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.