B.J. Upton was lazy. He could run like a gazelle, but never hustled. When things didn’t go right, he threw tamper tantrums.
Justin Upton was too quiet. He didn’t play with intensity, or a high level of energy. A teammate said he had to “look suave on plays”, instead of grinding them out.
Between the Upton brothers, there’s enough talent to make the two perennial All-Stars, but attitude – that all-important intangible that separates the good from the greats – has held them back. Instead, they both parted ways with the teams that they came up with – B.J. via free agency, and Justin via an Arizona Diamondbacks organization that tried to shop him for years – only to be united on the Atlanta Braves.
Two underachieving potential stars with a lack of mental focus to take their game to the next level? Sounds like a disaster. So why are the Braves so ecstatic to have the Upton brothers on board?
Well, that’s because the perceptions about their attitude is just that – perceived. And both B.J. and Justin are determined to prove that to the baseball world, and their former teams.
By most standards, B.J. Upton should already be a star. Although his high strikeout rate and a reduced walk rate caused his OBP to dip below .300 for the first time in his career in “down” 2012, his power/speed combo is essentially unparalleled at his position. In fact, Mike Trout was the only other center fielder who reached the 25-30 mark last season, and BJ Upton’s 7.5 fWAR over the last two seconds ranks him in the top ten among his peers.
His days fighting with teammates and not going after fly balls is long over. In 2013, B.J. might just end up being the most underrated player to hit 30 homers with 40 steals ever.
As for Justin, that the Diamondbacks were so eager to shop the 25-year old is a move that’s still a bit of a head-shaker. J-Up is perceived not to play with intensity and an all-out grinding attitude, but he never wanted out of the lineup when a nagging thumb injury bothered him all of 2012. In another “down” year where he was hurt, Upton only missed a handful of games, and was only three homers and two steals away from another 20-20 season.
This is a 25-year old who was a 6.4 fWAR player with a .898 OPS at 23, and signed to a reasonable contract. To put it in perspective, only two other right fielders – Jose Bautista and Ben Zobrist (who isn’t a regular OF) – were more valuable than Upton’s 16.7 fWAR over the last four years. No other right fielder has scored more runs. He ranks fifth in stolen bases during that time, eighth in homers, and seventh in OPS.
In short, this guy is a star that any team should be happy to have at any age – that he’s 25 only makes his accomplishments more impressive. The Diamondbacks may get similar replacement value from Martin Prado next season, but that will change very quickly in the years afterwards as Upton enters his prime and Prado exits his.
But apparently, that isn’t good enough. Teams think that the brothers both come with attitudes, and that’s what’s going to keep them down, despite well above average production at their respective positions.
Now together on Atlanta, the spotlight will be on them more than ever, and the brothers will be looking to show that the attitude problems are more conjuration than truth at this stage of their careers.
And that should be good enough to put the rest of the NL – even the mighty Washington Nationals – on notice.