Stats & Info: Justin Upton

Names to know: Winter Meetings targets

December, 5, 2014
Getty ImagesJon Lester and Matt Kemp could find themselves with new teams after the Winter Meetings.
The Winter Meetings begin Monday in San Diego and there are expectations of major wheeling and dealing by baseball executives.

Here's a look at some of the players who figure to be headline-grabbers at this year's gathering.

Max Scherzer and Jon Lester
Max Scherzer and Jon Lester are the two premium pitchers available in free agency this year. Both could threaten or exceed the record for largest contract issued to a free agent pitcher, $161 million by CC Sabathia with the Yankees.

In 2012, Lester posted a 4.82 ERA in over 200 innings. It improved in 2013 to 3.75 before he re-established himself as an ace in 2014 with a 2.46 ERA. What was behind this renaissance?

Improved strikeout & walk rates: Lester has steadily improved his strikeout rate over the last three years – from 19 percent to 20 to 25 in 2014 – while simultaneously reducing his walk rate – from 8 percent in 2012 down to 5.4 percent last season.

Fewer home runs: Lester allowed 25 homers in 2012 (good for 3.2 percent of batters faced). He allowed just 16 (or 1.9 percent) in 2014.

Improvement against righties: Since 2012, Lester has lowered his batting average allowed vs righties by 48 points, and lowered his OPS allowed by nearly 170 points.
In 2011, Scherzer posted a 4.43 ERA, before taking a step forward in 2012 with a 3.74 ERA. He’s been a true ace since the start of last season, however, eclipsing 200 innings in both while finishing in the top-5 in the AL Cy Young in both 2013 and 2014.

What led to this improvement?

Better versus lefties: From 2011-12, left-handed batters hit .286 with an .837 OPS against Scherzer. Since the start of last season, lefties have hit just .233 with a .666 OPS.

Now a strikeout artist: Scherzer’s strikeout rate jumped from 8.0 per 9 innings to 11.1 from 2011-12, and has stayed above 10 strikeouts per 9 innings since. This relates to his performance with two strikes – opponents hit .206 from 2011-12 with two strikes, and just .149 since then.

Added a curveball: Scherzer did not throw a curveball in 2011, before throwing it under two percent of the time in 2012. He’s steadily increased its usage, though – from seven percent in 2013 to over 10 percent in 2014.

Matt Kemp
Kemp may be dangled to other teams by the Dodgers to alleviate their outfield logjam. He had a huge second half last season, leading the majors with a .606 slugging percentage and 35 extra-base hits. His 54 RBI ranked second to teammate Adrian Gonzalez.

Kemp’s value may be hurt by his defensive metrics. He ranked last among outfielders last season with -23 Defensive Runs Saved.

Kemp was one of 24 players to have an OPS+ (measure of OPS relative to league average) of 140 or better last season. His 1.1 Wins Above Replacement was the lowest of the group. He was one of only three of those players with a WAR below 3.0.

Justin Upton
Justin Upton
J. Upton
The Braves have been rumored to be shopping Upton, who had a career-best 102 RBI last season. He brings durability, having played at least 149 games in each of the last four seasons.

Upton had four really good months and two bad ones last season. He didn’t close well, hitting .169 with 30 strikeouts in 83 September at-bats.

Yoenis Cespedes
Cespedes, like Kemp, may be dealt to deal with overload at a position. He’s also coming off a career-high with 100 RBI between the Athletics and Red Sox last season.

Cespedes can make a good case that he’s a difference-maker in a lineup (despite on-base percentages of .294 and .301 the last two seasons).

The Athletics went 229-136 when Cespedes played for them from 2012-14. They were 49-72 in all other games.

Jeff Samardzija
Samardzija may be the best pitcher available via trade. He had a 2.99 ERA last season, split between the Cubs and Athletics, his best ERA in three seasons as a starting pitcher.

Samardzija is one of five pitchers with at least 200 strikeouts in each of the last two seasons, along with Scherzer, Chris Sale, Kershaw and Felix Hernandez.

James Shields
James Shields
James Shields may not command the price of a Scherzer or Lester, but whoever signs him will be getting an arm with a lot of mileage on it.

Including the postseason, only two pitchers have logged more innings than James Shields’ 1,969 2/3 since he debuted in 2006 – Justin Verlander (2,065) and Felix Hernandez (1,976 1/3).

Melky Cabrera
For the third time in four seasons, Cabrera produced a .300 batting average and .800 OPS. In fact, he was one of only three outfielders to achieve that in 2014 The others were Andrew McCutchen and Michael Brantley.

David Robertson
David Robertson
David Robertson is reportedly seeking one of the largest free agent contracts ever issued to a relief pitcher. The current mark is Jonathan Papelbon’s four-year, $50 million deal with the Phillies.

