Justin Upton

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.

Yordano Ventura represented the best and worst of baseball’s culture

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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It was reported this morning that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Former prospect Andy Marte was also killed in a separate car accident. Along with Jose Fernandez and Oscar Taveras, the baseball world has lost a lot of young, exciting talent in a very short amount of time.

Ventura was, like all of us, a complex human being. At his best, he was an exciting, talented, emotive pitcher who featured an electric fastball which sat in the mid-90’s and occasionally touched 100 MPH. At his worst, he was an immature, impressionable kid trying to fit in by exacting revenge against batters he felt had wronged him by slinging those electric fastballs at vulnerable areas of their bodies.

Baseball needed Ventura when he was at his best. It is players like him and Fernandez, not Mike Trout, that bring in new fans to the sport. To baseball die-hards, Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the pinnacle of entertainment because we know he’s an otherworldly talent. But to the average fan, Trout is just another player who hits a couple of homers and doesn’t do anything particularly interesting otherwise. Trout is milquetoast. Ventura was never an All-Star, but fans knew who he was because he made his presence felt every time he made a start. He was fun, if sometimes vengeful.

Ventura’s baseball rap sheet is rather lengthy for someone who only pitched parts of four seasons in the big leagues. Early in the 2015 season, Ventura found himself in a handful of benches-clearing incidents in quick succession. On April 12, he jawed with Trout, apparently misunderstanding the motivation behind Trout yelling, “Let’s go!” Though catcher Salvador Perez intervened, Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols ran in from second base and the benches cleared shortly thereafter. On the 18th, some drama between the Athletics and Royals continued. Ventura fired a 99 MPH fastball at Brett Lawrie, resulting in his immediate ejection from the game. More beanball wars ensued in the series finale the following day. Finally, on the 23rd, Ventura hit White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu with a 99 MPH fastball in the fourth inning. Ventura was not ejected… until after the completion of the seventh inning. Walking back to the dugout, Ventura barked at White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton and — you guessed it — the benches cleared. All told, Ventura was fined for his behavior with the Athletics and suspended seven games for the White Sox incident.

In August 2015, Ventura called Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista a “nobody” and accused him of stealing signs. He apologized shortly thereafter. Two months later, during his start in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, Ventura got into it with Jays first base coach Tim Leiper. Nothing happened beyond that, but apparently it was part of the Jays’ plan to try to put Ventura “on tilt.”

Most recently, in June this past season, Ventura hit Orioles third baseman Manny Machado with a pitch. Machado charged the mound and got in at least one punch before the players spilled out onto the field in a blob of royal blue and orange. Ventura was suspended for eight games.

Ventura was by no means a model of civility, but he was a product of baseball’s intransigent culture forcing players to assimilate or be ostracized. The old culture taught players to never show emotion. Hit a home run? Put your head down and circle the bases in a timely fashion or risk taking a fastball to the ribs. Players like Fernandez and Bautista — typically players from Latin countries — challenged those old cultural norms and are, as a result, the vanguard of the new culture. Ventura displayed aspects of each, the worst of the old culture and the best of the new. He was not a one-dimensional person; he was strikingly complex. At one moment willing to use a fastball as a weapon, the next stopping by some kids’ lemonade stand and giving out fist bumps. Baseball is made more entertaining and more interesting by its personalities and Ventura’s was a behemoth, for better or worse. His absence from the sport will be felt.

MLB remembers Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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Following the tragic passing of 25-year-old Yordano Ventura and 33-year-old Andy Marte, both of whom were killed in separate car crashes on Sunday morning, players and executives from around Major League Baseball expressed an outpouring of grief and support for the players’ families and former teams.

Fans have gathered at Kauffman Stadium in memory of the former pitcher.