Thursday, August 1, 2013

What Does a Potential B.J. Return Mean?

As the Braves were once again batting around in an inning for the third consecutive night, the Gwinnett Braves fell 2-1 to the Charlotte Knights.  Not only did they waste a great start from Cody Martin, the G-Braves lost in the first game of B.J. Upton's rehab assignment.  It's not that the G-Braves faced some buzzsaw.  Nick McCully is hardly a big prospect.  Yet, Upton went 0 for 3 with a strikeout, a common sight for Braves fans.  He played center before being removed for the final couple of innings.

Not promising.

Right now, the number being thrown around is a three-game trip to Gwinnett.  Rarely do the words "at least" precede the amount of games.  Braves fans everywhere would rather Upton stay at Gwinnett for the foreseeable future, especially after a six-game win streak where the Braves have outscored the opposition 40-14 to increase a division lead to eleven games.

However, the Braves can't simply Kawakami Upton to AAA for the rest of the month.  I'm not sure if there any requirements that if a player doesn't want to continue on a rehab assignment, the team must activate him.  Other than that, I do know that position players can spend 20 days on a rehab assignment.

I implore the Braves and B.J. Upton to use as much of the 20 days available to get his swing right.  It's not enough to look good in batting practice.  The Braves need their $75M investment to get his swing right and do so while not hurting the Braves.  Before his injury, Upton was seeing an uptick in groundball rate, a fall in flyball rate, and a massive climb of infield flies.  The following table shows his last three years average and career rates to contrast with his current rates.
Sample GB% FB% LD% IFFB%
Career 44.5 37.8 17.7 9.0
2010-12 40.3 41.8 17.9 9.1
2013 47.2 35.4 17.4 22.2

How much does that 22.2 infield flyball rate from this season stand out?  In the previous ten seasons before 2013, a player qualified for the batting title and finished with a in-field flyball rate of 20% or higher all of 13 times.  Of 1685 players.   Or 0.8%.  Eric Byrnes and Tony Batista are responsible for four of those 13, by the way. Jeff Francoeur's 2006 season with the Braves also makes the list.  It's exceedingly rare to finish a season with such a ridiculously high infield flyball rate that it would be an accomplishment if it wasn't such a sign of an abysmal season.

As you can see, his groundball rate has also gone up.  The guy's swing is so completely out of whack that despite popping up balls at a Lockharthian rate (copyright), when he does something different, he's grounding out softly.  I would like to believe his low BABIP could help explain some of his bad luck, but a BABIP that is lower than normal doesn't in itself tell us much.  His line drive rate is within his career and recent rates.  

The Braves have a free twenty days this season to try to get Upton going.  If he does, the Braves have to bring him back for the final stretch-run before October.  

If not...he will be the most expensive pinch runner/defensive replacement in history.  If his swing remains a lost cause for the remainder of 2013, the Braves simply can't justify playing him over Evan Gattis or Jordan Schafer.  In last year's catastrophe of a Wild Card Game, Fredi Gonzalez played David Ross over Brian McCann (and was quite right to do so).  He has shown if an expensive veteran isn't playing well, he won't automatically start him in the playoffs.  Unless Upton figures out things at Gwinnett, he will be cheering on the Braves next to Gerald Laird.


  1. It should be noted that B.J. Upton went 3 for 4 tonight with 2 doubles. So...that's promising?

  2. Every time you say Keith Lockhart's name Ryan Klesko beats another prostitute.