B.J. Upton

B.J. Upton’s first two years in Atlanta have been famously, catastrophically bad, and I’m not going to linger too long on the specific numerical details of it. Mostly because after two years, we’ve passed the point where B.J. Upton is evaluated as a baseball player, and we’ve moved on to B.J. Upton the symbol.

For some, he’s synecdoche for an argument in favor of a particular form of team-building: pay a free agent, and he will suck the life out of your team. For others, he’s the avatar of Frank Wren’s tenure in Atlanta: solid trades, extensions, and bargain-basement signings, but huge whiffs on free agent gambles. And for some he’s the face of the franchise right now: just slogging out the next couple of wretched years until everyone moves on to new ballparks and contracts.

B.J. Upton is a symbol to me too though. He embodies one of the things I fear the most, and so there’s a bit of a horror-film element to watching him continue to patrol center field in Atlanta.

I’m a lawyer by day. Ten years ago I went off to a well-respected law school; seven years ago I passed the bar. Since then, I’ve worked in a position in which I attempt to make the legal situations of average people better. I can easily craft a narrative of achievement: graduation, bar passage, entry position, promotion, promotion, the occasional anecdote where things went charmingly right, etc. It looks good on paper, the way B.J.’s resume did prior to arriving in Atlanta. Second overall pick, debut at 19 years old, an All-Star-caliber season, a 28-homer season, all by age 27!

But the other truth about it is there are days I’m convinced I don’t even know how to lawyer at all. It’s minor things, like someone casually name-dropping a case or a statute I’m not familiar with, or asking how to handle a situation I’ve not dealt with. Or even just struggling, college-kid-with-an-8-a.m.-class-style, to wake up early enough to get into the courtroom before the judge takes the bench. It’s easier than you might think to fall into a feeling that all these other people in the room are lawyers, and I’m just a guy in a suit making things up as he goes.

The psychological term for this is impostor syndrome, and while I’ve learned to shake it off and let the results speak for themselves, I still have a baseline dread of some hypothetical day where I’m called to show a particular skill, an audience is watching, and I flop. This background nightmare of mine is B.J. Upton’s actual reality, and the thing I’m most curious about right now is how he’s handling it mentally.

Both Upton and the Braves organization wrote off 2013 as an aberration, perhaps caused by trying too hard to live up to a big contract and/or the hype of “Upton Here, Upton Here”, and B.J. vowed that 2014 would be better. It wasn’t. In mid-season he made a mechanical adjustment to hopefully quiet his hands as he loaded his swing. It didn’t. By August, it was harder to find a direct B.J. quote and the line coming out of the organization was that he continues to work hard, and what else can you do?

Indeed — what else can you do? That’s the scary part. I’d be quite curious to read a follow-up interview to that above-linked Marietta Daily Journal piece, because after the reasons 2014 was supposed to be better than 2013 turned out not to be true, what can B.J. Upton tell himself to pull out of this funk in 2015 and beyond?

He’s not old (this will be just his age-30 season), he’s not lazy** (a common thread in almost any B.J. writeup is how much time he puts in the cage), he’s not injured (that we know of), and he’s not untalented (#2 overall pick with universally acknowledged elite tools). By process of elimination, that means we have to at least consider the idea that B.J. is lost in his own head, which is a much more difficult place to be than just on an improper swing plane or hand position.

He’d never admit it if that were the case, of course. One of sports culture’s most sacred tenets is that self-improvement is always available to those willing to make the sacrifices necessary, and every B.J. interview out there indicates this is the path to redemption he’ll attempt to follow until he’s shown the door. Granted, that didn’t work last offseason, but do you have a better idea? We’re talking about mechanical adjustments at a level of precision none of us with office jobs can comprehend; the difference between being one of the best 0.01% of baseball players in the world vs. just one of the best 0.02%, that sort of thing. Whatever dropped him off that thin edge — physical, mental, or otherwise — I’m still rooting for him to fix it.

I’m not saying this just as an armchair GM hoping to move him for more productive widgets in the future. B.J. Upton is publicly living your nightmare and mine in which we’re performing in public without pants on, and if he’s able to pull himself out of that, it could be the most positive thing to come out of what will likely be an otherwise dismal season.

**To the extent that there are fans who put the “lazy guy who got paid and stopped working” narrative on B.J., it probably says more about our need for a universe that has clear causes and effects than it does about B.J. himself. It’s emotionally cleaner to boo a guy who isn’t trying (Melky Cabrera, you still suck!) but this is a stranger case without a clear cause, I think.

105 thoughts on “B.J. Upton”

  1. Good read.

    You’d think the Braves would recognize how much of a problem BJ’s behavior in the batter’s box might be. Mentally/verbally/however you want to describe it, he just seems less under control even than other players who are struggling at the moment. Kevin Seitzer may be great and all, but I think I want to be reading that BJ’s talking to Smoltz’s sports psychologist, or something like that.

    Re: Fredi, the guy has now survived two epic meltdowns. With the anti-Bobby element eliminated from the picture and Bobby still around to be on Fredi’s side, who’s to say that Fredi doesn’t escape again this season? This team, it’s obviously not his fault that the team will suck.