For his career, Robertson has struck out 524 batters in 393 innings pitched, the best strikeouts per 9 rate of any active pitcher with at least 350 innings (12.2).

Andrew Miller
Miller has evolved from a top prospect who was struggling significantly to one of the most dominant relievers in the game. His 43 percent strikeout rate last season ranked second to Aroldis Chapman’s 53 percent among pitchers who threw at least 50 innings in 2014.

ESPN HR Tracker derby dream team

July, 8, 2014
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesYoenis Cespedes will attempt to defend his 2013 Home Run Derby title.

The Gillette Home Run Derby (Monday, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN/WatchESPN) captains Troy Tulowitzki and Jose Bautista will announce their teams this evening on the 6 p.m. ET edition of "SportsCenter." The ESPN Home Run Tracker team put together the lineups it would most like to see, using data from every home run hit this season.

American League

Yoenis Cespedes
Yoenis Cespedes hit a total of 32 home runs in last year’s Home Run Derby, eight more than any other contestant. Target Field has a shorter power alley in left-center field than Citi Field (377 feet vs. 385 feet), although it does have a slightly longer distance to the foul pole (339 feet vs. 335 feet).

Of Cespedes’ 32 homers in last year’s derby, 26 were hit to the left of center field.

Nelson Cruz
Nelson Cruz leads the majors with 28 home runs. He also has 19 homers off fastballs this season, four more than any other player.

Cruz has hit 2.1 miles worth of home runs this year, which leads the majors. He's also shown some of the most raw power in baseball, being tied for fourth in the American League with five homers of at least 425 feet.

Jose Abreu
Jose Abreu has 27 home runs, second-most in MLB behind Nelson Cruz. Abreu is one of three players to hit two or more miles worth of home runs this year.

David Ortiz
David Ortiz is one of four players to hit a 475-foot home run this season. Ortiz’s 482-foot homer on April 22 traveled 119.9 mph off the bat, the highest for a home run this year.

Ortiz has 16 homers of at least 400 feet this season, tied for fourth-most in the league. The only players with more than Ortiz are Edwin Encarnacion (injured), Mike Trout (has already declined derby consideration) and Giancarlo Stanton.

National League

Giancarlo Stanton

Stanton’s average home run to this point in the season has traveled 423.8 feet, the longest of any player with at least 10 homers. Stanton’s average is no sample-size fluke either: His 21 homers are the most of the 11 players averaging at least 410 feet per home run.

Stanton has nine homers this year that traveled at least 425 feet, most of any player in the league. Stanton has five 450-foot home runs; no one else in the league has more than two. Stanton has more 450-foot home runs than any other team in MLB.

Michael Morse
Michael Morse has eight 425-foot home runs, two 450-foot home runs and an average distance of 420.5 feet. All of those are second in the league behind Giancarlo Stanton.

Morse ranks in the top 10 in the National League in average distance, speed off the bat and apex among players with at least 10 home runs.

Justin Upton
Justin Upton has hit four 440-foot home runs, trailing only Stanton and Morse for the most in the majors. His 477-foot homer on April 10 is the fourth-longest in baseball this season and the longest at Turner Field since September 2010.

Ian Desmond
The shortest of the 15 home runs hit by Ian Desmond this year was calculated at 387 feet, making him the only player who has hit at least 15 homers that all traveled at least 375 feet. His average home run distance is 416.4 feet, the fifth-longest in the majors (mininum 10 HR).

Desmond’s 462-foot shot on April 21 is the second-longest home run recorded at Nationals Park since ESPN began tracking home runs in 2006.
The Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies kick off an ESPN doubleheader on Monday night at 7 p.m. ET with Ervin Santana pitching against Roberto Hernandez. Here are some of the statistical storylines we’ll be tracking from that matchup.

Santana coming off a gem
Santana threw eight scoreless innings against the New York Mets in his first game with the Braves, the third pitcher to do that since the team moved to Atlanta in 1966 (Greg Maddux in 1993 and Derek Lowe in 2009).

Santana was able to beat the Mets by pounding the strike zone. His first 20 pitches all went for strikes, and 74 percent of his pitches overall went for strikes, the highest percentage of his career.

Santana may want to bring that rate down against the Phillies though. The Phillies are batting .312 on pitches in the strike zone this season, fifth best in the majors.

Justin Upton is red hot
Justin Upton has four home runs in his last four games after hitting one in his first at-bat on Sunday.

Upton has four straight games with multiple hits and multiple runs scored, matching the Braves modern-era record previously set by Bobby Thomson (1956), Javy Lopez (2003) and Andruw Jones (2003).

There isn’t much you can throw past Upton these days. He has a pair of home runs on fastballs and a pair on changeups in the last four days (one vs Jenrry Mejia and one against Gio Gonzalez). He’s also a combined 9 for 10 against those pitches in that stretch.

