Posted: 6:08 pm Friday, January 10th, 2014

The daunting task: Get B.J. and Uggla back on track 

By David O'Brien

B.J. Upton (left) and Dan Uggla had career-worst performances in 2013.

B.J. Upton (left) and Dan Uggla had career-worst performances in 2013.

In the past 100 years there have been just eight times when a major league hitter batted below .185 in a season in which he had at least 350 at-bats. Remarkably, the NL East champion Braves had two of those eight cases last year in Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton, who also happened to be the team’s highest-paid players, with two and four years remaining on their respective contracts.

To repeat, those two Braves accounted for fully one quarter of the past century’s case studies in which a big leaguer batted .185 or lower in 350 or more at-bats. Think about that.

Some might suggest that puts hitting coach Greg Walker and assistant Scott Fletcher, who return on one-year contracts, in a challenging situation, to say the least. But Walker, a veteran former player and coach, insists he’s excited about the challenge or opportunity, however you want to look at it. (Some might call the assignment daunting, or worse.)

“If I didn’t think the two guys had the desire to be good, I wouldn’t be as excited,” Walker said Friday. “These two guys don’t want to have another year like that. I can’t say put it in stone that everything’s going to be rosy, but I’m optimistic.

Upton, in the first year of a five-year, $75.25 million contract – the largest free-agent deal in Braves history – batted .184 and a .268 OBP in 391 at-bats, with 14 doubles, nine homers, 26 RBIs and 12 stolen bases in 126 games.

Uggla, in the third year of his five-year, $62 million contract, batted .179 with a .309 OBP in 448 at-bats, with 10 doubles, 22 home runs and 55 RBIs in 136 games.

The two of them struck out 322 times in 839 at-bats.

The Braves have tried to trade Uggla this offseason but found no takers interesting in paying any significant part of the $26 million he’s still owed over the next two seasons. At this point it looks as if they won’t be able to trade the veteran second baseman unless another team has an injury or two in the spring, and/or Uggla shows he can reverse the two-year erosion in his offensive performance and be a significantly better hitter than he was in 2013.

“I think both of them are going to be fine mentally,” Walker said. “We just need to see where there swings are. Until we get to spring training and see live fire, we won’t really know much.”

Uggla got married in the offseason and has been working out with several teammates in the northern Atlanta suburbs. Walker said Uggla has a batting cage at his house and that Fletcher or Walker planned to start working with Uggla some in the next week or two.

B.J. Upton has been working out at his home in Tampa and began hitting earlier than he usually does in the offseason, traveling to Arizona before Christmas and hitting with his brother and Braves teammate Justin Upton in the batting cage that Justin has in his new home in Scottsdale.

Walker said White Sox veteran Paul Konerko, one of Walker’s prized pupils during his tenure as White Sox hitting coach, has agreed to start working with Justin Upton in Arizona, along with another friend of Walker’s who is a hitting coach out there. He said Justin liked the idea and agreed to have Konerko come out and start hitting with him.

While Justin Upton’s first season with the Braves was inconsistent, he still ended up with 27 doubles, 27 homers (including a team-record 12 in April), a solid .354 OBP and an .818 OPS. He’s not a concern for the Braves.

B.J. Upton is, whether they say so publicly or not.

The Braves have told B.J. to put last year behind and focus on a fresh start. The Braves believe he struggled like so many other free agents have in recent years after switching teams and, in some cases such as B.J.’s, also switching leagues. He had previously spent his entire career in the Tampa Bay Rays organization.

“He’s got to get more efficient” with his swing, Walker said. “We agreed for him to take a emntal break, take some time to get away from it. We have six or seven weeks of spring training, and we have the next month. Just try to get more efficient. The talent level is there, the work ethic, the desire is there. Just a matter of tightening things back up.”

Walker, who lives in south Georgia, will likely travel to Tampa in the next few weeks to work some with B.J. and see where his swing’s at, to get an idea of what they still need to work on during spring training. Braves first-base coach (and former hitting coach) Terry Pendleton has also offered to go to Tampa to work with him.

