So, I’m going to try to do the impossible and rationalize the decision to bat B.J. Upton in the two-spot. Let’s see…I need my Book of Baseball Traditions, a nine-sided dice, and a small blunt object to hit myself with that might make me think I’m a bunny.
Excuse Reason #1: Upton is willing to take a walk. His 9.1 BB% is fourth on the team. This leads to the fourth most pitches per at-bats on the team at 3.7. That would appear to be a plus for batting second as the higher the spot in the order, the more pitches the pitcher is forced to throw, and the more likely that a fastball-throwing pitcher out of the pen will be feasted upon. The bad news is that despite a walk rate that is above league average, he’s still seeing a below league average amount of pitches per at-bat. How does that happen? Simply, pitchers have little respect for Upton. Of members of the team, only a host of pitchers and Dan Uggla have received more pitches inside the strikezone than Upton. He gets about 13% more pitches in the zone than Freddie Freeman. Pitchers are well aware of Upton’s struggles and that’s why they are willing to throw, on average, every other pitch inside the zone and not worry that those pitches will turn into hits. Julio Teheran is a good hitting pitcher, but he’s still a pitcher. He receives 55.6% of pitches inside the zone. That’s 5% more than Upton, who is supposed to be a hitter of some sorts. I guess.
Well, okay, so his willingness to take a walk doesn’t really help him. How about this? Upton seems to hit his best batting second this season. He has started 54 of 67 starts in the two-hole and is hitting .211/.286/.336 and yes, that is his best number of any spot. He went 0-for-3 while in the fifth spot in one start and .171/.227/.317 batting sixth in twelve starts there. A manager’s job is to put guys in spots that will help them perform at their best. But…BUT…a manager’s primary job is to win ballgames. The average National League second-place hitter is hitting .263/.330/.408. Put it this way – in 73% of the Braves’ games this season, Upton has started in the two-hole. Atlanta has the lowest average, third lowest OBP, and fifth lowest SLG of two-spot hitters in the majors, most of which come with Melvin Emmanuel batting behind the leadoff hitter. Even if Upton’s best numbers come with him hitting second, it’s still one of the worst marks in baseball and yet, only six other players have been in the two-spot more than Upton.
Damn, so walking and his personal performance in the two spot aren’t good excuses. Oh, wait, I know, Upton has speed! This is very true. Upton leads the Braves with 11 steals in an efficient 14 opportunities. That’s something no one can take from him. And while Upton is obviously the better base stealer, the #5 hitter (Jason Heyward) is 9-for-12 while the #6 hitter (Justin Upton) is successful in all six attempts.
Wait, wasn’t the new glasses supposed to be the key? Well, he’s posted a .621 OPS since wearing glasses for the first time on April 26th, up from .578 before the glasses. That’s something I guess. Not sure in what way that helps his case, but the glasses have appeared to help.
I’m running out of any rationale to bat the elder Upton second. Oh, how about that he bats right-handed to split up the lefties? Wait, so does his brother. Actually, so does Andrelton Simmons who is more productive than Upton and Simmons has been disappointing. Chris Johnson would be a better option and the Lord of BABIP never walks. In fact, if you took what is now the regular eight, you couldn’t find a worse option to bat second than B.J. Upton.
Yet, as the Braves finish up a four-game set with the Nationals, where is Upton? Batting second. There are stories about how the Braves might look for ways to bench Upton, yet there he is. Batting second. The Braves offense has scored 618 runs, ninth most in the NL and has the 12th “best” OBP in the National League, numbers that often correlate with one another. And still, B.J. Upton’s name is written in ink batting second. It’s a bad joke at this point. More, it’s almost like Fredi Gonzalez has put his feet (along with his head) in the mud and said that Upton batting second must work despite the evidence that is overwhelming against him.
Either that or Fredi’s just trolling us. Because I’ve looked, Fredi, and I don’t see what you apparently see. More, I only see one more example of bad management. Maybe Fredi has arbitrary dates in mind such as “if BJ doesn’t start hitting before the All-Star Break…” While terrible rationale, at least it’s something. It says “I have a plan. A crappy one, but it’s a plan.” Right now, this refusal to move Upton seems closer to the reasoning why he batted the pitcher 8th. He stumbled onto a better idea as you want to give your best hitters (typically they bat at the top of the lineup) opportunities with a better hitter than the pitcher batting ninth, but his quick turnaround on that screamed of the old managing stand-by. When struggling, just make a change to mix things up.
Well, let me speak Fredi’s language. Your offense is struggling and you have no production in the two-spot. Just mix it up and bat Upton anywhere else. Except in the top five. That wouldn’t be mixed up enough.