B.J. Upton became one of 12 players since the start of the millennium to post an OPS below .560 while taking at least 400 trips to the plate. Upton, who established himself as one of baseball’s most dynamic players while with the Rays, could never get it going in the first year of a five-year, $75.25 million contract with the Braves. It got ugly.
Trying to put the past behind him, Upton has made some slight adjustments in his swing. Hitting coach Greg Walker liked what he saw when he visited Upton at his home in Tampa in January. Via David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal Constitution:
What Walker noticed first when he visted Upton at his Tampa home in January was how much movement he’d cut out of his swing and stance, including eliminating the leg lift and long slide step with his front foot. Upton, 29, said his swing gradually deteriorated over the past several years after he began trying to pull the ball more after his early success with the Rays.
“If you go back and watch (video of) B.J., his misses got bigger from year to year,” Walker said. “His swing got looser and looser. The only thing we told him to do — we don’t want you to change anything, we don’t want to turn you into somebody you’ve never been. All we want you to do is go back to the way you hit when you were a kid.
The Braves as a team had the third-highest strikeout rate in baseball. Upton’s 34 percent strikeout rate led the team and was the second-highest in baseball behind Chris Carter. While Upton has always been known for striking out, his rate was never that high; rather, it ranged from 21 to 28 percent while with the Rays. As a result, Upton’s average plummeted to .184 (career .248) and his power vanished as he finished with a .105 isolated power (career .161).
Upton will be one of the more interesting players to watch during spring training, to see if the mechanical adjustments help. Having lost power-hitting catcher Brian McCann to free agency, the Braves would love to gain back some of that lost offense with an Upton rebound.