B.J. has also tried to add some weight in the offseason after losing pounds over the course of the season in his first year with the Braves, hisfirst major league season playing home games outdoors.

• How bad were they? It wasn’t just the raw basic numbers, but the situation hitting where Uggla and B.J. Upton struggled to a staggering degree.

Of the 359 major leaguers who had at least 50 plate appearances with runners in scoring position in 2013, B.J. ranked 358th with a .108 average (10-for-93), ahead of only Adam Rosales (.095) of the A’s and Rangers. While Rosales had nine strikeouts in those 42 at-bats, Upton struck out 42 times in 93 at-bats with runners in scoring position, with one home run, 16 walks and .233 OBP and .405 OPS.

He went hitless in 28 at-bats with a runner at third.

Meanwhile, Uggla ranked 351st out of 359 with a .137 average (14-for-102) with runners in scoring position, albeit with five homers, 25 walks and a .305 OBP to go with 40 strikeouts.

B.J. and Uggla combined to go 24-for-195 (.123) with runners in scoring position, while teammate Freddie Freeman went 58-for-131 (.443), the second-highest RISP average in the majors (minimum 50 PAs) behind St. Louis’ Allen Craig (.454, 59-for-130).

Freeman had a majors-leading .541 OBP in those situations and a 1.236 OPS that ranked third behind American League MVP Miguel Cabrera (1.311) and the Dodgers’ Hanley Ramirez (1.236).

In 2013, Uggla posted the lowest slugging percentage in history for any player with 22 or more homers.

In 2013, Uggla posted the lowest slugging percentage in history for any player with 22 or more homers.

• Uggla season oddity: There have been 2,786 seasons of 22 or more homers by major league hitters since 1901, and none of them slugged as low as Uggla’s .362 in his 22-homer season in 2013. In fact, nobody slugged lower than .379 in the 2,784 other cases. A hitter has slugged under .400 only 15 times in a season with at least 22 homers.

Only 17 times in those 2,786 seasons of 22 or more homers did the hitter have an OPS below .700, and Uggla’s .671 tied for the fifth-lowest of that group. It was 11 points higher than Vernon Well’s .660 OPS in his 25-homer season in 2011, the lowest ever for a season of 22 or more homers. Wells hit .218 with a .248 OBP..

Just 30 hitters have hit below .220 while hitting 22 or more homers in a season, and Uggla’s .179 average tied Rob Deer for lowest in that group. Deer hit .179 with 25 homers for Detroit in 1991, with 64 RBIs, a league-leading 175 strikeouts and a .700 OPS.

• Plan now for Cooperstown: Actually, you’ll likely be booking rooms 20 or more miles from Cooperstown if you’ve waited until now to line up accomodations for Bravesfest, aka Hall of Fame induction weekend.

I’d get on it now if you hope to stay anywhere near the little village in upstate New York for induction weekend including the Sunday, July 27 ceremony. If nothing else, you can stay closer to Albany or downstate and drive a couple of hours to town for the induction ceremony or both weekend days and stop by the many souvenir shops, autograph stands and all the other attractions weekend in the quaint little downtown area of Cooperstown.

Tickets to the ceremony are free and there’s almost unlimited seating. Here’s a link, http://baseballhall.org/hofweekend, that should give you all the info you need, or numbers or other links where you can find what you need. I booked a room through Travelocity a few weeks ago, and I’m 18 miles from Cooperstown.

• On long-term extensions: There was part of a comment on the blog the other day, about signing young Braves to potential long-term extensions. A lot of other Braves fans have expressed similar opinions, some focused on Jason Heyward, others on Andrelton Simmons, some on Craig Kimbrel. Anyway, the reader wrote:

“My main thing is getting Freddie locked up. He should be number 1 on Wren’s list.”VaBravesFan

My opinion: I agree he (Freddie Freeman) should be signed long-term. I think Simmons should be No. 1, but Freeman real close. And Heyward, they’d like to sign long-term but I get the impression that the Braves believe there’s not been willingness for compromise from both sides in informal discussions they’ve had in past.