  2. This was a much-needed compassionate take on BJ. One upcoming positive for him is that given current roster construction, he could approach 50th percentile likability on the team. The thought of Pierzinski, Gomes, Grilli, and Chris Johnson all together on one team that I watch regularly makes me shudder. Bethancourt was infuriating last season and the limping, stiff-necked Markakis is sure to inspire pity more than anything else. BJ has a real chance to be one of the least offensive players, for sure.

  3. Here’s what makes sports great. Suppose, despite all expectation, BJ mysteriously returns to be the player we signed. The mysteries of human performance then firmly reinforce the “Nobody knows nothin'” school against BOTH the School of Scouting and the School of SABR. It happens every so often, so why not now? (Ok, I know why not now… because we don’t deserve nice things.) All I know is that there are still plentiful mysteries of human performance… and sports shows them all the time if you know where to look.

  4. I’m pretty sure I suggested at some point BJ should see Smoltz’s sports psychologist so I totally agree with @1. It looks to me to be clearly in his head (but what do I really know?) so someone should be working on that angle. I wonder if BJ is too proud to admit he is fighting himself mentally and will not accept seeing a sports psychologist? Everything we’ve heard during this melt down is BJ is working hard but it has always been mechanics and other physical things (eyes, etc.).

  5. Great write up. I agree with #2, it was much needed compassion. The empathy was especially effective. I think we’ve all experienced those oh shit moments when we wondered about out own competence.

    I think that the most mystified person in the whole thing is BJ Upton. Can anyone name another player in their age 28 29 seasons that have fallen off the table so fast?

    However, I am still disappointed that the Braves didn’t simply cut him. I understand why they didn’t but its a bummer that we have to play him.

  6. That was lovely, WCG. You’ll always have a place here even if it turns out you’re an imposter at the bar.

  7. Excellent post, WCG. You write well, probably in the top 0.01%.

    Good luck to BJ. I’m not holding my breath.

    PeteOrr: “least offensive player.” What a great line!

  8. From the “Hope Springs Eternal” department, Ryan C provided an intriguing analysis on Tomahawk Take a few minutes ago.

  9. Great news! The Bizarro Braves won the National League in 2015 and advanced to the World Series, where they were outplayed by a confusingly constructed Athletics squad, led by their all-star 3rd baseman Josh Donaldson, reacquired from a befuddled Toronto club at the deadline. Billy Beane, busy writing another book about himself, could not be reached for comment, but is assumed to be quite pleased.

    Hypothetically, anyway.

    Success is great, but fans have short memories–as we’ve witnessed even here at Bravesjournal. So what do they do about 2016? Time to throw a Coppalellapalooza, of course.

    This team isn’t in an ideal place to repeat its performance heading into the off-season. Key players Justin Upton and Jason Heyward, after receiving qualifying offers, have become free agents. James Russell, Josh Outman, Big Handsome, Gavin Floyd, and the incomparable Alberto Callaspo have also left. Chris Johnson and BJ Upton, though not as bad as their worst seasons suggested, continue to be part-time players earning full-time salaries (thanks Napoleon).

    The farm, despite the presence of the two prospects we got for Craig Kimbrel (both of whom still project to become major leaguers) and a solid draft pick of a college hitter, is still largely the shambles it was by the end of the 2014 season. Beyond feeling comfortable about one of our guys (Banuelos, Hale, Martin) stepping into the 5th rotation slot competently, it’s not wise to count on any of them to make a push for the vacancies.

    So we’re going to turn to the murky waters of FREE AGENCY.

    The club needs two starting outfielders, one starting pitcher, a bench infielder, and two pitchers for the bullpen. Payroll sits just shy of $70 million, with the now-freed-up Dan Uggla money reallocated to raises for Minor, Gattis, Wood, Teheran, Freeman, Simmons, Johnson, and Upton.

    Success does bring money and confidence, though, and I’m raising the budget to new heights. Seeing as we spent $112 million in 2014, and we’re going to want to build on our 2015 success so we can have some momentum heading into the new stadium, I’m giving the 2016 club a payroll budget of $115 to $120 million.

    That new budget, along with the knowledge that (mercifully) the $23 million committed to BJ and CJ come off the books the following season, gives us the confidence to sign some prize free agents along with the necessary bench players. Take your pick, of course, but for my money I’m going with 26-year old outfielder Grayson Spaynerd–the Gray-Spay Kid, as he’s called in some circles–and 29 year old pitcher Gordon Glimmerskin, both excellent players and slightly underrated in the market. Because I get to completely make things up this exercise, I’m saying the first year’s salary of the new contracts for each of them is $20 million. I round out the rest of the roster with veteran platoon-y players.

    You can see this iteration of the 2016 Bizarro Braves roster here under the “2016 (Winners)” tab.

    The farm still needs help, and the 2016 pick we get when Justin Upton signs with the Cardinals isn’t going to be enough to fix it. And I’m starting to worry about Evan Gattis’s ability to stay on the field as a catcher; after all, lightning doesn’t strike four times. He can still hit, and I’m looking to trade him. If we’re successful, we nab a couple of good prospects, and we sign a back-up/platoon catcher to play alongside Bethancourt. (The spreadsheet above doesn’t assume any trades, however.)