Hernandez’s changeup could prove a challenge for Upton. He had eight strikeouts with his changeup in his last start. Only nine other pitchers have eight strikeouts with a changeup on the season.

So is Freddie Freeman
Freddie Freeman has been as hot for the whole season as Upton has been the last four days. Freeman enters this game hitting .443 with four home runs. He has as many home runs as he does strikeouts and enters with a nine-game hitting streak.

The Phillies have been able to keep Freeman in the ballpark for the most part. He has only five home runs and a .388 slugging percentage for his career against them.

And lest we forget Chase Utley
Phillies second baseman Chase Utley is hitting .500 after going 3 for 4 with the go-ahead home run on Sunday afternoon.

Utley’s 15-game hitting streak dating back to last season is the third-longest of his career. He had a 35-gamer in 2006 and a 19-gamer in 2007.

Utley has been hitting the ball hard consistently. Inside Edge, which tracks how often balls are hard-hit, has Utley leading the majors with a .325 hard-hit average (13 of 40 balls classified as hard-hit).

Upton finishes off a crushing weekend

April, 13, 2014

Justin Upton is averaging 422 feet on his home runs this season.
Atlanta Braves right fielder Justin Upton homered Sunday in his first at-bat for his fourth home run in his past four games.

Upton has four straight games with multiple hits and multiple runs scored, matching the Braves' modern-era record previously set by Bobby Thomson (1956), Javy Lopez (2003) and Andruw Jones (2003).

Upton’s surge has been reminiscent of how he fared in the opening month of last season, when he led all of baseball with 12 home runs.

His work was the biggest key in why the Braves swept the Nationals three straight games over the weekend. They’ve now won five of six from the Nationals this season.

How he’s hitting
There isn’t much you can throw past Upton these days. He has a pair of home runs on changeups in the last four days (one versus Jenrry Mejia and one against Gio Gonzalez on Sunday). Monday night will be a matchup of strength versus strength, as Phillies starter Roberto Hernandez had eight strikeouts with his changeup in his last start.

Trying to throw one by him may not work either. Upton also has six hits and two walks in his past 10 plate appearances ending with fastballs.

How do you get Upton out?
Upton's strength is hitting the pitch in the lower half of the strike zone. He's 15-for-34 with two homers against pitches in that area this season.

Upton is 2-for-10 with six strikeouts and a 45 percent miss rate (percentage of swings missed) on pitches in the upper half of the strike zone or above, in line with the .200 batting average he posted on those pitches last season.

The one risk in pitching Upton up there is that he does have power against those pitches. Since the start of last season, he's averaged a homer every 37.5 swings against them, compared to one every 47.5 swings against lower-half pitches.

Top stats to know: Dodgers vs. Braves

October, 3, 2013

AP PhotosKris Medlan and Clayton Kershaw will get the starting nods for the Braves and Dodgers in Game 1.
Game 1 of the National League Division Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves begins tonight from Turner Field (8:37 ET/ESPN Radio).

The only other postseason meeting between these clubs was in the 1996 NLDS, which the Braves won 3-0.

Here are a few storylines to watch.

1. The Braves won the season series 5-2 and come into postseason play having won three of their last four overall. Atlanta has won 25 of its last 35 home games, but has not fared so well at Turner Field in the postseason lately.

Atlanta has lost three straight and 16 of its last 21 postseason games played in front of its home crowd, dating back to 1999.

The Dodgers clinched a playoff berth on Sept. 19. That might explain why they went 4-9 to finish the season (including losses in four of their last five games).

Los Angeles was the first team to win a division title after being at least 12 games under .500 at any point in the season since the 1989 Toronto Blue Jays.

In the playoffs, the Dodgers have lost three straight and 26 of their last 36 road games.

2. Braves starter Kris Medlen enters the postseason on a roll, going 5-0 with a 0.84 ERA in his last six starts.

He made two excellent starts against the Dodgers early in the season, allowing one run and seven hits in 13⅔ innings pitched.

3. One of the leading candidates for the National League Cy Young Award, left-hander Clayton Kershaw, will pitch for the Dodgers.

The Braves went an NL-best 25-16 in games in which the opposing starter was left-handed.

Kershaw has not recorded a decision in four career starts vs. the Braves, but does have a 2.45 ERA (he has not faced them since Sept. 4, 2011).

For the season, Kershaw sported a league-low 1.83 ERA. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the first postseason start by the ERA champion has not been stellar recently.

There have been 13 ERA-title winners to start a postseason game since 1999, going a combined 2-8 with a 4.29 ERA in those starts. The only two with a win were Johan Santana in 2004 for the Minnesota Twins and Jason Schmidt in 2003 for the San Francisco Giants.

