It seems everyone has a theory for why B.J. Upton has had such a rough time at the plate since joining the Atlanta Braves. Perhaps he’s not getting his front foot down or he has a hitch that slows his swing or he’s just having trouble seeing the ball. The numbers indicate that simply being aggressive early in the count is a way that Upton could improve.
Upton is hitting .448 this season when he puts the first or second pitch of the at-bat in play. A total of 13 of his 23 hits have come on the first two pitches of the at-bat, including both of his home runs and six of his seven RBI. This isn’t atypical for Upton, as he’s hit .371 over his career when putting one of the first two pitches in play.
These numbers do need to be qualified a bit. For one, the average is aided by the fact that the ball has to be batted for it to count toward these stats and that hat nullifies his 41 percent whiff rate in these counts, and doesn’t include any pitches fouled off. Hitters generally tend to be more selective early in the count as well, looking for a specific pitch or location.
Still, Upton is a better hitter early in the count than even when he gets ahead later in the at-bat. He’s yet to record a hit in an at-bat where he has two balls or more and less than two strikes (2-0, 2-1, 3-0, 3-1) this season. He has drawn 14 walks, but he hasn’t used being ahead in the count to get a good pitch to do damage.
The benefit of being aggressive early in the count was illustrated during the game against the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday night. In the bottom of the first, Upton took a 1-0 fastball that caught a lot of the plate for a strike. He ended up striking out, leaving two runners in scoring position. In the bottom of the sixth, Upton lined a first pitch fastball off reliever Pat Neshek. Even though the ball was hit directly at the left fielder, Upton picked up an RBI with a sacrifice fly.
This doesn’t mean that Upton should go up swinging at the first pitch of every at-bat, but he should be very aggressive looking for specific pitches to drive early in the count. Opposing teams will notice if Upton continues to stay hot early in the count, which would lead to them being more cautious and potentially getting behind in the count. This will lead to more opportunities for B.J. to look for fastballs and pick up walks.
The whiffs will continue to be a problem for Upton, just like it will for the rest of the lineup. However, capitalizing on good pitches to hit early in the count will help B.J. get closer to the type of player the Braves hoped he would be.