    The 2016 Bizarro Braves do NOT have as strong a roster as the 2015 NL Champs, although the rotation is clearly good enough for them to compete with the right breaks. The real gravy here is that they’re in a strong position to contend in 2017 as real prospects start to mature into major leaguers to complement the array of proven good major league players they already have, and a measure of financial flexibility that allows them to plug up a hole or two.

  10. @9, 10: My line of thinking about our hitters was exactly the same:
    1) platoons will save us!
    2) …Chipper will save us?

    salty could be in lineup/batting order heaven this season.

    ryan, this was my favorite part:
    Squint hard, Braves fans! The offense could be average. Now the defense…uh oh. Squint harder.

    :)

  11. People do prefer simple narratives, WCG, but in BJ’s case, I think there are other reasons he’s not being given the benefit of the doubt. Dan Uggla is an exemplary individual, by most accounts, and while we rooted for him to bounce back, most of us knew his bat just got slow–he was just washed up. BJ might be just as good a guy, but the way he acts in the batter’s box (which is most of what we see) suggests that he believes nothing is his fault (glaring at umps for calling a strike on a fastball down the middle, for example). Maybe that’s just frustration bubbling over in the heat of the moment, or maybe it’s evidence of an external locus of control and a rigid, narcissistic worldview. It’s hard to like that sort of person, or a what appears to be that sort of person.

  12. @14 – Yeah, I totally managed to forget the countless glares and complaints about down-the-middle called strike threes from the last couple of seasons when declaring BJ possibly relatively likable. His great triumph might have to be going from least likable to third-least likable.

  13. Good article. Very interesting. I’m in high hopes he has a comeback year. I think watching your baby brother perform above expectations on the same field can add some pressure. So I do think, psychologically, BJ will feel slightly more comfortable this season being the only Upton on the field BUT I’d like to throw this idea out…let’s not forget, this dude is gonna make $75 mil (15/ season) regardless of how he performs. If you KNOW you’re bringing in ~$80,000 every time you strikeout, can you REALLY be disappointed?? Just make sure every time you do K, argue with the ump and then walk back to the dugout with your head down. After the game, hang out in the cages and make sure management knows you’re there. Then after the season, let ownership know you’re ready to work hard to get back on track (after all, you’re an athlete and a proven veteran- like this article mentioned). As long as everyone thinks you’re not ok with your lousy production, then they’ll still think there’s hope, and you’ll still be on the field. But you know, at the end of the pay period, you’re still getting a fat check. Just playing devils advocate, but has anyone stopped to think that he may not be psychologically or physically uncomfortable? When in fact, he may actually be EXTREMELY comfortable… Some people do not look at a pay raise as motivation to get better. Maybe Wren’s contract was nothing more than an opportunity to pretend to work hard for the next 5 years and then enjoy being a millionaire.
    I don’t think this is what’s going through BJ’s head, but after the way things have gone down, it’s definitely a thought that crosses my mind

  14. He can’t possibly be in a position to succeed at the plate if he’s in such a state of constant agitation. That’s at least some of the reason why he needs sports psychology-type of help.

    But we apparently can’t figure out if the players we’re paying the most have concussions, so…whether or not the Braves are getting BJ what he needs and just not telling us about it, I’ll just be over here, grumbling to myself…

  15. You guys are nice. I like you guys. More than I like the Braves’ organization itself, actually.

    @14, that’s a good point, and I probably could have thought more about the Frustrated B.J. phenomenon. To the outside viewer, those complaints about strike three down the middle are a turn-off. But I suppose I was never thinking about B.J. through a prism of likeability/unlikeability, I was thinking more in terms of relatability. He may not be a shining example of grace under pressure, but the particular pressure he’s dealing with, I find terrifying/fascinating, and just on a human level I’d like to see him find a way through it, so that we all might.

  16. Great post.

    I’m wondering if the psychological effect of playing on an MLB team with his brother had a large impact on his performance.

  17. If it turned out you were an impostor after all, WCG, and you’d already earned $50 million in your career, I hope you’d gracefully retire. I have wondered about BJ’s psyche many times in this last year. I’ve tried to imagine what it would be like to not only be horrible at something I used to be phenomenal at, but to be watched by millions as I failed catastrophically. I also wonder what it might be like to know that my contract and performance ruined a successful team. And then I wonder how much I would have to be paid to continue to endure such suffering, given that I had an 8-figure net worth, when I could easily end it by retiring.

  18. A great write up. From my perspective BJ has not taken the step to accept the fact that what he is doing will not work. While he works hard, my impression is he is not open to outside help. Maybe this is due to the fact that he is offered help from every conceivable source, but at a certain point I think he has to find someone he trusts that will tell him his approach basically sucks and must change.

  19. @19, a lot of points to address:

    – I think just to reach the heights he’s reached, you have to have an innate belief in your own abilities that transcends doubt. There’s a passage in “Moneyball” where Lewis notes Billy Beane’s experience in the minors with Lenny Dysktra, and how Dykstra was an irrational confidence guy whereas Beane was more doubtful. Obviously only one of them made it in the majors. Anecdote, obviously, but I think in general it’s a system where you have to be borderline arrogant about your own superiority to make it up the ranks. To turn on a dime at age 30 from a thought process you’ve had since you were probably 10 is probably difficult.

