You may have noticed that the three starting outfielders for the Atlanta Braves – Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, and B.J. Upton – strike out a lot. Between the three of them they have struck out 136 times already this season. A big reason for their collective struggles is that they all have difficulty handling pitches up in the strike zone.
It’s easy to pick up on if you watch either Upton or Heyward at the plate. Pitches from the lower part of the thigh to below the knees are right in their wheelhouse, but anything from the belt up gives them fits. The three have combined for just three hits on pitches located at the top third of the strikezone or higher.
This is not a new trend, as the three have been notorious low-ball hitters in the past. They had only 13 hits on pitches up in the zone all of last season, eight of those coming from Justin Upton. Even when a pitcher leaves a mistake upstairs like a hanging breaking ball, they can’t seem to do much damage.
Just as troubling are the number of whiffs that pitches belt high or above generate. On pitches in the top third of the strike zone or higher, Heyward whiffs on 40% of his swings, B.J. Upton whiffs on 54% of his swings, and Justin Upton whiffs on 55% of his swings. When they are making contact, it’s typically producing pop-ups or lazy fly balls, as none of their 15 home runs have come on pitches up in the zone.
Unless Heyward and the Uptons make adjustments to better cover the top of the strike zone, they will continue to be exploited there by opposing pitchers.