Uptons in the Outfield: A Look at the Braves' Sibling Rivalry
With the offseason signing of B.J. Upton and the trade last week to acquire his brother Justin, the Atlanta Braves feel they have assembled baseball's best, most exciting outfield. The Braves hope that playing together will stoke the brothers' competitive fire and help them reach the potential they have had since entering the major leagues. Here, we examine each Upton's five tools to see who has the upper hand in this brother vs. brother battle.
Tool #1: Hitting for Average
Neither Upton is going to win a batting title, but that's not why they were brought to Atlanta in the first place. Still, if you don't get hits and get on base, it's difficult to score runs. Justin hit .280 last year for Arizona, and that was while battling a thumb injury similar to the one Jason Heyward dealt with in 2011. One has to think that, with the protection the potent Braves lineup will give him, Justin's average could approach .300 this year. B.J., however, is a great strike out risk, and has hit just .242 over has last four seasons.
Tool #2: Hitting for Power
Power is going to be the focus of the Braves offense this year. Both Uptons have shown some power in the past, with B.J. increasing his numbers in each of the last four seasons, from just 11 home runs in 2009 to a career-high 28 last year. Justin hit 31 homers in 2011, but only 17 in both 2010 and 2012, as he battled injuries. If Justin can remain healthy, he may have more potential as a power hitter than B.J. does, but B.J. has shown more consistency in improving that part of his game.
Tool #3: Baserunning and Speed
Both Uptons have good speed, but Justin doesn't steal bases quite as often as B.J. does. However, B.J. routinely finishes in the top ten in times caught stealing. That can be overlooked a bit, however, since he runs so often, and because he still leads Justin in caught-stealing percentage. Either Upton is dangerous enough on the basepaths to run at any time and create trouble for a pitcher. The elder Upton, though, has done it more often, and more efficiently.
Tool #4: Throwing Ability
This can be a difficult skill to quantify, especially for outfielders, because there are many elements that go into the throwing part of the game. It encompasses not only outfield assists, but also the ability to keep baserunners from advancing simply by a reputation for arm strength. Neither Upton possesses a sterling throwing arm, as shown by their fielding metrics (here are Justin's and here are B.J.'s). However, B.J. has more outfield assists than Justin over the last two years, including 10 last year from center field, which led the American League.
Tool #5: Fielding
Fielding is the weakest part of each Upton's game. They both make astounding plays at times, but will then make careless errors on the most routine of plays. In four of the past five seasons, B.J. has been in the top five league-wide in errors among center fielders, while Justin led the National League in errors as a right fielder in 2009 and 2011. However, he's made strides in his game, cutting those errors down significantly in 2010 and 2012. He can even be given a bit of a pass on 2011 because of the injury to his hand, which makes it much more difficult to catch a ball. The only downside for Justin is that he's learning a new position this year, as he'll be playing left field for the Braves. With the improvement in his defense, though, the adjustment should not be too difficult for him.
In addition to athletic ability, certain other factors can affect a person's play. The Braves, of course, are hoping that playing together will make both Uptons strive that much harder to one-up each other. However, both men are joining a new team this year and might have a little trouble getting into a groove. This is the first time either man has changed teams since arriving in the majors. Meanwhile, Justin is also changing positions, which may add to his stress level (though this is unlikely). B.J., on the other hand, is a little older and a little wiser, and has done one important thing that Justin has not: B.J. has been to the World Series (in 2008, with Tampa Bay). With the Braves having aspirations of getting to the Series themselves, that sort of experience will be very handy.
Certainly, if one could predict the outcome of a season, there would be no need to play the games. That said, one gets a good sense that both Uptons are primed to have strong years. Both men should get a boost from being together, and the top-to-bottom strength of the lineup seems to set them up for good at-bats throughout the year. Justin appears healthy now, and B.J. has improved statistically each of the last several seasons. In the end, both B.J. and Justin look to be in the right place at the right time to have breakout years.
Advantage: The Atlanta Braves