    – Along those lines, it’s more about pride than finances I think. I wouldn’t want to walk off in disgrace. I’d want to do what I could to show my peers, family, friends, etc. that I tried all I could.

    – That said, the economics of baseball are such that BJ Upton is currently making money he earned years ago. That’s the implicit bargain in free agency. In Tampa he produced 17.5 WAR and was paid $16 million. Let’s assume an average market rate of $5MM/WAR over the life of his career; he was underpaid by approximately $71 million over the course of his time with the Rays. Not really fair to ask a player to give back the over-the-hill overpays if you’re OK with the clubs pocketing the savings on the front end of a player’s career.

    – The idea that “[B.J.’s] contract and performance ruined a successful team” is the exact line I was aiming to pre-empt by volunteering for B.J. writeup duty. With all due respect, you’re being sold corporate nonsense if you believe that. If Liberty Media Corp., market cap $12 billion, had “successful team” as its priority, it would cut B.J., write his remaining figure off as a sunk cost trivial to the corporation’s asset base, and go about its day with the payroll figures untroubled by this writeoff. But Liberty Media Corp.’s highest priority is tax advantages and profit, w/r/t owning a baseball team. That is not B.J. Upton’s fault and I’m not holding him to that.

  20. I don’t understand why BJ Upton can’t just be more like me, while at the same time, being more like him. It’s really pretty simple.

  21. @20 – If you were in the same position with 46 million dollars still owed, you would quit just because you’ve made ‘enough’ money and to end the suffering of embarrassment and shame? I think not.

    @22 – You are correct. No one should fault BJ for the contract he was awarded OR for wanting to complete the contract.

  22. Comment From Vslyke
    Do you think the Braves’ strategy of acquiring pitchers with a history of injury problems (especially TJs) is wise?

    Kiley McDaniel: No one has ever had a strategy of acquiring pitchers that have had arm surgery. That would be a stupid strategy. A pitcher with Fried’s upside is only available in a trade if he’s coming off TJ, so that was the strategy, and you put up with the injury as a necessary evil.

    (Also, go take a seat in centerfield where we left you and shut your face, Van Slyke!)

  23. Cant get rid of BJ .. he is one of our better players now .. wait did I just say that ?? Sad but True .. also since we are still paying Uggla can we put him back on team amd make him earn his money .. suffering thru another 200 strikeout season .. LOL

  24. @21, being resistant to outside help was a major theme I got out of his winter ’13 Marietta Daily Journal interview. A plausible answer to the question I posed about how he could do something different in 2015 would be to accept that he’s not got the answers to the question currently posed.

    I’m hopeful he can learn do that, although like I said @22, it would involve unlearning a lot of mental processes he’s most likely had since he was a kid and bucking a culture of self-reliance, so I wonder how likely that is.

    But he’s at least a complex character to study, which when you’ve got a bad baseball team is at least an interesting thing to have around, so there’s that…

  25. I don’t really understand the line about Liberty Media. I mean, I wish Turner still owned the Braves, but he decided to sell them to corporate bodies who want to maximize profit. That’s his prerogative. The Braves have a mid-market payroll, and they were able to be very competitive within the constraints set by their corporate owners. The Uggla and Upton contracts were the cause of this offseason’s roster demolition. The Braves (not liberty media) could not acquire additional talent because of the money obligated to the worst 2 players in baseball. That may never have occurred to either BJ or Uggla, or it may not matter to them in the least. I don’t know what it’s like to be in their shoes, but I sure know what it’s like to cost a team game(s)–it sucks, and it’s hard to believe they don’t at least have an inkling that they’re letting their teammates and fans down.

    I’m just musing, you know. I don’t think it’s immoral for him to not retire, I’m just wondering how he lives with himself. The reason I said I’d hope you’d retire, WCG, is that if you were an incompetent lawyer, you’d be inflicting harm on people’s actual lives (not some silly baseball game played by millionaires). I’m sure pride is involved. How else could we explain Uggla’s comeback attempt? But unlike the aging boxer or golfer, BJ has a team to inflict harm upon. That’s got to be a hard thing to know.

  26. BJ had a 13% jump in batting average and an 11% jump in OPS between 2013 and 2014. He’ll bat .235 with an OPS of .690 if he does that in 2015. You know I was hoping those calculations came out better and I could say that I would take that, but I really can’t. Maybe if his OPS climbs by 11% per year, he’ll be a useful player by 2018. If BJ is still on the Braves by 2018, I think we’ll all be insane.

  27. @24, I can’t know what I would do in those circumstances, but even less so do you know what I would do. I’ll never deal in figures that big, but I have traded significant monetary opportunities for a less distressing lifestyle. There is a law of diminishing returns. I live well, and while I’d like to have twice as much money, I can’t say it would improve my level of comfort and well-being.

    All of this is immaterial, in the first place. Who cares what I would do? BJ Upton is not me. This whole exercise is in imagining his state of mind.