4. Matchups to watch in this game include these two:

Hanley Ramirez vs.Kris Medlen: Ramirez is the only player on the Dodgers roster who has homered against Medlen. He’s 5-for-9 against him, though the two haven’t faced each other since the 2010 season.

Justin Upton vs. Clayton Kershaw: Upton and Kershaw did not face each other during the 2013 season, but they have plenty of matchup experience from Upton’s time with the Diamondbacks.

Upton is 3-for-29 with nine strikeouts against Kershaw, though he does have a single, double and triple in his last 11 at-bats against him.

5. Misc Notes
* According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Braves’ Justin and B.J. Upton will be the first set of brothers to play in a postseason game as teammates since the Molinas (Jose and Bengie) did so for the Angels in 2005.

The only pair of brothers to play in a playoff game for the Braves was Tommie and Hank Aaron in 1969. Both played in the second game of a three-game sweep at the hands of the New York Mets in the NLCS.

* Yasiel Puig went 8-for-16 with two home runs and five RBIs in four games against the Braves this season.

* Puig’s teammate, Adrian Gonzalez, however, didn’t have as much luck, hitting only .130 (3-for-23) in seven games against Atlanta in 2013.

Who should Wright, Cano pick for Derby?

July, 8, 2013
Who should David Wright and Robinson Cano pick to participate in the 2013 Home Run Derby when selections are announced tonight at 6 ET on "SportsCenter"? Members of ESPN’s Home Run Tracker team weighed in.

Justin Upton, Atlanta Braves

Upton has only one home run since May 17, but his shortest home run is 404 feet. Remarkably, his 427.9 average home run distance is highest among all players with more than one home run. Upton has two 460-foot home runs and six others of at least 425 feet. Of his 15 home runs, 13 would have cleared the fence at Citi Field.

Jay Bruce, Cincinnati Reds

Bruce has eight home runs that have gone at least 425 feet, tied with Upton for the most in the NL.

June solidified Bruce’s nomination, as he hit his five longest home runs of the season, all at least 430 feet. His headline home run was a 472-foot blast off Patrick Corbin, the third-longest home run this season.

Pedro Alvarez, Pittsburgh Pirates

Alvarez edges out Paul Goldschmidt by the narrowest of margins, getting the nod because he's hit two home runs over 450 feet this season and has three others over 430 feet.

Fourteen of his 22 home runs have been at least 400 feet, and all but four of his home runs would have been out at Citi Field.

Alvarez has nine home runs classified by as “No Doubt” home runs, the most in the majors. ("No Doubt home run" means the ball cleared the fence by at least 20 vertical feet and landed at least 50 feet past the fence).

Mark Trumbo, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Although Trumbo ranks ninth in the AL with 19 home runs, nine of those went at least 425 feet, the most in baseball. His average home run distance is 417.7 feet, fourth in the majors (among players with a minimum of 10 home runs), and all but three of his home runs would have been out at Citi Field.

His 475-foot home run off Dan Straily on April 29 is tied for the longest home run of the year.

Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles

Davis leads the majors with 33 home runs, showing power to all fields.

Davis has not hit a home run over 440 feet this season; seven have gone at least 425. His eight home runs to center field are the most in baseball.

Nelson Cruz, Texas Rangers

Cruz has 22 home runs this season, including ones that went 450 feet and 445 feet. Nineteen of those homers would have been out at Citi Field.

Although his average home run distance is 410.4 feet (12th among players with at least 10 home runs), when excluding his opposite-field home runs, his average home run distance is 419 feet.

Home runs come in a variety of paths

July, 1, 2013

G Fiume/Getty ImagesChris Davis hit 12 home runs in June, increasing his major league-lead to 31.
If June taught us anything about the way home runs were hit, it would be the fact they come in many shapes and sizes.

On June 22, Jay Bruce hit the longest home run of the month, a 472-foot shot off Patrick Corbin at Chase Field. That tied him for the third-longest home run hit this season and since the beginning of ESPN Home Run Tracker in 2006, only Adam Dunn has hit longer home runs as a left-handed batter off a left-handed pitcher.

Dunn hit a 504-foot HR off Glendon Rusch on September 27, 2008 and launched a 474-foot shot off John Grabow on April 6, 2006.

Masher of the Month
Mark Trumbo his six June home runs, averaging 423.8 feet per homer. His longest was a 457-foot home run off Jordan Lyles, and all but two went over 425 feet. For the season, Trumbo is averaging 417.2 feet per home run, second-longest in baseball to Justin Upton (427.9 feet, min. 15 HR).

On the flip side, Dustin Pedroia hit the shortest home run of the month, a 330-feet dinger off Alexi Ogando at Fenway Park that barely snuck over the Green Monster. Three of the four shortest home runs in June have come at Fenway Park.

