B.J. Upton (by ububba)

First, the ugly truths via the ugly numbers: In November 2012, B.J. Upton signed with the Braves as a free-agent for $75,250,000, the largest such deal in franchise history. In the first campaign of his five-year pact, the new Atlanta centerfielder dribbled out a .184/.268/.289 line in 446 PA, for a microscopic OPS+ of 53. That included 9 HRs, 151 Ks, 12-for-17 in SBs (following a 31-for-37 season), and a few curious moments in CF. He scored a –1.8 WAR, after doing 2.9 and 3.1 his last two seasons in Tampa Bay.

As rough as those numbers are to process, watching the B.J. show every night (until he got benched) bordered on amazing for its sheer batters-box futility. You’d hope he’d run into one, but all too often it was Strike 1, Strike 2, Strike 3, with B.J. looking abjectly helpless.

So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to hardcore Braves-watchers that B.J. struck out 34% of the time he stepped to the plate, easily the worst rate in a career that previously saw him walk back to the dugout at a 25% clip.

We could try to pick Sabermetric gnatshit out of pepper to come up with some explanation… but, to be honest, I can’t think of a more useless endeavor. If you watched any games at all this year, you saw a hitter who was lost at the plate. It was physical and it was mental. It was a case of a hitter who was fouled up, someone clearly fighting himself (and the occasional home-plate ump who dared call a strike for a heater on the corner).

But, if you must, and you really want to torture yourself by sifting thru his splits, you’ll see that B.J. was actually very good with his results on the first pitch—.396/.382/.528 in 56 instances. (Why anyone would throw him a first-pitch fastball is beyond me, but, hey, the league still has its Nuke LaLoosh types.)

However, all you really need to know is that, save the obvious pro-hitter counts, B.J. was remarkably awful everywhere else. Wanna see the definition of helpless? In any two-strike count—and there were 243 instances—B.J. went .083/.177/.162. In a game that’s seen the two-strike batting average drop to .178, that’s not exactly “grinding.”

(For anecdotal contrast, a league-average player with a similar career K rate—say Kelly Johnson—went .173/.249/.264 in 229 instances. Digging the depths, aren’t we?)

When the Braves signed the older Upton brother, they saw a more-than-adequate, if expensive, replacement for Michael Bourn at a crucial position—a bit less defense, similar speed, and certainly more power (and righthanded at that). But, so far, B.J.’s easily the worst free-agent signing in Braves history and probably the worst in the NL since Jason Bay’s brutal stint with the Mets and Andruw Jones’ brief Joe Shlabotnik imitation with the Dodgers.

So… nowhere to go but up, right? As a culture, we do love redemption. It’s tough, but we’re still rooting for you, B.J., we really are.

84 thoughts on “B.J. Upton (by ububba)”

  1. PAT options in football:

    1. “The TD counts 7.” Whatever. This is tweaking for no apparent reason at all, but whatever.

    2. After a TD the offense can choose one of multiple options.

    2a. A traditional PAT, pushed back to the 30 (a 40 yard kick) from the point of the score (not straight on.) If they make it, one additional point. If they fail, they LOSE a point.

    2b. A dropkick PAT, same rules as 2a, but if they miss it they do NOT lose a point.

    2c. A two-point conversion attempt from the 2.5 yard line (as is today.)

    2d. A THREE-point conversion attempt from the 5 yard line. (This means that a team down by 10 could score a TD and then attempt a 3-point conversion and tie the game.)

  2. Don’t you know Bill Polian is chortling that he let himself get ‘manipulated’ by Leigh Steinberg into taking Peyton Manning over Ryan Leaf back in 1998?

  3. “But, if you must, and you really want to torture yourself by sifting thru his splits, you’ll see that B.J. was actually very good with his results on the first pitch—.396/.382/.528 in 56 instances.”

    For reference, the 2013 NL line on first pitches was .336/.343/.533. So legitimately good job there, B.J.; I wonder if there’s any other split where he compared favorably to league average…

  4. Obviously this is hindsight, but if you were going to go against the Braves usual tendency and spend money on this position, why not just resign Bourn?

  5. I get that the PAT is rather desultory at this point, but I don’t see that’s it’s really a problem. Also, Goodell’s proposed thing was just to replace an automatic one point with the option of risking it for a more-or-less 50/50 shot at two with…an automatic one point with the option of risking it for a more-or-less 50/50 shot at two. Golly, I’m impressed by the progressive thinking going on there.

    What they eventually do with the kickoff will be far more interesting than this…that is unless they actually implement one of these cockamamie ideas for “improving” the point-after, then it’ll get too interesting in a big hurry.

  6. #9
    IMO, the right-handed power component was pretty big.

    Remember, the Braves hadn’t yet landed his brother or Chris Johnson (who was originally considered a platoon guy anyway) and Gattis’ mythic power was just a tantalizing rumor at that point.