  28. @29

    Liberty artificially puts a cap on the Braves spending even though they have more money than every other owner in the league and could flip the Braves for twice what they paid anytime they want even if they run them at a loss. An owner who cared about winning could have pursued another strategy this offseason other than tear it all down and hope some of these prospects work out in 3 years. An owner who cared could cut BJ Upton and eat his contract (though I’m willing to bet this could still happen given they put Uggla out to pasture last year and have $13 million in dead money on the books right now).

  29. The Braves have claimed a Eury Perez. He’s from the Yankees system, looks like a RH version of a younger Constanza. Hopefully he’ll replace the older Constanza…finally. Regardless, there’ll have to be more players DFA’d.

  30. @32, yes, and I realize all of that. I still don’t understand your line of reasoning. A corporation can’t “care”. It’s too bad Mark Cuban or Arthur Blank don’t own the Braves. But, given the situation we are in, the Braves have to operate within constraints set by their corporate owner. The fact Liberty Media could theoretically increase the payroll is irrelevant to the fact that Wren screwed the 2015 Braves by his gross misallocation of the payroll he had to work with.

  31. We need Tad to commit to doing either a recap or a game thread at least once a week. This is the season. You know it. I know it. Let’s make it happen.

  32. The Uggla and Upton contracts were the cause of this offseason’s roster demolition. The Braves (not liberty media) could not acquire additional talent because of the money obligated to the worst 2 players in baseball.

    Not quite. Those two contracts, combined with the losses of Medlen and Beachy last spring are the principle causes of the rebuild. You can patch fix one or two holes and wait out the bad contracts. You can’t patch fix four.

  33. @36 – The Braves have an excellent track record with David Carpeneters. I’m optimistic.

  34. So, apparently Ichiro signed with the Marlins for 2 million. I know the guy is 41, but I would have taken a chance on him for 2 million. At least, we could have watching him gather his 3000th hit over the next two seasons.

  35. BJ neither writes his name on the lineup card nor puts himself on the 25 man roster. Whatever “harm” he is doing to the Braves is purely self inflicted.

  36. I never thought there would be one day in my life I would see that hawks to be playing this well. Amazing what a good coach can do!

  37. Just watched my first Hawks game since around the time a geriatric Larry Bird scored a kazillion points on them in that playoff game.

    What. the. fuck.

  38. 2014:Hawks::1991:Braves

    I haven’t seen this town this into a team since then. It’s astounding. (And the fact that their marketing plan is basically “that thing the Braves are doing; opposite that”…)

  39. The Hawks haven’t suffered a non-arbitrary loss (or to put it another way, a loss in a game where a reasonable person might go into it picking the Hawks to lose) since the Toronto game the DAY BEFORE THANKSGIVING. That was, like, two months ago! Since then, they’ve played every top five team in the East and five of the top six teams in the West and have won every single one of those games. Absurd!

  40. I was at a sports bar in Midtown for dinner and to watch the game, and the place was going nuts for the Hawks. Football atmosphere. Never seen it in 7+ years living in Atlanta. I actually made a 1991 Braves remark to the table and they agreed.

    @48, that’s a perfect description of the Hawks’ marketing plan. Well put.

  41. There two losses since Thanksgiving have been a last second buzzer beater three in Orlando, and that 30 point “we just forgot to show up to play” game at home against Milwaukee.

  42. They’ve managed to become a can’t lose team in Atlanta at the *perfect* time. The Braves are being stripped to the bones on a rebuild. The Falcons are in disarray. And out of nowhere; BOOM! JuggerHawks.

    The Hawks’ marketing strategy is really interesting, because they are specifically targeting ITP and close-in OTP millenials and folks who live in the city. They’ve actually dubbed the “55 year old white guy in the northern arc who is going to drive into the city for a game with three of his buddies” “The Alpharetta Unicorn,” as such a creature does not exist.

    It’s actually fascinating as a marketing professional to watch.

  43. This is all very interesting. I muse about BJ’s mindset, what with being so horrific and damaging a team, and it’s met with a string of similarly-minded responses:

    “Well, he didn’t offer himself that contract!”

    “Well, he doesn’t put himself in the lineup!”

    “Well, it’s Liberty Media’s fault for not spending more!”

    “Well, you would do the same for 46 mil!”

    This is all curious, and all immaterial to the question of what BJ endures psychologically. I just wonder because I don’t think I could endure it in his position. And, of course, I wish he wouldn’t endure it, so that our team wouldn’t be so hampered
    And if he approached the Braves with a compromise/restructure, you know they’d do it.

    Anyhoo, I do wonder what motivates this sort of playground spittle. I can only assume it’s some amount of homerism; i.e., “yeah we can criticize BJ, but you’ve just gone too far!” There’s something admirable about that kind of loyalty.

  44. The strategy is interesting in its counterpoint to the one employed by the Braves, but winning is what’s driving this. Truth be told, they’re probably actually drawing a fair amount of interest from the suburbs now, which makes the marketing strategy (which was a perfectly reasonable one BTW) look genius, even though it has very little to do with how well the team is doing at the gate. Similarly, if the Braves look to be one of the best teams in baseball early on in the SunTrust Park era, they’ll start to get a fair number of people venturing out from the city, making their strategy look genius when winning is the straw stirring the drink there, too. In this town, winning big solves everything and not winning big is very difficult to overcome.