Hitting Homers in Different Ways
Chris Davis had the most home runs in June (12) and leads the majors with 31 overall. Davis has shown power to all fields this season, as nine of his home runs have gone to either left or left center field.

Domonic Brown is second in the National League with 21 home runs, however all but one has gone to either right or right center field (he finally hit a home run to center field on June 27). Brown’s average home run distance is 381.4 feet, the shortest for any player with 10-or-more home runs.

Check out the home run spray chart for Davis and Brown:

Where Have the Long Home Runs Gone?
On June 8, Jeff Baker hit a 440-foot home run in Toronto, the 16th home run at Rogers Centre to go at least 440 feet this season, by far the most in baseball.

It was also the only time this month Rogers Centre yielded a 440+ foot home run. There have been 23 other home runs hit at least 440 feet in June.

Vastly Different Paths Lead to Same Result
On June 19, Hanley Ramirez hit a home run at Yankee Stadium that went 353 feet. Six days later, Juan Francisco hit a home run at Miller Park that also went 353 feet.

The significance? Ramirez’s home run left the ballpark in 3.03 seconds, the second fastest a home run has left any park this season. Francisco’s home run was in the air for 7.25 seconds, the longest hang time for a home run since the beginning of ESPN Home Run Tracker in 2006.

Check out the trajectories of each home run (Ramirez top, Francisco bottom):

The Giants learned Saturday where B.J. Upton's hot zone is.

Five stats you’ll likely hear quite a bit more about on the matchup between the San Francisco Giants and Atlanta Braves at 8 p.m. ET (ESPN/WatchESPN):

1-- Braves pitchers have a 2.40 ERA at home this season, which ranks best in the National League and if maintained through the full season would be the team’s lowest since the Braves moved to Atlanta in 1966.

Braves starter Julio Teheran has a 2.97 ERA at home, much better than his 4.12 ERA on the road. The biggest difference for him in his home/road splits is his home run rate (three homers allowed in 33 1/3 innings at home, 7 in 43 2/3 innings on the road).

2-- Giants starter Tim Lincecum turned 29 on Saturday.

Lincecum is part of a group of Giants starting pitchers having significant issues on the road. Lincecum has a 5.40 ERA away from AT&T Park this season. Giants starters have a 5.62 road ERA and are allowing opponents to hit .350 on the road with runners in scoring position.

Elias also noted that Lincecum has the second-most strikeouts of any Giants pitcher prior to turning 29 (1,395), trailing only Christy Mathewson’s 1,738.
Lincecum beat the Braves on Mother’s Day, and now tries to do it on Father’s Day. Only one starting pitcher over the last 50 years beat the same team on Mother's Day and Father's Day in the same year: the Braves’ John Burkett beat the Phillies on May 14 and June 18, 2000.

3-- Maybe Saturday will be what B.J. Upton needs to come out of his season-long slump. Upton hit a pair of home runs in the Braves’ win. Each homer came on a pitch in his sweet spot- knee-high on the inside corner.

The heat map above shows that to be Upton’s one “hot zone” this season. Dating back to the start of the 2011 season, he has a .439 batting average on pitches to that “square” within the strike zone. That’s about 140 points above the major-league average.

4--Hunter Pence is in the middle of a hot streak for the Giants. He’s 12-for-30 with two homers and eight RBI in his last seven games, pushing his season slashline to .298/.343/.517.

The early jump for Pence’s numbers this season is attributable to something that Pence had success with in 2011—hitting the outside pitch.

The chart on the right shows Pence’s numbers in at-bats that ended with a pitch on the outer-half of the plate or off the outside corner, with the key difference being an increase in extra-base hits.

Should the Braves need a late-game weapon, they can hope for Evan Gattis to get a shot at getting a tying or winning hit. Gattis entered Saturday night tied for the major-league lead in home runs in the seventh inning or later with six. Each of the three players he was tied with has at least 20 more at-bats in those situations than Gattis does.

Mark Simon also contributed to this post

Justin Upton has been able to crush these pitches so far in 2013.
Five stats you’ll likely hear quite a bit more about on tonight’s "Sunday Night Baseball" matchup between the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN.

1-- Justin Upton’s 14 home runs have averaged 427.4 feet in length, the longest in the majors (among batters with multiple home runs). Upton has been able to hit for power in two-strike counts. He leads the majors with seven two-strike home runs. Those seven have averaged 422 feet in length.

2-- Braves starter Julio Teheran, the second-youngest starting pitcher in the majors, has pitched well recently. After posting a 7.31 ERA in his first three starts, he has a 2.41 ERA in his past five starts.

A righty, Teheran has fared better against left-handed hitting during this stretch. In his first three starts, lefties hit .433 with four home runs and five walks against him. In the last five, those numbers are down to a .288 batting average, no home runs, and one walk.

