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April 10, 2014

Painting the Black

(B.J.) Upton No Good

by R.J. Anderson


The Braves and Nationals played a three-game series over the weekend, and obscured by the obvious storyline—the two best teams in the National League East meeting for the first time this season—was a subplot for sadists: Just how many strikeouts would B.J. Upton, who entered the series with a 44 percent whiff rate, tally against a Nationals staff that fanned 39 batters in its first 28 innings? The answer, it turned out, was five times in 13 tries; an improvement over Upton's first series, when he struck out in half his 12 plate appearances. He then started the next series with this sequence:


Seventeen months ago, the spindly center fielder signed a five-year, $75 million deal with the Braves. Now his games can be reduced to images like the one above, in which he swung through three consecutive Bartolo Colon fastballs, including two down the middle. For as much heat as Albert Pujols takes, Upton belongs in the conversation as one of the worst free-agent signings in recent memory. He entered Wednesday night with the lowest WARP since the beginning of last season among position players, and with Braves career marks of .181/.260/.281. Mario Mendoza, oft-considered the worst hitter of all-time, batted .183/.220/.225 over his stinkiest two-year stretch. Upton outhit Mendoza by a little, but then he outearned him by even more.

The velocity of Upton's transition from good to bad is more jarring than the extremity. The Braves signed him because he was a young, dynamic athlete; someone who could contribute in all three phases of the game. True, there were some question marks about his game, mostly concerning his baseball IQ. Too often Upton repeated the same mistakes—be it throwing to the wrong base on a low-percentage play, succumbing to tricky sequencing, or getting picked off base. Yet his progress during his final season in Tampa Bay provided hope that his baseball skills could sharpen enough to balance out his eventual physical losses.

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Related Content:  Atlanta Braves

9 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

hcaeb2000

The more amazing thing is that the Braves insist on hitting this guy in the 2 hole. Though maybe they are trying to avoid two pitchers at the bottom of the order.

Apr 10, 2014 06:59 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member R.J. Anderson
BP staff

I believe it's a comfort thing for Upton, who obviously has a lot of experience there. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be working.

Apr 10, 2014 07:14 AM
 
Chomsky
(103)

Or maybe he's hiding an injury? What if his crummy mechanics are arising from that?

Apr 10, 2014 11:43 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member R.J. Anderson
BP staff

It's possible, though I'm not sure how likely. The mechanical stuff we're talking about here either doesn't match with an injury (noisy upper half), or is a trademark of his past mechanics (less-than-stellar weight transfer). The bat speed looks fine to me, too.

So maybe there is something wrong here physically as well, I just don't know if it's necessarily causing the mechanical woes.

Apr 10, 2014 11:55 AM
 
therealn0d

Could be a good idea to find out how bad B.J.'s golf swing is. Might be a good diagnostic test.

Apr 10, 2014 14:06 PM
rating: -1
 
Ogremace

I dunno, am I the only one who didn't like the deal in the first place? Upton has always seemed like he could collapse at any moment. He's never lived up to the potential from his prospect days and he's consistently shown the ability to make a lot of outs.

His demise reminds me of Figgins. Chone may not have been the exciting player Upton is (was?) but he was pretty good for a couple years there before completely vanishing.

Apr 10, 2014 19:49 PM
rating: 1
 
Johnston

No, I hated the deal as well.

Apr 12, 2014 22:22 PM
rating: 0
 
DetroitDale

Everyone assumes that playing with a brother is a good thing, but what if it's not? There's a lot of talk about the psychological trauma of a younger brother having to live in an older brother's shadow, but what's not as often noted, is that it's even worse in those cases where the younger brother overshadows the older brother. So every day he faces comparisons to his more talented younger brother made more frequent by the fact that they're both on the same team. Now that's probably not the cause of the initial slump, but it could be delaying his climb out.

Apr 11, 2014 09:02 AM
rating: 0
 
Johnston

Let's face it: he just can't hit and he hurts the team. The Braves need to find a creative way to get rid of him.

Apr 12, 2014 22:24 PM
rating: 0
 
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