And now with Heyward only two years from free agency, might be especially tough to get him to take anything less — in exchange for security — than the amount he believes he’ll get as a free agent. Because now the security doesn’t mean as much, with only two years till free agency, as it would’ve meant a year or two ago, which is the point where teams generally sign their young stars to long-terms deals that buy out some free agency.

Simmons, with less than two years of major league service and still two seasons from arbitration, is in a prime position for the Braves to approach him about a long-term deal, in my opinion. While security still means a lot to him.

Plus, he’s never struck me as someone set on getting maximum dollars. Granted, I’ve never come right out and asked him that or heard him address it, but he just seems driven more by a desire to be the best shortstop in the game. (And that’s not to say that Freeman or Heyward aren’t similarly driven, for I’ve never heard either of them say anything to the contrary.)

• Braves fan club event: The Braves 400 Fan Club will host its annual winter banquet and fundraiser Jan. 25 (5 p.m.) at the Atlanta Marriott Perimeter Center. The theme this year is “Braves in the Baseball Hall of Fame” and the emcee is once again Pete Van Wieren, the longtime former Braves broadcasting great.

The event starts with a gala, silent auction and raffle of Braves memorabilia, and an awards dinner follows at 6:30 p.m. Awards will be presented to Atlanta-area high school players, Georgia scholar-athlete award winners Zane Evans and Kyle Wren, and Braves minor leaguers including top pitching prospect Lucas Sims.

Admision is advance reservation only, and the deadline to purchase tickets is Jan. 21. None will be sold at the door. Tickets are $75 for club members and $80 for non-members, and attendees will get dinner and a “well-stocked goody bag,” according to the 400 Fan Club press release.

Reservations can be made at the club website at http://www.braves400.org or by mailing at check to the Braves 400 Club, P.O. Box 7689, Atlanta, 30357-0689. For more info, please call the 400 Fan Club hotline at 770-416-4539.

Advance reservation only,  with a Jan. 21 deadline for ticket purchases. No tickets will be sold at the door. The cost is $75 for club members and $80 for non-members. Admission includes dinner and a well-stocked goody bag. Make reservations on the Club’s website (www.braves400.org) or by mailing a check to the Braves 400 Club, P.O. Box 7689, Atlanta, GA 30357-0689. Further information is available on the Club’s hotline (770-416-4539).

The Big Music: I’ll close with a Waterboys tune from their spectacular “Big Music” era, my favorite song off their self-titled album. You can hear the studio version by clicking here and a terrific live version by clicking here.

The Waterboys

The Waterboys

“THIS IS THE SEA” by The Waterboys

These things you keep
You’d better throw them away
You wanna turn your back
On your soulless days
Once you were tethered 
And now you are free
Once you were tethered
Well now you are free
That was the river
This is the sea!

Now if you’re feelin’ weary
If you’ve been alone too long
Maybe you’ve been suffering from
A few too many
Plans that have gone wrong
And you’re trying to remember
How fine your life used to be
Running around banging your drum
Like it’s 1973
Well that was the river
This is the sea!
Wooo!

Now you say you’ve got trouble
You say you’ve got pain
You say’ve got nothing left to believe in
Nothing to hold on to
Nothing to trust
Nothing but chains
You’re scouring your conscience
Raking through your memories
Scouring your conscience
Raking through your memories
But that was the river
This is the sea yeah!

Now I can see you wavering
As you try to decide
You’ve got a war in your head
And it’s tearing you up inside
You’re trying to make sense
Of something that you just can’t see
Trying to make sense now
And you know you once held the key
But that was the river
And this is the sea!
Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah!

Now I hear there’s a train
It’s coming on down the line
It’s yours if you hurry
You’ve got still enough time
And you don’t need no ticket
And you don’t pay no fee
No you don’t need no ticket
You don’t pay no fee
Because that was the river
And this is the sea!

Behold the sea!

