Devil Rays 7, Angels 2.
BJ Upton got off to a great start this season, hitting .365 the first month. In April and early May he was knocking the ball all over the place…but there was a catch. He was striking out at an enormous rate. While nobody expected Upton to lead the league in hitting in his first full season, many expected him to come back to earth with a loud thud. In fact many wondered if he could even stay above .300 with so many strike outs and so few walks. Then he began to struggle, and the critics said “we told you so.” But then something happened. We can point to two key dates in the maturation of BJ Upton the hitter, and why at .333, Upton is a better hitter than when he was hitting .386.
On May 4th BJ Upton had played in 26 games and this was the day that his batting average peaked with his AL-leading .386 average. However, in those 26 games he had struck out 32 times with only 8 walks. He was striking out at an alarming rate of 36.4% of his at bats. At this point somebody apparently sat Upton down and convinced him to take more pitches. Whether it was hitting coach George Hendrick or manager Joe Maddon or both, it was a risky move to tinker with a kid that was hitting .386.
While Upton only had 8 walks in the first 26 games, he would walk 7 times in the next 13 games. However, he also increased his strikeout rate to 43.1% (22 Ks in 51 at bats). Over those 13 games, Upton hit .176 and his average fell to .309. He was taking more pitches and drawing more walks, but he was falling behind in counts and striking out even more.
At this point it looked like Upton was deep in a slump and the first 5 weeks of the season appeared as though it may have been a fluke. On Sunday May 20, the Rays played the final game of a series against the Marlins. Maddon sat Upton and used him as a pinch-runner late in the game. The Devil Rays also had Monday off.
Upton has played in 22 games since those two days off. In that time Upton has a strikeout to walk ratio of 17 to 15. He has cut his strikeout rate from 36.4% prior to May 4 to 23.0% since May 20. Over that same stretch he has increased his walk rate from 5.7% to 20.2%. Those numbers have translated into a .378 average since May 20 and an improved OBP.
The most important benefit from this change in approach in the batters box will be seen down the road. If Upton can maintain his strikeout and walk rates at that current levels, he is less likely to enter any prolonged slumps. Is he a .380 hitter? Probably not. But a 1:1 strikeout to walk ratio to go along with his blistering bat speed and electric foot speed…A .330 hitter year-in and year-out is not out of the question.
Joe Maddon and George Hendrick took a chance tinkering with a young kid that was hitting .386. Baseball players hate change when things are going well. But Maddon and Hendrick were able to see that the .386 average was facade. Upton was not hitting as well as the numbers indicated, so they asked him to make a change. Upton is now a better hitter and the Devil Rays are a better team.
DEVIL RAYS WEBTOPIA…
- *hushed whisper* Scott Kazmir is looking like the pre-2006 all-star game Kid K. If he and James Shields can turn in strong and consistent second-half performances, it will go a long way to righting the ship and setting the tone for 2008. It is all about the 7th inning. If our starters can consistently pitch into the 7th inning (as both Kaz and Shields have done in the first two games of this series), the bullpen has a better chance of securing the victory. [TBO]
“It’s all starting to come together now,” Kazmir said. “It is. I’m feeling really comfortable out there. I’m not worrying about mechanics or anything. I’m just worrying about where I want to put the ball.”
- No surprise, JP Howell will be recalled to start the night-cap of Saturday’s double-header versus the Yankees. The team still has not announced the starter for the opening game. That means Jason Hammel will get the start unless Andy Sonnanstine or Edwin Jackson get run from their starts before the 5th inning. In that case, Hammel will be used in long relief and the team will call up Jae Kuk Ryu to make the start. [DevilRays.com]
- It is official! The Devil Rays have become the first team with ZERO chance of making he playoffs. The Royals and The Nationals both still have less than 0.1% chance. [Cool Standings]
- Apparently the Minnesota Twins inquired about the rehab status of Rocco Baldelli although no trade scenarios were discussed. [armchair GM]
- According to Chris Stirewalt, it is easier to be a Devil Rays fan than a Cincinnati Reds fan. The premise is that Rays fans never have an expectations knowing our team will suck, and as a result, Rays fans need only “puff your Cohiba and enjoy your cold cerveza and hot Cuban sandwich with the atmosphere of real baseball all around you.” Sorry, we are not going to feel sorry for fans of a franchise that owns 5 world championships including one as recently as 1990. [WOWK]
- In his latest diary, Akinori Iwamura discusses how his new baby has changed his life. [MLB]
- The Devil Rays will open a merchandise store in Downtown Tampa on August 2nd. Correct us if we are wrong, but we believe this will be the Rays first presence in Tampa since the shop in Westshore Plaze closed. [TBO]
- The Devil Rays donated $2,500 to the Devil Rays Wheelchair Softball team, who are ranked 9th in the nation. [Sticks of Fire]