homeruns. In 2011 Upton's HR/FB rate was 14.8% on a 44.8% FB rate compared to a 2012 HR/FB rate of 11.0% and a FB rate of 35.6%. So a large amount of Upton's 2011 BA, .289, can be accounted for in a high home run rate despite a large FB rate. As a result, some regression in BA was due to occur following the 2011 season if FB and LD rates were subject to digression. However, in 2012 Justin Upton following a year in which he hit a career high in HR's, his FB% was the LOWEST of his career at 35.6%. The first thing that comes to my mind is: Can this fluctuation be described by a change in his approach or by the way pitcher's worked him. Well i took a look at his discipline stats and this is where I found some clarity. Upton had a career high of O-Contact%(contact on balls outside the zone) despite a 4% drop in O-Swing%(overal percentage of swings outside the zone). As a result, Justin Upton had the highest contact rate of his career at 77.1% while having a 4% drop in overall Swing%(overall swing percentage). In my opinion a drop in BA and HR seems to correlate to Upton's propensity to chase, but hit balls thrown outside the zone. Perhaps, he rolled over quite a bit in 2012 which would explain his 44% GB rate and 1.23 GB/FB rate. So once again is this a dilema explained through his approach or the league's methodology in pitching towards him? Well, coincidentally Upton saw less Fastballs last year, 31 %, than ever in his career and more two seamers and cutters at a combined 16%. Meanwhile, in the midst of 2012 Upton enjoyed a K rate that ranked 2nd lowest in his career right behind 2011, yet still at an ugly 19.3%. Interestingly enough, his BABIP in 2012 had the highest correlation to xBABIP in his career with a xBABIP of .319 and a BABIP of .327. So have pitcher's found a way to pitch to Upton and neutralize his power or is 2012 simply a down year subject to loads of bad luck?

To make this jumbled picture seem more clear, lets dissect what this essentially means . Upton in 2012 had a .280 BA, and 17 HR, after a career year in 2011 with .289 BA and 31 HR. The regression is clear and is explained through these assumptions:

A. Hitting less fly balls at a lesser HR/FB rate --> decrease in power numbers.

B. Swinging at more balls out of the zone than ever in his career AND making good contact albiet not good contact explains the assumption that there were changes in approach and discipline, leading to drastic changes in production.

C. Chasing more balls and making contact leads to a raised GB% and LD% consequently.

D. Fastballs seen percentage dropped to career low, subsequently more secondary stuff was thrown outside the zone at a career rate supports the claim that pitchers worked Upton exclusively outside the zone. He obliged to say the least.

In the end only time will tell like in all regression candidate analysis. Perhaps being in the newly revamped Braves lineup will allow Upton to gain some protection and receive more balls in the zone. However, Upton will need to change his approach in order to get his career back on track. It will be interesting to see how Upton adjusts to the league's new approach towards him, mirroring Matt Kemp's progression after his horrendous 2010 season. Upton is definitely a player to watch in my estimation, not because I believe he is a lock to regain power but a perfect example of how a pitcher's league can take advantage of a guy with middling discipline at this stage of his career.

Tell me what you all think. Once again, input, advice and methodology is highly appreciated.

All stats courtesy of Fangraphs.com and Baseball Databank database.

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