As one Upton rises, the other continues to struggle
Chipper Jones homered twice on the final bobblehead night of his playing career and Freddie Freeman homered on the first bobblehead night of his career. According to SB Nation’s Cee Angi’s entertaining article, Craig Kimbrel became the first pitcher to ever record four strikeouts in an inning on his bobblehead night.
So if you are playing MLB.com’s Beat The Streak, today would seemingly be a good time to go with B.J. Upton.
The first 20,000 fans in attendance for tonight’s series finale against the Mets will receive a B.J. Upton. This is a timely promotion given the fact that Upton has spent the past few weeks distancing himself from the horrific two-month stretch that began his career in Atlanta.
With his fourth two-hit game of this month on Wednesday night, Upton raised his batting average to a season-high .173 – a mark that is only encouraging when you remember that he entered June hitting .145 with four home runs, a .230 on-base percentage and a .245 slugging percentage. His .476 OPS through this season’s first two months ranked last among all qualifying Major Leaguers.
The Braves did not start Upton in five of May’s final seven games. This certainly wasn’t envisioned when he signed a franchise record five-year, $75.25 million contract in November. But the opportunity to clear his head and fix the mechanics of his swing appears to be just what this talented outfielder needed.
Three weeks after owning the worst OPS in the Majors, Upton finds himself with the best OPS (.897) compiled by a Braves player this month. He has hit .255 with a .369 on-base percentage and .527 slugging percentage through the first 18 games he has played in June. The four home runs he has hit in his past 51 at-bats matches the total he compiled in his first 163 at-bats of the season.
One of the keys to Upton’s recent success has been his ability to put the ball in play much more consistently. He had struck out once every 2.86 plate appearances through the end of May. The only Major Leaguers with a higher rate were Chris Carter (2.69) and Adam Dunn (2.83).
Upton has struck out once every 5.42 plate appearances in June. The only qualifying Braves player who has struck out less frequently this month is Andrelton Simmons.
In yesterday’s entry I once again listed Upton’s tremendous struggles in run-producing situations. A few hours later, I was writing about the RBI double he produced in Wednesday night’s 5-3 win over the Mets. The hit was the first he has recorded in 29 at-bats with two outs and runners in scoring position this season.
Some of the factors that could have influenced Upton’s early-season struggles include switching from the American to the National League and dealing with the pressure of his lucrative contract. There was also the fact that as he struggled through the first few weeks with his new team his younger brother (Justin Upton) was on his way to being named the NL’s Player of the Month in April.
While B.J. was no doubt proud of Justin, this certainly had to add to the pressure of performing in his new environment.
But now that B.J. has started to turn things around, the Braves have to hope Justin will soon do the same.
Justin is now hitting .239 with 15 home runs and a .807 OPS. This certainly was not envisioned when he exited April hitting .298 with 12 home runs and a 1.136 OPS. But his slide actually began during the final two weeks of the opening month.
In the 55 games Justin has played from April 19-June 19, he has hit .213 with six home runs, a .335 on-base percentage and .340 slugging percentage. His .675 OPS during this lengthy stretch has been just 29 points higher than Simmons’ (.646).
Since notching four hits, including a monstrous home run, during his first game back in Arizona on May 13, Justin has hit .183 with two home runs and a .543 OPS. His most concerning stretch during this span came when he batted .189, recorded two extra-base hits and struck out once every 2.87 plate appearances from May 14-June 6. Carter and Michael Saunders were the only Major Leaguers who struck out more frequently during this stretch.
But like his older brother, Justin has recently started to put the ball in play more frequently. He has struck out once every 4.23 plate appearances in his past 13 games.
Sitting atop the National League East standings with a seven-game lead, the Braves have been able to overcome the extended slumps the Uptons have endured. But they would certainly like to realize how much easier life could be if both brothers were hot at the same time.