The Batter's EyeDecember 27, 2006
What's Up With Upton? Predicting and Fine-Tuning a First Rounder
By Jeff Albert

Yesterday's article focused mainly on identifying a long swing, but what is the opposite of a long swing? Justin Upton. "Quick" was what came to mind while watching swings from his 2005 draft video. But is there such a thing as too quick? Since quickness and bat speed have an inverse relationship, perhaps there is an optimal blend. A closer look at Upton's swing might just reveal an area that determines his level of super-stardom.

Here is a look at one of Upton's pre-draft batting practice swings:

He's quick and baseballs are disappearing over the fence - this is too good to be true! I thought nothing of it until I slowed down some swings and noticed this possible area of concern:

The issue here is that Upton shows signs of taking the swing over with his arms/hands. This is both similar and opposite from what Johnson/Harvey showed. Similar in that the hands/arms take over the swing, but opposite because Johnson/Harvey created an extra swing segment, whereas Upton may be eliminating a more optimal swing segmentation. In simplest terms, when Upton begins pushing with the arms/hands, he does not allow rotational forces produced by the body to be completely transferred to the bat.

Upton, to me, resembles a Rickie Weeks type of player - chosen as "5-tool" middle infielders at the top of the draft. And I am going to skip a step here and add in what I consider to be a good blend quickness and power, Alfonso Soriano, who transfers momentum efficiently from hips to shoulders to bat.

Weeks is on the left and Soriano on the right, along with a game swing of Upton in the middle. Each clip is synchronized to contact. Weeks and Soriano are hitting home runs to left field, and Upton appears to have hit a foul-ball home run down the left field line.

Remember the trouble sign from Upton's bp swing? Here is how it shows up during game action:

Given Upton's athleticism and ability, projecting him as a "Rickie Weeks type" is not far fetched. Weeks is showing progress at the highest level and gives plenty of reason for optimism. Upton does not show much reason to warrant different expectations of himself.

My question is this: what type of hitters can these players really become? Check out Soriano - another good athlete who came up through the middle infield - whose swing is quite different. In the 2-frame segment above, look how much further Soriano is able to move his bat in the same period of time. Moving the bat head over longer distance during the same period of time equals more power (with no loss of quickness). Soriano accomplishes this by keeping the arms/bat segment connected to the rotation of the torso, rather than pushing the bat to contact.

If Upton and Weeks stack up athletically to Soriano, basic swing mechanics may be the only thing holding them back from 35-40 home run power. Of course, this is a sticky subject, because you do not want the player to feel that a major overhaul is necessary. You want to work with what he has and make the most of the existing talent - see which simple, small adjustments can create the greatest benefit.

Getting back to the draft, investing in quickness (Upton-style) over bat speed (Johnson-style) is most likely to provide the most immediate return. Quickness provides more opportunities for solid contact and plate discipline, which provide productivity outside of simply home runs. "Power comes last" is a common statement, and perhaps this is a good example to keep an eye on. If power truly does come last for the likes of Upton and Weeks, will it be a product of their current swings, or courtesy of some Soriano-esque improvements? Again, time will tell.


I love reading these articles. Its a welcome addition to the site.

I enjoyed this article and the last. However, from the point of view of someone who's never had the chance to see Upton play the problem seems to lie in his splits.

vs rhp:
vs lhp:

At least against righties there doesn't seem to be any problem with Upton's power stroke, particularly for a 19 year old. It's a pretty safe bet to assume that a right handed player of Justin's ability will learn to adjust and hit the lefties he probably saw so rarely in his amateur career. Perhaps these splits are just coincidence but with only one year's worth of data it seems to be rather telling.


thanks for the info. I have not looked in depth at the stats. Sometimes it can be a doubled edged sword when doing an analysis like this. If I see that a player has poor stats, maybe I am more likely to be biased about his swing, or vice versa. Most of these comparisons and analyses are based largely on the video, and then look to see how the stats match up, if at all.

I tried to convey my thoughts about the "upton" swing in that I believe it would be generally easier for this type to have early success. Quickness allows him many opportunities for solid contact, and solid hits will be productive anywhere.

Sometimes, athletes are just good enough to find a way to produce results with having the "best mechanics" (if there really is such a thing). And sometimes the best swings don't produce the best results. That's why I said that the swing is only part of the equation.

Enlightening article. If Weeks is simply quick to the ball as opposed to having uber bat speed he's really not meeting the draft coverage press clippings. His defense has been poor at 2B. Now this article suggests perhaps he doesn't have 30 HR potential without tweaking his swing. I had always figured his high strikeout rate was because he was taking a big hack. But if he's quick to the ball and swinging and missing then maybe the hand-eye coordination to be an elite guy is lacking.

maybe if Weeks is pushing a little bit with the hands, he forces extension and his bat path is a little too downward (esp. compared to Soriano). Looks a bit that way from this clip. I don't really have enough video of him to really tell. Just a thought (something I would look for if I could on a daily basis). This could cause an issue in that his path may not maximize hit 'contact time' (the time his bat is in the "hitting zone") - this would give him small room for error. ie, he could have plenty of bat speed to hit 30 HR, but swing path may not allow it? just thinking out loud here...

the good hitters (power and avg.) seem to say they think of themselves as line drive hitters. Just so happens that their swings allow line drives that start on an elevated angle. Maybe Weeks' swing provides line drives that are just too flat (no lift)