When the Atlanta Braves inked center fielder B.J. Upton to a five-year, $75.25 million contract this past offseason — the largest free agent contract in franchise history — they were certainly looking for more than a .184 batting average, eight home runs, 21 RBIs and a .266 on-base percentage, which are where Upton’s numbers sit entering Saturday’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals.
I’m just as disappointed as many of my fellow Braves fans are at the lack of production by the older Upton brother, especially since he usually turns it on by this point in the season and is capable of carrying an offense on his back when he does. So why do I think it’s too early to call the 29-year-old’s signing a failure?
Upton is a big-game player.
I know that sounds crazy given the high strikeout rate he has displayed throughout his entire nine-year career, but all you need to look at is his career postseason numbers to know that he gets it done more often than not come October.
When the Tampa Bay Rays made their run to the World Series in 2008, for instance, Upton hit seven homers and drove in 16 runs in 16 games, batting .288 with a .333 on-base percentage. He also stole six bases, showing that he can lead a team on the basepaths as well.
While his 2010 playoff experience wasn’t as good — and I won’t discuss it at all because of that fact — Upton bounced back in 2011 when he hit .286 with a .444 on-base percentage, albeit in just four games. You can say that I’m grasping for straws and that Upton’s playoff sample size isn’t large enough to claim that he’s a big-game player, but to me the proof is in the pudding.
And really, can you blame me for looking at the bright side?
In any event, it really is much too soon to call the Braves’ signing of Upton a failure. He still has four-plus years left, and he could yet prove that Braves GM Frank Wren‘s decision to bring him in was actually a stroke of genius. More imminently, he could start stroking balls all over the field and help the injury-plagued Braves make a deep run in October.
He has done so before, after all.