  7. Right. They signed BJ Upton because the lineup at that point was:

    Andrelton Simmons
    Jason Heyward
    Freddie Freeman
    Brian McCann
    Dan Uggla
    Maybe Somebody In LF?
    Ramiro Pena (3B)
    Jordan Schafer

  8. I believe that players like BJ-good but not great players-who get huge contracts often tie themselves into knots trying to justify the money. I’ve never bought the idea that players get the money and then stop caring; I think it’s just the opposite that they try too hard. I think BJ was trying to do more than he was capable in order to justify the contract.

    Whether he can recover is, IMO, a good question. Vernon Wells got a big contract and never really did much afterward. It’s possible that BJ is screwed up beyond redemption but, perhaps if he is able to relax, he could still be at least a decent player. It’s hard to see him justifying the contract, though.

    I can’t help but feel a little sorry for BJ but, clearly, if he doesn’t recover some, the Braves will have the biggest boondoggle since the bridge to nowhere in Alaska.

  9. Careful Marc… not the biggest boondoggle by a long shot, but would require venturing into verboten areas. I like ububba’s example of Jason Bay, but I’d augment it to say “almost any Mets free agent contract.” Mo Vaughn, anyone? Tom Glavine? Santana? Anybody but Piazza?

  10. From what I recall, the early indications were that Bourns asking price was higher than what we signed BJ for early. A lot of clubs acquired CF’rs through trade that offseason before Bourns signed.

  11. @15,

    Sorry, Jonathan, I was not trying to be political but it was the first example that popped into my mind. It’s another sport but, being from DC, perhaps the biggest boondoggle since Albert Haynesworth. :)

  12. @13

    Remember, we still had Prado to fill left field when we signed BJ. Hadn’t yet traded Prado for his brother at that point.

  13. BB% K% ISO
    10.0 % 22.9 % .196
    10.5 % 26.0 % .161

    .274 .235 .315 .431 .325
    .317 .248 .329 .409 .325

    the top lines in each set belong to Chris Young, the bottom to Beej. Young is about a year older than Beej, but is only signed through 2014 with 7.2 Million left.

  14. @21 I think your numbers are messed up. My guess is the AVG numbers are meant to be under BABIP (there are only 3 sets up there but four headings). The rest of the second set are then one over, and wRC+ is missing.

    Edit: Nevermind looks like you fixed it.

  15. I fixed it, but somehow I accidentally deleted AVG. the bottom ones should read “BABIP then AVG, OBP…” At any rate, my point is that we’re probably on the hook for 60 some million dollars of Chris Young. Bummer.

  16. @18 is correct. Bourn was asking for the sky and finally settled for a much smaller contract in Cleveland when the market ignored him and signed or traded for other players.

  17. BJ was generally regarded as a good signing at the time. He fulfilled the CF and RH power requirements in one player.

    He’ll come back.


  18. Tanaka to the Yankees 7/155, opt out after 4th year. They’re going to be good this year with Tanaka, Sabathia, Kuroda, Nova, Tex, McCann, Gardner, Ellsbury, Jeter, Soriano, and Beltran. Still hate them.

  19. Tanaka to the Yanks, 7 years, $155 Million.

    So with the posting fee, NYY paying 7/175 (25 a year) for his services.

    Edit: beat me to it ryan, though I still think the Yanks staff will keep them in 3rd place in the AL East.

  20. Well that’s good, right? Boo Yankees, of course, but sticking him on a team that the Braves only play a few times a decade is the best conceivable outcome.

  21. They need a bounce-back season from Sabathia (& Kuroda really ran out of gas last August), but I now I think the Yanks should be formidable.

    But what’s odd to consider is that their infield, which was one of the greatest of all time in 2009, is their biggest mystery now (age, injury, suspension, FA flight). Also, I think David Robertson should be OK, but he’s an unknown quantity as a regular closer.

  22. It always seems to me that players taking big money from the Yankees are making sort of a Devil’s bargain. They get a lot of money, of course, but the pressure and expectations with the Yankees can be crushing. I’m wondering how Brian McCann will feel in a year or two if he is not performing up to Yankee fans’ standards (and I fear those standards are higher than McCann can deliver, even in Yankee Stadium) and the same with Tanaka.

  23. O’Flaherty signed a 2 year/7MM deal with the A’s. Since he’s not expected back until July, that’s 7 million for 1.5 years. I’m glad the Braves did not pay that.

  24. From ESPN:

    Still, the Yankees are not a complete team. At second base, the Yankees have the injury-plagued Brian Roberts and career minor leaguer Dean Anna, while at third they have Kelly Johnson as a possibility. At first with Mark Teixeira and at third with Derek Jeter, they have star players returning from major injuries.