  45. And I love these goddam hawks. I remember, very well, the last win streak of 14 games. That season still makes me angry, because we inexplicably traded ‘Nique for a milquetoast player who didn’t want to be here. That team defended remarkably well and ran out to double digit leads as a matter of routine. I can still see Craig Ehlo diving on the floor for a loose ball. That was the year I had the great pleasure to meet Kevin Willis and get his autograph.

  46. The fact that BJ and liberty mutually agreed to a contract, and that BJ’s not responsible for his usage or playing time, is quite germane to his mindset. It’s perfectly rational to believe he doesn’t feel guilty at al andl neither should he. You are speculating that he might feel guilty. I speculate there’s no reason for him to do so in response. How is that invective ? “Carry on with your crackpot armchair psychology” is invective. Others musiing on different motives than the one you see in response to your post is normal discussion board activity. Otherwise why are you writing them down here in the first place?

  47. @54: when I contemplate BJ’s psychology (which we’re all just guessing at, I grant), I see a man struggling at his job, and a guy with a lot of pride trying to reach within himself to pull out of what’s becoming a career-sapping funk.

    I’d like to think I’m not projecting my own feelings on him when I look at this (although Alex remarked as we were discussing this piece that he’s a Rorschach blot, which is accurate). I read as many interviews and quotes as I could to try to get an idea of his mindset. I linked those of them I thought most relevant.

    The MDJ interview touches on the fact that he put a lot of pressure on himself after signing the contract, but “the contract,” like so much about this story, is symbolic to an extent. It’s not the actual dollars, it’s the pressure and the scrutiny that come with being B.J. Upton, Shiny New Atlanta Brave at a time when the team appeared to be just a couple players from getting over the hump.

    The question I think you’re getting at is, what can he do to relieve some of that pressure, if that’s what’s holding him back from playing at the level he did in Tampa? It’s a valid question, I just don’t think you’re looking at the potential answers correctly.

    – Retirement isn’t a valid option. It would be an admission of defeat, and this is a proud athlete who’s been in this game since he was old enough to swing a bat, what else is he going to do at 30?

    – Volunteering for a pay cut, as you suggest @54 – well, first you’d have to lock the MLBPA leadership in a bomb shelter for long enough to pull it off, and secondly, what would that possibly help? He’d still be working at the same place for the same people in the same uniform where he’s had no success for two years. Fans might moan less about his contract on internet message boards, but his teammates would hate him for setting the precedent that the underpaid/overpaid dichotomy is only allowed to work to management’s benefit. I imagine you’d rather have some randos in the stands dislike you than your own teammates and union.

    – He could take himself out of the lineup, but if the Braves had a better option, wouldn’t they have done that by now? They did play the Gattis/Heyward/JUpton outfield down the stretch in 2013, but Gattis spent all of last year as a full-time catcher and anyway, all of those guys are gone now. It’s not BJ’s responsibility to say “I suck, take me out” – his responsibility is to work hard. The team’s responsibility is to put the best nine on the field regardless of sunk cost.

    – He could donate his entire year’s salary to Alex Wood, since Alex Wood will be underpaid by about eight figures this year but fans for some reason never get riled up when the scale is tipped in the other direction.

    When you run through the list of options like that, it basically eliminates every choice except what he’s presumably doing, which is to keep working and try to get better. He can’t control the things he can’t control (whether Fredi Gonzalez eats paste and bats him leadoff every day, whether the team is willing to spend money on other players around him). He can only control being the best ballplayer he can be, come what may.

    And that’s all anyone can ask of him. I think you’re running into some pushback because you’re basically suggesting that he volunteer himself under the bus to alleviate the organization’s deficiencies, and that’s not his responsibility. It’s not homerism for B.J., it’s defining individual vs. organizational responsibilities.

    I get that you, a guy on the internet who is presumably not a public figure, would have the instinct to nope out of that situation and return to your normal life, but that’s not applicable to a guy who has been an MLB player with all the accompanying weirdness since he was a teenager. We can find parallels and allegories to our struggles in ballplayers but we can’t stand directly in those shoes, if that makes sense.

  48. There’s another angle to all of this, too. I supported the B.J. signing: the contract felt high but fair, and I was really happy that we had gotten one of the best available center fielders. I supported Frank Wren, and I approved of most of his moves, including the Uggla trade but excluding the Uggla extension and the Lowe contract, which I had also supported at the time.

    As it happened, B.J. Upton literally lost the ability to hit, and the B.J. Upton contract is in a special category of awfulness, as well as the single biggest proximate cause for why Frank Wren got fired. Wren may be able to take comfort in the fact that what happened to Upton has basically never happened before: it is hard to come up with examples of a hitter utterly losing the ability to hit by age 30 after having been a terrific hitter at age 22, for reasons other than injury. Ben Grieve, maybe. Andruw Jones, maybe. There aren’t many examples.

    So, the fact that B.J. Upton fell off a cliff means that I was wrong, and Wren was wrong, and every Braves fan who thought it was a good idea at the time was wrong. Why were we wrong? Could we have identified any of the seeds of Upton’s impending doom before he became a Brave? Almost certainly not; the degree of his collapse is nearly unprecedented. But his failure represents a walking reminder of my failure. So there’s a selfish component to my hoping that he will regain some measure of success.