A key to getting Teheran is to get to him early. Opponents are hitting .366 in the first three innings and .219 after.

3-- The Mets are stumbling, with a 7-20 mark since a 10-9 start. The team's offense has been a major culprit. The Mets have tried five hitters in the leadoff spot, and they've combined for a .267 on-base percentage and .543 OPS, both worst in the NL.

Their 4-5 combo is hitting .184 with a .249 on-base percentage and .579 OPS. All three of those stats rank worst in the NL, as well.

4-- The Mets' lone offensive star, David Wright, is off to a good start this season, just not at Citi Field. Wright is hitting .230 with a .310 slugging percentage and no home runs at home this season. He's at .359 with a .667 slugging percentage and six home runs on the road.

Wright isn't the only Mets player with such issues. Teammate Daniel Murphy, the Mets' second-best hitter this season, is hitting .237 at home and .386 on the road.

5-- From the Did You Know obscurity files: The Braves have three of the top six hitters in major league history when it comes to ranking home run hitters whose last name starts with the letter "U."

Dan Uggla leads the list with 218, 12 more than Chase Utley had entering Sunday. Each of the Upton brothers (Justin and B.J.) ranks tied for fifth with 122.

In the series opener, Uggla added to his ledger with a home run and the game-winning hit in extra innings.

Justin Upton's home runs: Frequent and far

May, 24, 2013
They count the same on the scoreboard, but not all home runs are created equal.

Justin Upton leads the National League with 14 home runs -- and not one of those came cheaply. All 14 of Upton's home runs has traveled more than 400 feet, including two of the seven longest hit in the NL this season. He’s hit nearly half of the Atlanta Braves' 400+ foot homers at Turner Field this year, despite having just 11% of his team’s at-bats.

Upton's home runs have been measured at an average of 427.4 feet, the longest of any player with multiple home runs. That exceeds the MLB average home run distance (397.3) by over 30 feet.

Check out the graphic below for a closer look at just how far Upton is hitting the ball in 2013.

ESPN Stats & Information
Justin Upton leads the NL with 14 home runs, and he also leads the majors in average home run distance (427.4 feet).

Increased strikeouts pace Reds at home

May, 6, 2013

Two of the top teams in the National League meet on Monday night (7 ET, ESPN and WatchESPN) as the Atlanta Braves visit the Cincinnati Reds.

Reds Dominant at Home
This is the first game of a six-game homestand for the Reds, who lead the majors with a 12-4 record at home. Cincinnati has won six straight home games against the Braves, with the last loss coming in July 2011.

Despite Great American Ball Park’s reputation as a hitters’ park, Cincinnati pitchers have posted a 2.32 ERA in 16 games there. That’s the best home ERA for any staff in the majors this season.

The Reds’ staff has been able to minimize the damage at home by keeping the ball out of play. So far this season, 27.1 percent of opposing plate appearances in Cincinnati have ended with a strikeout. Over the previous three seasons, only 19.4 percent of plate appearances were strikeouts.

Strikeouts on the Increase
It isn’t just in Cincinnati -- strikeouts have been the name of the game in the majors this season. In April, there were an average of 15.29 strikeouts per major-league game.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that was the second-highest average in a full month in MLB history. The record, 15.47 strikeouts per game, was set in September 2012.

In fact, if you look over the entire 138-year history of Major League Baseball, the eight months with the most strikeouts per game are last eight months.

The Braves have struck out 272 times in their first 30 games, the most in the National League. Nearly a quarter of Atlanta’s plate appearances -- 24.1 percent -- end in a strikeout.

Braves Slow After Fast Start
Over the first three weeks of the season, the Braves were the hottest team in baseball. They won 13 of their first 15 games and opened up a four-game lead in the NL East on April 18.

Since then, the Braves have dropped 10 of their last 15 games. Atlanta’s 18-12 record is tied for seventh-best in the majors but is still good for a two-game division lead.

The biggest drop has been in power numbers. After hitting 29 home runs in the first 15 games, Atlanta has hit only 12 in the last 15. The Braves are 17-3 this season when they hit a homer and only 1-9 when they don’t.

Upton HR Pace Slows
Even Justin Upton has slowed down recently. He hit 12 homers in his first 23 games, but hasn’t gone deep in the last seven contests. During that homerless streak, he is 4-for-22 with nine strikeouts.

Opposing pitchers have stopped giving Upton balls to hit. In his first 23 games, 51 percent of the pitches he saw were in the zone. Over the last seven games, only 43 percent have been.

Over the last three seasons, Upton has hit .184 on pitches outside the zone and .318 on pitches in the zone. Ten of Upton’s 12 home runs this season have come on pitches in the zone.