    1) While Jeter may have range only for third, he’s definitely not playing third.

    2) Kelly Johnson at third base?!?! You have a $189M payroll and you can’t get a decent third baseman after your oft-injured roid freak goes down again? Sheesh. I love Frank Wren .

  25. Is anyone here a season ticket holder for an MLB or NBA team and you use StubHub to resell your unused seats? If so, I’d like to talk to you for an upcoming piece about how that place (and the secondary market overall) has changed in the last couple years. I’ll recycle the throwaway gmail I made last year for this new project:


    Hit me up and let’s talk some secondary ticket market.

  26. JR Graham is the player I want to see the most this spring.

    I think he could be a very good starter, but I am unsure if he can handle the innings.

  27. This really bothered me for a second but then I got over it. Here’s what Maddux had to say:

    “My wife Kathy and I grew up in baseball in Chicago, and then we had just an amazing experience in Atlanta with the Braves. It’s impossible for me to choose one of those teams for my Hall of Fame plaque, as the fans of both clubs in each of those cities were so wonderful. I can’t think of having my Hall of Fame induction without support of both of those fan bases, so, for that reason, the cap on my Hall of Fame plaque will not feature a logo.”

  28. #49 – HOF makes the choice not the player correct? The HOF made a statement that they wouldn’t put a cap on Maddux and LaRussa due to their impact with multiple teams.

  29. I don’t think Maddux ever felt much of a connection to Atlanta even though he had his best years there. It’s allowed; I sort of admire it.

    Given that fans root for the laundry, there is no reason the player has to share their enthusiasm for the home team.

  30. I thought the HOF chose the hats, too. Maybe they have the final say-so, but listen to what the players want? I definitely understand the reasoning, but I’m a little bummed, nonetheless. It would have been so cool to see three “A”s on the caps being inducted at the same time.

  31. Yeah, I feel the same way. Maddux was a hired gun — arguably the best free agent signing of all time — and he’s entitled to feel more connected to the Cubs or Rangers if he wants.

    Either way, the Hall of Fame induction ceremony is going to have three Braves and a kid from Columbus, and there’s nothing they can do to take that away from us.

  32. Do we need someone to sign up for the “Screw Greg Maddux for this decision” stance? I’ll sign up. Ya’ll are too nice.

    It’s like he’s denying us the platform to remind all of baseball of what made the Braves so friggin’ great. And for what? Doesn’t he realize that Cubs fans are accustomed to disappointment? And are there seriously Cubs fans who thought he’d go in as a Cub?

  33. This is funny: From ESPN.com

    Ryan (NYC)

    Am I crazy to think the Mets are the second best team in the NL East?

    David Schoenfield
    (2:05 PM)


  34. Maddux was a hired gun, and when the gun didn’t shoot as well anymore, Atlanta let him go. I’m good with the neutrality.

  35. I really don’t care about Logoless Capgate. I think the trend in HOF plaques will be ever increasing toward logoless images, outside of the rare bird single franchiser like Chipper and Jetes. What I have a problem with is that the HOF still has a fucking “plaque room” when they could just install some fucking iPads in docks and pre-load player specific clips from all of their career and actually make the goddamned thing interesting.

  36. I’m fine with it. Everyone thinks of Maddux as a Brave, and they’ll continue to. If he doesn’t want to piss off Cubs fans, that’s his call.

  37. @70. The thing is, him going in as a Brave wouldn’t have pissed them off – they fully expected him too.

    A lot of this started when they retired his number, in what even Cubs fans called a big reach. You know that in the back of Greg’s mind, he probably didn’t want to slight the organization that retired his number so graciously.

  38. @69, the ratio of Hall of Fame debate to actual visits to the Hall of Fame is some number approaching infinity. I get the sense more people care about knowing what team their favorite player “went in as” than they wish to actually interact with the museum.

  39. Hawks have beaten Houston, Indiana, and Miami in a nice recent stretch of play (without Horford no less). The roster is still a bit under-talented, but I think we’ve got our coach. Time to get on the bandwagon while nobody else even knows there is one….

  40. I’ve been to the Hall and it’s a cool experience but I agree with Sam that, given new technology, they could make it better. The better part of the Hall is the museum part rather than the plaque room, which is actually only a small part of the musuem.

  41. @75

    I agree. It’s definitely worth a trip if you’re a baseball fan, and the museum is really cool, but the Hall of Fame room is just a room with a bunch of plaques. An idea like Sam’s could definitely improve it. Then, you wouldn’t need to worry about which cap the player was wearing, because you’d have video clips of him playing for all the teams he actually played for.

  42. Yeah I’ve been to the Coop, too–the Who’s on First theater and the awesome locker room at the end were my favorite parts.

    It’s unclear why Sam’s idea hasn’t been implemented. I think I’ll “Hey Bill” it.

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