Since joining the Atlanta Braves before the 2013 season, Justin Upton has been an incredibly streaky hitter. In his first month with the team, he hit .298 with an MLB leading 12 home runs. He hit only .218 with just three homers in the two months after that. The enigmatic left fielder has put together another solid month at the plate this May, hitting .292 with five home runs. The reasons for his recent success are that he’s chasing few pitches out of the strike zone and he’s hitting the ball to all fields.
Upton hasn’t gone back-to-back games without a hit since May 6, and he has seven multi-hit games since. It’s not as if he didn’t do well in April, as he finished the month with a .326 batting average, but he was still striking out at an alarming rate. Part of this was due to swinging at too many pitches down and out of the strike zone. After striking out four times against the St. Louis Cardinals on May 5, he’s done a better job of not expanding the zone and his strikeout rate has gone down.
Another reason for his recent success is that he’s been hitting the ball to all fields. Upton has hit two home runs down the right field line and picked up another five hits to the right side of second base since May 6. He’s still not as consistent with pitches on the outer half of the zone as he is against pitches on the inner half, but he’s doing enough to make pitchers try and come inside.
There is still a sizable hole in Upton’s swing at the top of the strike zone, and that will probably never go away. For whatever reason, teams don’t pitch him up in the zone as much as they should, and Upton continues to feast on pitches down and on the inner half. If he continues to lay off pitches off the outside corner and take pitches on the outer half to right field, he’ll continue to get pitches to hit in his wheelhouse.
It may sound counterintuitive, but continued patience and opposite field hitting could lead Upton to the best power numbers of his career.