The Tampa Bay Rays are probably grateful to be finished with the month of June. The team started the month up 1.0 game in the AL East, but departed 7.5 games back of the New York Yankees. Last night, they managed to sneak past the Yankees in a 4-3 win that included a home run from B.J. Upton -- which was great, because he had only 8 hits and 8 walks over his previous 78 plate appearances for a putrid .384 OPS.
Upton was not alone in having a cold month of June. He put together a .194/.261/.278 slash in June with a .538 OPS, but the team as a whole had a .640 OPS -- the second worst OPS in the majors for the month of June, and the worst in the American League. Still, the warning flags with B.J. Upton need to draw more of our attention.
Upton's struggles have not been not been limited to the team's cold June. On the season, he is sporting a .671 OPS and a .299 weighted on base average -- the worst such numbers since he became a full-time starter in 2007. So what is happening with him? Why is his on base percentage below .300? Where have his power numbers gone?
Simply put, Upton's approach at the plate is a mess right now. He has lost all semblance of the patience he had in 2010 and 2011 and is pressing like mad:
Source: FanGraphs.com PITCHf/x and BIS data
Historically, Upton's plate approach -- though at times frustrating -- was at least effective. According to weighted runs created, Upton's offensive production (his hitting combined with his base running) was 15% above the league average in 2011. In 2010, 2008 and 2007, he was 13% to 38% above league average, which is great for a center fielder who fields his position well.
But now, in his final year with the Rays (barring an unlikely contract extension), Upton's value is plummeting fast. The Rays may have wanted to trade him before the June trading deadline, but with his present struggles -- and the fact that the receiving team will only get him for three months or so -- likely has hurt his worth to such a degree that the Rays will allow him to remain on the team and then walk at the end of the year, so they can add a first round draft pick in 2013.
Which means they need to fix Upton -- because they are not going bench him and they still have plenty of time to win the division. How do you get Upton to stop pressing? For a man who was perhaps too passive in the past, taking strike three more often that swinging at it, getting Upton to ease back toward that approach could result in pitchers pounding the zone and Upton struggling even more.
But at this point, it might be worth the risk.