  49. This Eury Perez fellow was the Nationals #10 prospect in 2013 then #12 in 2014. Overall, he had a really good year in the Minors in ’14, but was implanted on the Yanks bench and used primarily as a pinch runner. He increased his walk rate, his sb%, and is another decent prospect that would’ve ranked in our top-20 if not for the moves made this offseason. He’ll likely only be a bench player, but could be more if he continues to increase is BB rate. Also, he’s hit LHP very well in his MILB career with an OPS over .800 the last 3 years. If BJ blows, the kid might get a shot.

    Likely nothing to get excited about, but more exciting than Kyle Wren. He’s out of options, therefore it’s Eury Fury time in Atlanta!

  50. I’ll just throw out the fact that there is no real distinction between BJ’s demeanor at the plate or in the dugout and that of Chris Johnson.

  51. I feel like we’re in a situation where we aren’t that much better than a brand new expansion team would be. It’s not just Frank Wren that got us here, and he’s the only one that’s been shown the door. That pisses me off. It’s been hard to root for this team the past few years, and now it’s pretty much a lost cause.

    This city desperately needs the Hawks and Falcons to be really good, if anything just to give the Braves a kick in the ass and make them realize that they don’t have a monopoly on the sports/entertainment dollar in the ATL (something they’ve basically enjoyed for 20+ years). The Falcons might be in worse shape than the Braves, so I guess it’s all on the Hawks nowadays.

  52. Prior to December 17, 2014, I would have ranked Atlanta’s professional sporting franchises (for competition and entertainment value of a dollar) thusly:

    1. The Braves (fanboy gonna fanboy)
    2. The Falcons
    4t. The 2018 MLS club that Arthur was buying.
    4t. The Hawks
    5. The Silverbacks (with possibilities of passing the Hawks.)

    After 12/17/15:

    1. The Hawks.
    2. That MLS Club.
    3. The Braves.
    4. The Falcons.
    5. The Silverbacks. (Falcons better rebuild fast.)

    (I downgrade the Silverbacks simply because their stadium is at Spaghetti Junction and it terrifies me to think of driving up there for games.)

  53. @66

    A minor league soccer club is not a serious competition for anybody’s entertainment money other than hardcore soccer fans. It would essentially be like putting the Gwinnett Braves or the Gwinnett Gladiators (hockey, for those who just got a quizzical look on their face) on this list.

    Other than that, I’d flip the Braves and Falcons on both these lists. The Falcons are at least trying to compete and won’t start turning their fans upside down and shaking all the change out of their pockets when they enter the stadium for another couple of years. Plus, any team not attempting to win is providing almost no value as far as fans are concerned IMO.

  54. I know people in the metro who opt for the Gladiators over any of the other options, simply because they grew up hockey mad in the north and that’s their fix. But yes, obviously I’m being a little tongue in cheek with the Silverbacks. And yes, if the Falcons hire Dan Quinn and turn things around quickly, the Braves drop a notch in the general lists (though they will never be below the Falcons on my personal interest list.)

  55. Still think CJ is a bigger problem. Worse defense, easier position. Marginally better hitter who causes a lot of outs outside of his slash. Also, kind of a prick.

  56. That’s why signing AJ was so brilliant. He’ll make all our existing jackwagons seem downright likable.

  57. I’m not sure how accurate it is to say that in a team that includes Simmons, CJ, and Bethancourt, Seitzer will be spending “much” of his time with Upton.

    Also, the last few posts made me realize that the Braves currently employ an AJ, a BJ, and a CJ. Maybe we could trade for DJ LeMahieu next.

  58. We also just reacquired KJ. We need a DJ, EJ, FJ and HJ. I’m not sure Howard Johnson wouldn’t outhit two or three of our guys today.

  59. Krussell: “It’s been hard to root for this team the past few years”

    Really? I mean, 2014 was hard to watch, but the 2013 and 2012 crews were a blast.

  60. This piece certainly makes the effort to put B.J.’s efforts into a more humane context. That said, I would not be surprised to see B.J. bounce back to about league average in 2015. My own reading is that sibling rivalry probably added to the psychological pressure of winning over a new fan base. With the expectations now incredibly low, Upton might play much better. Upton’s collapse reminded me a bit of the now forgotten Nate Colbert, but the fact that 2014 was a little better than 2013, suggests a more optimistic finish….

  61. Contingent upon their performance, but here’s a list of players that will almost certainly be traded at the deadline should the Braves fall out of contention : Grilli, Jim Johnson, Josh Outman, Kelly Johnson, Alberto Callaspo, Jonny Gomes, A.J. Pierzynski, and James Russell.

    Players who’ll likely be shopped that the Braves will say they’re not shopping: Mike Minor and Craig Kimbrel

    Players who Braves will trade if they show anything resembling their career norms: BJ and CJ.

    That’s insane, but is what we as Braves fans should be preparing for. The Braves are playing their form of Moneyball to be young and very good for 2017 and beyond.

  62. *One player I left off the above list is Wandy Rodriguez.

