Being put on the disabled list might be the best thing that could have happened to the Atlanta Braves’ B.J. Upton. Upton’s struggles this season are well documented, not least of all because he signed a five-year, $72.5 million contract in the offseason. His numbers are simply abysmal thus far: .177 BA, .266 OBP, 8 HR, 20 RBIs and 102 SO in 277 AB (compare that to just 33 BB). But for all the attention we give to statistics today, I don’t want to focus on them in Upton’s case. I don’t need to.
All I need to do is watch one plate appearance from him. No significant sample size is needed; one at-bat will do. And you don’t need to know anything about baseball to be able to perform a clinical assessment of Upton at the plate. The man doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing up there right now. He has no approach whatsoever. As a professional hitter, you are expected to be able to not only assess the situation in which you are coming to the plate and make a decision as to where and how you want to hit the ball, but also to be able to adjust within the at-bat depending on the count and previous pitch sequence.
It would appear, to both the trained and untrained eye, that Upton approaches the plate void of any sort of plan. He swings wildly at balls significantly out the strike zone and follows up such foolhardy behavior by doubling his luck and taking a pitch that catches the better part of the heart of the plate. The inevitable strikeout that results from his time at bat is, far more often than it should be, followed by a terse and what I can only assume to be volatile “discussion” with the home plate umpire about how the 90 mph fastball he rung Upton up on was nowhere near the strike zone, even though all replay angles (as if we needed them) clearly show it to be right down the middle.
The wild swinging, the taking strikes and the consistently arguing with the umpire despite the fact that he, of all players, has absolutely no right to argue about anything, all point to an athlete who is suffering from an extreme identity crisis. Upton isn’t fitting in with his current team, and it would appear he might be trying to find someone to blame.
This is not at all to suggest that Upton is a poor teammate (though his time with the Tampa Bay Rays was marred by accusations that he was not the best of clubhouse personas), but great players, players who want to win at all cost, will make adjustments – they will find a way to contribute, to make the cast of players around them better. Upton has contributed nothing but frustration and a seeming unwillingness to make change (is the definition of insanity not doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results?).
The bottom line is that until he reconciles himself to doing what his coaches tell him, finding what works in the cage and putting that into play on the field, he should not be in the lineup. It matters little who his replacement is – the Braves’ bench is arguably the best, most productive in baseball. What matters is that it isn’t Upton who is on the field. Maybe what he needs is some significant bench time to get his mind right, and perhaps this spell to the disabled list will give him just that.