Less than halfway through the first year of his five-year, $75.25 million contract signed in November, it's starting to look like the Atlanta Braves made a giant mistake by signing B.J. Upton as a free agent. It's been so rough that Upton has been benched already, and fans are starting to think this could be nearly as bad as the five-year contract given to Dan Uggla before the 2011 season.
Upton is hitting just .165 with six homers and 12 RBI in 55 games, and his OPS is an ugly .549. Sure, he has time to turn things around, but right now, he is a major liability at the plate.
He's always had some issues, but never at this level. This article will take a look at five reasons for Upton's struggles in Atlanta.
One thing that has bothered Upton throughout his career has been a high number of strikeouts. Between 2007 and 2012, he struck out at least 134 times every season, with five of those seasons seeing him post more than 150 strikeouts.
Upton struck out 1,020 times in 3,568 at-bats during his Tampa Bay career, which means he failed to make contact in 28.6 percent of his at-bats. This year, he has struck out 72 times in 188 at-bats for a 38.3 percent strikeout rate.
Upton managed to be a productive player during his career in Tampa Bay even in spite of his high strikeout rate. With the Braves, though, his strikeout rate is just too high for him to have any chance of being a productive player at the plate.
When the Braves signed B.J. Upton and traded for Justin Upton this past winter, many people thought that the brothers playing together could lead to them both playing up to their full potential. But there were also some who thought that if the brothers were together, there could be some struggles.
It's hard to say just how much of a factor this is with B.J.'s struggles, but it's possible that trying to out-do his younger brother is weighing on him and has helped push him into a deeper hole. It's easy to forget that he is a 28-year-old who is coming off a very solid run in Tampa Bay and has never gone through a period like this one.
Strikeouts are a major reason why Upton has struggled this year. But even when he puts the ball in play, he is struggling.
On the year, his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is just .225—a mark that is extremely low for a guy with good speed. For his career, Upton has a .318 career BABIP mark and has never posted a total lower than .294.
The strikeouts have no effect on this total since this is just his mark on balls he puts in play. What that means is that Upton is having awful luck this year. He is just hitting the ball right to opposing fielders when he does make contact.
Even if Upton's BABIP corrected itself over the rest of the season, he would still likely be struggling due to his elevated strikeout total. Still, a boost of .100 points in his BABIP to his career mark would make some impact on his numbers and probably give his batting average a boost over the Mendoza line.
In an article by Buster Olney of ESPN.com (subscription required), he mentions some changes to B.J. Upton's swing. Since the article is an Insider article, I won't get too far into it other than to point out that Olney spoke with Braves hitting coach Greg Walker about Upton not getting his front foot down quick enough.
This could really help to explain some of Upton's problems, as he is not only struggling with his swing, but also trying to tinker with it during the season. Changing a swing during the season could give a hitter some troubles because he's trying different things to find the right fit. This is yet another thing working against Upton.
According to Fangraphs, Upton has been a different player than we have seen previously in terms of the results he is getting when he makes contact.
An almost unbelievable 27.7 percent of fly balls he hits are for infield flies—a mark that nearly triples his full-season career-high of 10.1 percent from last year. Infield flies are never a good thing for a batter, as it's nearly impossible to get a hit on an infield fly, and they also indicate that the hitter is not making good contact.
In addition, Upton's line-drive percentage is at a career-low 14.5 percent. Line drives are a positive for a batter because they mean the hitter is making good, hard contact. This mark is nearly a whole percentage point lower than his previous low mark of 15.4 percent, and it is also a couple points below his normal rate.
The fact that Upton is not making hard contact is obvious by looking at his ratios. It also goes to show that he is having some major issues totally separate from his high strikeout total.