    The most fun aspect of the above exercise is who’ll be replacing the above players to finish the season should the Braves make those trades :
    Kimbrel- Shae Simmons
    Grilli- Vizcaino
    Jim Johnson- M. Kohn
    Josh Outman- Ian Thomas
    Chris Johnson- Jace Peterson
    Kelly Johnson- Elmer Reyes
    Alberto Callaspo- Jose Peraza
    BJ Upton- Eury Perez
    Jonny Gomes- Joe Benson
    James Russell- Williams Perez
    Mike Minor- Man Ban
    Wandy- Folty
    Pierzynski- Yenier Bello

    They might be horrible, but I’d rather watch that crew!

  63. Define what is. Compare to what is wanted. Develop and execute plan to get to the desired end state.

    Go Braves.

  64. And we can have another David Carpenter trade. The interesting thing will be the different combinations that the Braves will be able to make with these many pieces (assuming they play well) especially if they are willing to throw in a prospect. The performances on the farm (especially at AA and AAA) will also be critical for trading purposes….

  65. So, the fact that B.J. Upton fell off a cliff means that I was wrong, and Wren was wrong, and every Braves fan who thought it was a good idea at the time was wrong. Why were we wrong? Could we have identified any of the seeds of Upton’s impending doom before he became a Brave? Almost certainly not; the degree of his collapse is nearly unprecedented.

    Well…there were two things. Three if you count Rob Cope’s spot-on omen of doom.
    – Not going to look up the numbers, but BJ hadn’t been hitting well in his last season in Tampa Bay, up until the end of the season, where he was clearly selling out for power. That brought him success for a stretch, but easy to surmise that the end was near and that pitchers would make the adjustment.
    – We know that the BJ signing more or less terrified the Nationals into trading for Span. They thought we overpaid and the FA market for CF was set too high. We effectively saved them from both BJ and Bourn.

    The degree of collapse is still shocking, and who’s to say that the Nationals could’ve predicted exactly what happened either. But the people Wren relied on apparently weren’t so great at their jobs, and we’re basically just the peanut gallery.

    It’s not just Frank Wren that got us here, and he’s the only one that’s been shown the door.

    We also fired Bruce Manno, Wren’s assistant GM who, importantly, was the minors director of player development.

  66. Why has the word “strategy” become replaced by the word “Moneyball”? Billy Beane was not the first person to think of a strategy. Every team has a strategy that they think will make them better than the rest of the league.

    I digress.

  67. @85
    Moneyball is finding weakness in a market and exploiting it. That’s different than a strategy.

  68. Moneyball is one type of a strategy, which is basically your thinking behind why you’ll reach your goal. The strategy the Braves seem to prefer is maximizing what you’re already good at and filling other needs with the surplus when the time is right.

  69. Greetings from Anaheim, Calif…

    I’m doing my best to find light in the darkness of the 2015 season, but…

    Whenever I’m confronted (and I do mean confronted) by a picture or just the very idea of BJ Upton, I go into some kind of system shutdown. My brain quickly wants to turn complete attention to anything else.

    Anymore, it’s like a doctor tapping your knee with a mallet. My brain automatically just says: “Avoid! Seek other stimuli. Avoid!”

    It’s the weirdest thing. Having him continue to play on this ballclub feels like watching someone decide to slowly drink themself to death. It makes you feel sad & angry & helpless. “This isn’t good for anyone, please just stop…”

    Now back to my sunshiney day…

  70. I still come back to the fact that the 2014 Braves were 29th in baseball in runs scored. Will the 2015 Braves be worse than this? They could be but I think we’ll be better in the long run. Being worse than 29th will be a challenge.

  71. Dislike.

    Reading about the shifts things did get me thinking. ISO is actually not down, nor are BABIP-type outcomes, right? But strikeouts are up and contact rate is down. So maybe the Braves are onto something by building their team around contact.

  72. @89 I’m somewhat concerned about run prevention.

    Considering how bad the hitting was from 3B, SS, and CF, some improvement (or replacement) could make up for losses in a hurry.

    I’m not seeing a garbage-fire.

  73. @90 That reeks of an attitude of “I’m the commissioner now and I have to do SOMETHING!!!” What a dumb idea.

    Ump to shortstop: You can’t stand there.
    Shortstop: Why not?
    Ump: Because that’s where the batter is going to hit the ball.
    Shortstop: Uh, yeah…
    Ump: You gotta move, or I’m going to have to toss you…

    Maybe the game is not colorful enough with instant replay and the lack of ejections now, and that is what Manfred is secretly trying to address.

  74. There are more worthy changes to be made – salary floor and cap, eliminating or mandating the DH in both leagues and expanded instant replay.

    Shifts have been around at least since the Cards shifted against Williams. Stacked defenses have a place in baseball history a lot more venerable than the DH.

  75. Didn’t shortstops originally play a sort of short outfield rover position, hence the designation of ‘6’ in the scoring system? Modern shifts sound pretty close to that, except sometimes it’s the second baseman.

  76. We apparently want to speed up the game. Making it easier for offenses to score sounds like just the ticket!

  77. Moneyball is about exploiting market inefficiencies. The Braves believe that contact hitters are undervalued, and power hitters are overvalued, thus their moves this offseason.

  78. Greetings from New York. It’s supposed to get nasty here. My flight to Switzerland for tomorrow has already been cancelled. There are worse places to be stranded, I guess…

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