Who is really the best baseball team in the majors? I honestly don't know but I try to figure that out by using basic and advanced statistics. I live for talking about baseball, it's my biggest drive in my life and I will jump on the opportunity to talk baseball with anyone, even with people who I don't really like. For me, Baseball is a piece of art that sits in my mind all day, ready to be painted on at any point of the day.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Justin Upton's small sample size

By Mike Moritz

Fangraphs lately have taken note of Justin Upton's hot start to the 2011 season. In these two recent posts (here and here), they have noted that perhaps this is the year that Upton puts all his god-given potential together and becomes a superstar. Upton, for years now, has been noted for his incredible tools on the field. His most impressive tool might be his unbelievable raw-power, as seen here.

What I am about to say would be completely going against Fangraphs, something that I would normally never do. But I do believe that they are making a mistake. In the second article that I have linked, Chris Cwik explains that Upton's change in plate approach (being more aggressive) in 2011 has led to his.... enormous luck? No offence to Cwik, I love his writing, he's one of my favorite baseball writers, but he failed to point out any statistical improvement that has had a direct correlation with his offensive output.

Cwik mentioned that Upton's plate discipline has been much different this year that past years. Upton has been more aggressive, as mentioned before. One big complaint from last year was that he was watching strike 3 go by way too often: 41.5% swing%. So this year, he has swung the bat more. His Swing% has gone up to 46.6%, his Z-Swing% has gone from 61.7% to 69.4% and his O-Swing% has risen from 24% to 29.7%. By being more aggressive, he has actually cut down on his strike outs by a lot. His 30.7% K% from 2010 was not that surprising considering the kind of team he was on last year. That number has fallen to a below-average 17.9% while the walk rate has gone to a career high 13.8%. So yes, being more aggressive at the plate has helped him cut down on the strike outs, so far. The problem is that we have so little of a sample size.

Swing% tends to stabilize at about 50 PAs into the season. Upton has 69, so it is basically a lock for him to keep swinging at the rate that he is right now. The big question is, even though his contact rate has not changed from last season, how long will this kind of Upton last? His contact rate was 74.3% in 2010 and 73.7% this year. So, you as the reader might be thinking "So Upton is just going to strike out the same amount?" But the truth is, we don't even have enough PAs from him to make that assumption (Contact% stabilizes at 100 PAs).

The aggressiveness is there, yes, but, again, it does not seem like we have enough of a sample size to tell if this is the real deal. Even if his plate approach has changed a lot for the better, his batted ball rates have actually been worse:


"Brace yourself, baseball fans, this could be the breakout season we’ve all been waiting for."
That is the last season in Cwik's article (the second link) and he is saying that "this is the year". The problem is that even for Upton's batted ball rates, they still haven't stabilized. Line Drive rate=150 PAs. Ground Ball rate=200 PAs. Fly Ball rate=250 PAs. Again, I really don't want to try to prove Cwik wrong, but if this is Upton's break out year, then Cwik is essentially saying that he is going to continue to hit home runs out the park at a 26.7% rate despite his lowly 33.3% fly ball rate. And Cwik is saying that this is his year without an adequate number of PAs.

My point is that we just don't have enough PAs to tell if this is "his year". We won't know until maybe at the All-Star break but Fangraphs have been getting a bit excited for Upton this year. I really don't know and I don't think anybody really does know that this will be his break out year considering we have not seen a consistent improvement in his hitting peripherals. We just don't know yet. But it seems like Fangraphs is trying to say that this is "the year" even without the right amount of PAs.

Look, I am not trying to rip on Fangraphs or Chris Cwik. As mentioned before, I love Cwik's writing and overall, I love Fangraphs. I am just saying, we don't have enough PAs to tell if Upton is breaking-out this year. Upton already has 1.1 WAR, that is something around 10 WAR in 162 games. I am almost positive that he will sustain this, but then again, we can't project this perfectly.

(Statistics in courtesy of: fangraphs.com)

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