At this point, B.J. Upton must be wondering what happened between leaving Tampa Bay and beginning this chapter of his career with the Braves. It was supposed to be a wonderful fit. The Braves viewed Michael Bourn as overpriced and more likely to regress as his entire value was built on his speed. Upton was younger, an accomplished base stealer of his own, and could play great defense even if it wasn’t otherworldly like Bourn. Plus, he had power, and was less likely to regress over the life of a long-term contract. Yeah, sure, he never hit for much of an average and he never really became the hitter many expected him to become when he arrived on the scene. Ya know, back when the Rays were the Devil Rays.
Oh, and did I mention that the Braves traded for his younger brother? For the foreseeable future, he could come to the ballpark and play with his brother. Add in the young phenom Jason Heyward and the outfield looked like it could be epic in 2013 and for many years to come. Plus, its a sitcom waiting to be written.
It wasn’t that big of a deal that he went hitless in the first four games of the year. Or that he ended April with an OPS of .500. Though, when that OPS somehow fell by the end of May, it became a little worrisome. A decent June got his OPS close to .600 and maybe things were starting to look up, but they quickly crashed and in a series against the Reds right before the All-Star Break when Upton – and his younger bro and Heyward – all would go down with injuries.
He came off the DL on August 3rd and immediately started a five-game hit streak. It maxed out with a 4-for-5 day in Washington back on August 7th and his slash was .198/.283/.319 with his OPS over .600 for the first time all season. Braves fans began to wonder if Upton was finally going to get hot and what kind of weapon that would be for the rest of the season.
Two hitless games followed. And worse yet for Upton, Jordan Schafer was activated off the DL on August 11th. Schafer had slashed .312/.399/.464 when he was played on the DL. In a sign of things to come, he started four consecutive games before suffering an injury on June 26th. It seemed like the Braves were going to have a problem keeping Schafer out of the lineup, even if the Braves had finally found their leadoff hitter in his absence.
On August 11th, it was Schafer who patrolled center field in a 9-4 win over the Marlins, not Upton. However, Schafer started only the middle game of a three-game series with the Phillies. Maybe Fredi Gonzalez just wanted to get Schafer’s feet wet with an early start.
Nope, Schafer would start the first two games against the Nationals, including playing the entirety of the ridiculous extra-inning game on Saturday. Upton got back in the lineup in the rubber game but much like the series with the Phillies, there was a reason.
Bossman, who is still owed the lionshare of $75.25M from the contract he signed as a free agent, had been reduced to a platoon. When there was a left-hander on the mound, he got the start. When there wasn’t, he sat, awaiting a call from Fredi to pinch-hit. Since his four hit game, Upton is hitless in the 24 plate appearances that have followed with a walk, a sacrifice fly, and 12 K’s. Schafer hasn’t come off the DL hitting the ball everywhere, either. He’s 3-for-22 with 3 walks. But compared to Upton, that is a monster improvement. Upton had lost the majority of starting nods to a guy who entered this year with a .221/.305/.301 slash in a shade under 900 PA.
It’s too early to say Upton has been a complete bust. The Braves hope that after the 2017 season, they will look back at 2013 as a weird anomaly. Regardless, the last thing they envisioned was that five months into a five-year contract, their prized acquisition would become a platoon hitter (and not a particularly good one at that). For his part, Upton is saying all the right things. As he said, “We’re going way too well for me to be worried about what I’m doing.” He also added, “I don’t really have an argument. What’s my argument?”
Yeah, he really doesn’t have one. True, he’s probably been a little unlucky. His line-drive rate is within his career norms, but his .260 BABIP is 57 points below his career average. But his 32.8 K% is also the highest of his career. His swing has been slow and his adjustments have been even slower. The only pitch that doesn’t seem to be completely embarrassing him is the curveball, but pitchers aren’t throwing that often against him. And his defense hasn’t been truly valuable this season. Everything is off the rails at this point.
The Braves could definitely use a little of Tampa Upton down the stretch after learning that Heyward may miss the rest of the regular season with a fractured jaw. It’s not the way Upton probably wanted to get more at-bats, but it’s what has been thrust at his feet. Losing such a valuable member of the team hurts in the field, at the plate, on the base-paths…you name it, Heyward could do it. Upton can’t replace him, but the one thing he can do is produce. At least, I think he can. Evidence to this point has been a little lacking.
He had no argument to be in the lineup. When Heyward returns, which hopefully will be sooner than the end of the season, maybe there will be no argument to take Upton out. The Braves surely hope so. While conventional wisdom says this is a lost year for Upton, the season is not over. With 36 games left, a division to wrap up, and home field advantage to play for – there damn sure is plenty for the Braves, and Upton, to play for. He said all the right things. Now, let’s hope he can turn that goodwill into cheers with a good month of baseball.
And an awesome month of October.