Quality and quantity to Upton's home runs

May, 1, 2013

Daniel Shirey/Getty ImagesJustin Upton left little doubt to each of the 12 home runs he hit in the first month of the season.

The month of April ended in style when it came to home runs. There were 50 home runs hit on Tuesday, the most in a single day since Sept. 11, 2007 when there was also 50 home runs.

No team had more than the Cleveland Indians, who hit seven against the Philadelphia Phillies, including three off Roy Halladay. The 50 home runs measured a combined 19,992 feet, or just under 3.8 miles.

Here’s a look at some of the HR highlights from the first month of the season.

Player of the Month
Justin Upton hit a league-leading 12 home runs in April, two shy of the MLB record for the most in March/April. None of Upton’s home runs were cheap -- each one traveled more than 400 feet. His longest of the month came on Opening Day against Cole Hamels. It went 460 feet, Upton’s 12th home run of at least 450 feet in the past four seasons. That’s tied with Giancarlo Stanton for the most in MLB over that span.

Upton’s average home run distance in April was 423.5 feet, that’s the highest this season among players with at least six home runs. Upton hit eight home runs in April that went at least 420 feet, four more than any other player and three more than he had all of last season. This is resurgence for Upton, who led baseball in 2011 with 18 home runs that traveled at least 420 feet.

Unlikely HR of the Month
On April 13, Nick Swisher hit a 397-foot home run at Progressive Field in Cleveland off Chris Sale. The ball cleared the 19-foot left field fence by about 10 feet.

ESPN Stats & InformationNick Swisher's home run on April 13 was helped significantly by a strong tailwind.

The home run appeared to be a clear no doubter. However, at the time the wind was blowing 23 MPH out to left, which pushed the ball an extra 69 feet. If there was no wind, the ball would have landed about 14 feet shy of the warning track and would not have been a home run in any major-league park. It was the most wind-aided home run since David Wright’s home run was pushed 72 feet by the wind in Citi Field on April 24, 2011.

Since the start of the 2006 season, only eight other home runs have been aided more by the wind than Swisher’s.

Longest of the Month
There was a tie between the Cubs Anthony Rizzo and the Angels Mark Trumbo. On April 18 against Alexi Ogando, Rizzo hit a career-long 475-foot home run to right-center field. It was the longest home run hit at Wrigley Field since 2008.

On April 29, Trumbo matched Rizzo, hitting a career-long 475-foot shot off Dan Straily to left-center field at the Coliseum. It was Trumbo’s third home run longer than 470 feet in the last three seasons, the most in baseball. There are only three other players (Giancarlo Stanton, Prince Fielder, Nelson Cruz) who have hit multiple 470-foot home runs during that time span, and 19 total such home runs. In addition, Trumbo’s home run was the longest hit at Oakland in the past eight seasons.

Harper pacing NL in OPS thanks to hot start

April, 29, 2013

Chuck Myers/Getty ImagesBryce Harper looks to continue his hot start on Monday night against the Braves.
The Atlanta Braves host the Washington Nationals at 7:00 ET tonight on ESPN. The Braves won the first three meetings between the teams this season, outscoring the Nationals 18-5 in the process. Among those three wins was a victory over Monday’s starter Stephen Strasburg, the second of what’s turned into a four-game losing streak for Strasburg overall.

After their great start to the season, the Braves have also hit a rough patch of late. Atlanta started an MLB-best 12-1, but has gone 3-8 since and is currently riding a four-game losing streak after being swept against the Detroit Tigers over the weekend.

So what can we expect on Monday night? Let’s run through some notes to know:


Bryce Harper currently leads the big leagues in OPS (1.200) with two games to play in April. At 20 years old, he could become the youngest player to lead MLB in OPS through April since 1965 when Ed Kranepool of the Mets also did so at age 20 (1.161).

Harper had just one hit in 10 at-bats against the Braves in their series earlier this month, but his five career home runs against Atlanta are tied for his second-most against a single team. He has six career homers against the Marlins.


Across the diamond, Braves outfielder Justin Upton is third in the big leagues in OPS at 1.171 and he leads all of baseball with 12 home runs. He’s the sixth player in major-league history to hit at least 12 homers during the month of April and he’s just two shy of the April record shared by Alex Rodriguez (2007) and Albert Pujols (2006).

Since the Braves moved to Atlanta in 1966, Upton’s April is one of five months in which a Brave has hit at least 12 HR and marks the most any Brave has had during the month of April.


(Read full post)

Harper, Upton, Stanton play to strengths

April, 27, 2013
Let’s go inside the longball and summarize some of our best notes on the day’s most notable homer-hitters.

