Justin Upton hasn’t proven the naysayers wrong just yet

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Justin Upton smashed his major league-high 10th homer Tuesday in the Braves’ 4-3 win over the Rockies. He’s hit three more homers than anyone else in the majors, and in just 19 games, he’s already more than halfway to surpassing his total of 17 from 150 games last year.

On the other hand, Justin Upton has driven in a total of 14 runs this year. That’s exactly as many as Daniel Nava has amassed. It’s the same total compiled by .191-hitting Anthony Rizzo. It’s also a match for Allen Craig, who is hitting .250 with no homers.

A lot of it is the Braves, no doubt. Andrelton Simmons, Jason Heyward and B.J. Upton have all struggled ahead of Justin in the third spot in the order. But a lot if it is Justin, too. He’s hitting .386 in 44 at-bats with the bases empty and .148 in 27 at-bats with runners on. Nine of his 10 homers have been solo shots.

Whether it totally fits into the “grit” narrative, Upton’s run production was part of the knock on him when the Diamondbacks decided to move him. Not only has he never topped 100 RBI, but he’s never even reached 90.

That’s not to say it’s ever been quite like this before. Last year, Upton’s average went down slightly with men on and RISP, but his slugging percentage went up. In 2010, he hit 50 points better with RISP than with the bases empty. Overall, though, his career line looks like this:

Bases empty: .286/.355/.509, 75 HR in 1,554 AB
Runners on: .267/.361/.449, 43 HR in 1,180 AB
RISP: .255/.363/.429, 23 HR in 645 AB

Upton averages a homer every 20.7 AB with the bases empty, every 27.4 AB with runners on and every 28.0 AB with RISP.

I don’t think any of that suggests Upton is poor in the clutch. Interestingly, he actually has better numbers in high leverage situations than medium or low leverage situations, as Baseball-Reference defines them. But up to this point in his career, there’s no denying that Upton hasn’t been all that productive in RBI situations. When he’s hitting solo homers every other game, that’s not a problem. Once he slows, the debate could rage again.

Unprecedented sanctions: MLB bans former Braves GM for life, makes 12 signees free agents

Associated Press
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Major League Baseball has slammed the hammer down on the Atlanta Braves as the result of their violations of rules on the international free agent market.

As reported earlier, 12 of their international signees are now free agents. Former Braves General Manager John Coppolella has been placed on the permanently ineligible list — the same list Pete Rose is on — banning him from a job in baseball forever. His assistant, Gordon Blakeley will be suspended for a period of one year. Other Braves’ International Baseball Operations employees who participated in the misconduct could still be suspended as the league finishes its investigation.

The Braves will lose the following players, signed during the 2015-17 international free agent signing periods:

  • Juan Contreras;
  • Yefri del Rosario;
  • Abrahan Gutierrez;
  • Kevin Maitan;
  • Juan Carlos Negret;
  • Yenci Peña;
  • Yunior Severino;
  • Livan Soto;
  • Guillermo Zuniga;
  • Brandol Mezquita;
  • Angel Rojas; and
  • Antonio Sucre

As reported earlier, Maitan was the number one overall international prospect in 2016.

The penalties are not limited to the loss of those players. Commissioner Manfred is imposing what amounts to punitive damages going forward:

“While the remedies discussed above will deprive the Braves of the benefits of their circumvention, I believe that additional sanctions are warranted to penalize the Club for the violations committed by its employees. Accordingly, the Braves will be prohibited from signing any international player for more than $10,000 during the 2019-20 signing period, which is the first signing period in which the Braves are not subject to any signing restrictions under our rules; and the Braves’ international signing bonus pool for the 2020-21 signing period will be reduced by 50 percent.”

There was also what appears to be an unrelated draft violation, imposing penalties along those lines as well:

“The investigation also determined that the Braves offered impermissible benefits, which were never provided, to a player they selected in the First-Year Player Draft in an attempt to convince him to sign for a lower bonus. As a penalty for the Club’s attempted circumvention involving a draft selection, the Braves will forfeit their third-round selection in the 2018 First-Year Player Draft.

The gist of the violations against the Braves involves the bundling of signing bonuses, in which the Braves got players — through their representatives in Latin America — to take lower than the amount typically allotted in one year in order to use the money to sign other, highly rated players in subsequent years, with money they wouldn’t have otherwise had. MLB’s statement describes the scheme thusly:

“The investigation established that the Braves circumvented international signing rules from 2015 through 2017. During the 2015-16 international signing period, the Braves signed five players subject to the Club’s signing bonus pool to contracts containing signing bonuses lower than the bonuses the Club had agreed to provide the players. The Club provided the additional bonus money to those players by inflating the signing bonus to another player who was exempt from their signing pool because he qualified as a ‘foreign professional’ under MLB rules. Consistent with the rules, the Braves could have signed all of the 2015-16 players for the full, actual signing bonus amounts. Had the Club signed the five players to contracts containing their actual bonuses, however, the Braves would have exceeded their signing bonus pool by more than five percent and would have been, under MLB rules, restricted from signing any players during the next two signing periods for contracts with bonuses greater than $300,000 . . . As a result of the 2015-16 circumvention, the Braves were able to sign nine high-value players during the 2016-17 signing period who would have been unavailable to them had the Club accurately accounted for its signings during the 2015-16 signing period.”

The scheme continued like this:

“The investigation also determined that the Braves: (i) agreed to sign six players to inflated signing bonuses pursuant to an agreement with prospect Robert Puason’s agent in exchange for a commitment that Puason would sign with the Club in the 2019-20 signing period; and (ii) offered prospect Ji-Hwan Bae extra-contractual compensation. In order to remedy these violations, I am prohibiting the Club from signing Robert Puason when he becomes eligible to sign, and disapproving the contract between Bae and the Braves, which has not yet become effective.”

Bae was expected to sign with the Braves and posted photos on social media with Braves gear.

This is, by far, the most serious set of scouting, drafting and signing penalties ever imposed by Major League Baseball. It speaks to the sheer audacity of the Braves’ scheme to circumvent signing rules. It also sends a loud and clear signal to other teams — many who have been rumored to have engaged in similar conduct on a smaller scale — that MLB will not tolerate it.

The Braves lower minor league system has been decimated. It stands, essentially, as the head on the pike outside of the castle.