BJ Upton over the 1st two weeks of the 2014 season has probably been the worst hitter in the league this side of Moustakas. And yet, it is mind-boggling to think that a guy who has 20/20 potential with a good eye can be so bad.
I can Sabr this whole matter and talk about his declining walk rate, anemic line-drive rate or his penchant to produce strikeouts with less ability to get on-base. But one of the biggest issues with BJ Upton is this: The spotlight got to him. Period.
When he was in Tampa, he didn’t initially have the pressure that comes with trying to produce against the best. Although the Rays built themselves into constant postseason contenders, Upton’s stardom could come from producing, and mistakes can be treated softly as he develops into a star.
But after his first couple of years, things started to change. After lazily shagging down a flyball Joe Maddon set him as an example and benched him. This happens a couple of more times, but I don’t correlate it exactly with how he stopped being productive. But what people did see was a young player who started getting ridden hard on how to play the game right.
And played the game right he did. Most of the time. He still was valuable with his defense and bat going through his “I’m a grown man now” years of 2007-2010. At the same time, going into his prime 20’s, his abilities were getting worse. You’d think that the moniker of laziness would wane as he was nearing his free agent sweepstakes.
But, even before then, Upton’s learning and adjustments had helped or decimated him throughout these seasons. He would change his bat stance, and voila! He’s batting .400 in July. But then struggles in September. Then gets his mojo back and kills Jon Lester in the ALCS.
The up and down, and his constant adjustments, I think are made out of fear. Where he was a great player in a team that *meh* its way through the first few years of the century, now was counting on him on a daily basis to help them win a championship. And guys who are lazy or don’t work to get their team in contention get spotted very quickly. Tampa and the Phillies made the mistake with Delmon Young, but each time only lasted about a few months (although Tampa did a “Fool me twice” maneuver by bringing Young back.).
BJ Upton works hard. He works smart. But when he has to step up, more times than not the spotlight kills his game. Where in 2006-07 if he didn’t time a steal attempt correctly, he could work on it as management waits for their young star to blossom. In 2010, management start murmuring “Should we put money down on this guy? He should’ve of been better by now.” You have fans saying “Desmond Jennings hasn’t been getting time so this clown can suck it up each year?”
Instead of taking the bad times in and honing it to get better, he is now constantly going through the mentality of producing under immense pressure that he suppose to be the star. He’s suppose to have the responsibility of getting the Rays to the World Series. When he didn’t have this responsibility or crowding media, he played well. When his talent and work ethic was questioned, he played worse.
And worse. And worse. And worse. Whatever reactions he had to his bad playing, it only manifested itself deeper in his next slump, or his next adjustment, or his next bad play. Instead of focusing on just being good, he then started focusing too much on hiding the hole in his bat with better mechanics. But what do mechanics mean, if you’re pressured to drive a 3-1 pitch down by 2 by swinging at an un-hittable breaking ball in the dirt? Now, he goes back to the tape.
“Stop swinging at those low breaking balls.”
Now he is so pressured to stay close to the inside zone, he’s letting outside pitches ring him up without him taking a shot. Goes to hitting coach.
“Hey coach, need to get my batswing pulling to drive those corner fastballs.”
And what happens is that he is so pressured to fix the past mistakes, that he forgets he’s fucking good and instead reacts to past mistakes by overloading his game to make up for him. By trying to fight his past self, he ends up dragging the same horrible BJ Upton to the plate. But, in a crazy conclusion to this cycle, he is essentially giving Tyler Durden more power. The evil BJ Upton, the one that has lost confidence in himself, that is constantly trying to make up for all his woes in one at-bat, shows up and gifts his opponents with an 0 for 4 bundled around 3Ks.
BJ Upton thinks leaving Tampa and finding solace amongst his brother and the Braves organization will fix things. But it can’t, because his game has gone south even though he’s made this move toward the North. And it has left him because he has left himself. He has let all the things that affect him control his ability.
If this were, let’s say, a Miguel Cabrera or Adrian Gonzales, one reason it could’ve been fixed is that these guys’ mantra is to get the bat on the ball, and let the pitcher lose touch of the plate by themselves. BJ Upton’s weakness is that he’ll let the pitcher dictate the count, but will falter trying to do too much with 3 balls in his favor. When he was 24, he’d let the pitcher give him first base. At 28, he’s a superstar. What does a BB mean to the best? What does it mean to win a pennant? Maybe it means a lot? Maybe not. Maybe he can steal when he gets on 1st…
… “Strike three called on the corner! Man, Upton looked really fooled there.”
Not fooled. Overwhelmed. Chipper Jones can help his swing, but he might need Dr. Phil to get his mojo back. The Braves are counting on him, but the murmurs are beginning to question his actual job. Let’s hope he plays to his talent; it’s great enough to keep his job all by itself. He just needs to realize that he’s great, and take on the responsibility of what a great player should be.
Good luck Upton!