Harper and Ott … expect that a lot
Bryce Harper’s ninth home run came in the Nationals 24th team game. The Elias Sports Bureau tells us that the only player under age 21 to hit more home runs than that within his team's first 24 games is Hall of Famer Mel Ott, who had 10 for the 1929 Giants.

Harper has played in 23 of the Nationals 24 games. It took Harper 75 games played to hit his ninth home run last season.

Harper now has 31 home runs for his career, just over halfway to Ott’s total of 61, which ranks as the most for someone before they turned 21.

What has led to Harper’s success this season? Dominance of the inner half of the plate has been a big part of it. He’s 16-for-32 in at-bats that end with pitches on the inner-half of the plate, or off the inside corner.

Harper’s home run on Saturday came on a pitch knee-high, on the inside corner. Seven of his home runs this season came on inner-half pitches. He had nine such home runs last season.

Justin Upton keeps pace
Justin Upton hit a 423-foot home run in the Atlanta Braves loss to the Detroit Tigers.

That basically matched Upton’s average homer distance for the season, a major-league best 423.5 feet

All 12 of Upton's home runs have measured at least 400 feet.

Upton is two home runs shy for the major-league record for the most by the end of April. Albert Pujols set the mark with 14 for the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals and Alex Rodriguez tied that with 14 the following season for the New York Yankees.

Upton’s success has come against pitches in the lower-half of the strike zone, or below the knees. Saturday’s homer was his 10th against a lower-half pitch. He had a dozen home runs against pitches to that area last season.

Stanton finally hits one out
Giancarlo Stanton’s first home run of the season came in the Miami Marlins 18th game of the season and was a prodigious blast, calculated at 440 feet by ESPN Home Run Tracker.

Stanton has nine home runs of at least 440 feet since the start of 2012, tied with Miguel Cabrera for most in the majors.

It actually took Stanton longer to hit his first home run last season (20 games). The homer was only his second extra-base hit in his last 59 plate appearances.

Stanton homered against an inner-half pitch, something he did 21 times last season. He averaged a homer for every 42 pitches to that area last season. He has one in 153 inner-half pitches this season.

Stanton’s biggest issue this season is that he hasn’t gotten many pitches to hit. As a result, similar to past seasons, he’s extended his swing area a bit. That’s gotten him into trouble. He’s made 29 outs this season against pitches out of the strike zone, tied for eighth-most in the majors.

Who has keyed Braves' quick start?

April, 14, 2013
Chuck Myers/Getty ImagesJustin Upton and Paul Maholm have been fantastic in 2013
The Atlanta Braves have won nine straight and are 11-1 to start the season for the first time since 1994.

Time will tell if that’s a good thing: Of the four other teams to start 11-1 since 1995, only one (the 2003 San Francisco Giants) made the postseason. None of the other three (the 2002 Cleveland Indians, 2003 Kansas City Royals and 2009 Miami Marlins) got to even 90 wins.

But right now, the Braves look unbeatable after stomping past the NL East favorite Washington Nationals three straight games this weekend. They outscored the Nationals 18-5, outhomered them 5-2, and drew 16 walks, compared to the Nationals’ hitters five.

The Braves have a plus-39 run differential in their first 12 games. In the live ball era, only four NL teams have had a higher run differential through 12 games, the last being those 1994 Braves (plus-47).

Let’s look closer at two players whose performances have been integral to the Braves' start and were noteworthy again on Sunday.

Maholm’s scoreless streak
Paul Maholm threw 7 2/3 scoreless innings with seven strikeouts for his third straight scoreless start of the season.

The Elias Sports Bureau notes that Maholm is the first Braves pitcher to open a season with three straight scoreless starts.

Maholm has gotten the most out of his offspeed pitches so far this season. He has yielded one hit with his curve, slider and changeup all season. He typically gives up an average of 2½ to 3 hits per game with those pitches.

Maholm can also thank his infield defense for much of his success this season.

Of the 27 ground balls hit against him, 25 have been turned into outs. Over the previous three seasons, Maholm had allowed about 25 percent of ground balls that were hits or errors.

Upton’s home-run barrage
Justin Upton became the third player in Braves history to hit seven home runs in the team’s first 12 games of the season. Per Elias, the other two were Hall-of-Famer Eddie Mathews in 1959 and Braves legend Dale Murphy in 1985.

Upton has owned the lower half of the strike zone throughout 2013. Of his 16 hits, 14 have come against pitches located in the lower half and below, including all seven home runs.

Upton has gotten back to totally crushing the fly balls and line drives he hits. Of the 24 balls he has hit in the air, seven (the home runs) have traveled 400 feet or longer.

That’s a big difference from last year, when 17 of the 240 balls he hit in the air went 400 feet or longer (about one of every 14 balls hit in the air).

When Upton hit his 31 home runs two seasons ago, his rate of balls in the air to those that traveled 400 feet or longer was about one per nine.