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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

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