3292 comments
DamnDawgDad
DamnDawgDad

Cool band.  Have all Mike Scott's stuff, but their best song is Fisherman's Blues.  Oh, about Uggla and BJ...the only "track" they should be on is via a train to someplace else.

abeeeewright
abeeeewright

This last page reads like a business blog.


I agree with scoots ... worrying about something that's 15 years out is borrowing trouble.

EMWTK
EMWTK

The Furs!   Been a long time.......

Bert-57
Bert-57

I read O'Brien's blog, am currently listening to his song, but can't get the comments to come up. 

VeniceJim
VeniceJim

There's a new blog, but there does not seem to be a place to comment yet...

Stinger2
Stinger2

"

Lemke_Knuckler 5ptsFeatured
23 minutes ago

Charlotte just moved the AAA team downtown, so that probably eliminates any chance of bringing in an MLB team.  And I think the guy that kept trying to bring the Marlins to Charlotte finally pissed off enough people and got run out of town."


I have been to the Charlotte  Knights stadium which is located just inside the SC line but only a few minutes via freeway to downtown. It is a very nice modern facility seating 10k. Anyone know why they moved? 

Lemke_Knuckler
Lemke_Knuckler

I think MLB is about due to add a few teams.  Do a little realignment, clean up the stupid unbalanced schedules.  Would all be good things.

_Murph_
_Murph_

 "Murph, what's nearby you in the way of minor league ball?"


We've got the Round Rock Express (Rangers farm team).  That's about it within 50 miles of here.


Austin definitely has the population to support a pro sports team.  One of the fastest growing cities in the US.  

ShaunATL
ShaunATL

I understand a team taking a shot on Abreu.  I'm just a little surprised it's an NL team.  


Abreu is a long shot but not completely out of the realm of the Hall of Fame discussion.  The man has had a nice career, consistently good for a long time.  

HugoZHackenbush
HugoZHackenbush

"what about this: a four-year sliding scale with minimums and maximums, and one year of arb before FA after five years"

I thought about this when I heard that players were getting their widdle feewings hurt by arb. Eliminate it entirely, pay scale based on statistical targets until FA.

HugoZHackenbush
HugoZHackenbush

Having trouble posting today...oh well...might be the italics

ncscoots
ncscoots

Murph, what's nearby you in the way of minor league ball?

EMWTK
EMWTK

Charlotte would work.  That would set up a nice rivalry.

Murph, does Austin have the population?  I'm ignorant on that.

Las Vegas, maybe.  You know Maddux would want in.

Salt Lake City?  Orlando?  Jax?

Bert-57
Bert-57

"I can deal with all site issues here except the reply button. Different conversations going at same time makes it very difficult to read. How could this be an improvement? I know nothing will be done but I hate this." (CB)


I agree, CB. What I'd like to see is a change to make the replies all going in the same direction as the comments. It would be a hell of a lot easier to read that way. Same indentation, just go up instead of down. 

When trying to read comments that we've missed, we end up reading in 2 different directions. Lew made a comment, earlier, that had 39 replies added on. I had to scroll up 40 comments in order to read them in chronological order - and then read down. 
When I was done reading those, I scrolled back up 40 comments and continued to read up. Seems pretty stupid to not correct that, imo.  

_Murph_
_Murph_

Austin needs a team.  Granted games would have to be at 9pm local time to escape the 110 degree summertime heat, but still... we need a team.

VaBravesFan
VaBravesFan

Comment From LT

Were you surprised that Kimbrel filed such a large salary?

Steve Adams: Not really. No one's ever matched what he's done to this point in his career. Filing for a historic salary made sense to me. If anything, I thought Atlanta would offer a bit more

ncscoots
ncscoots

Just push for two more franchises!

Charlotte is nice in the summertime. :-)

DS1
DS1

We need to make a quick move to counter act the Phillies signing of Abreu!!


Otherwise, we will be in trouble.  Hope they are stocking up on the geritol.

ncscoots
ncscoots

I wonder: would a five-year FA mark have an unintended consequence of lowering the market, due to supply? 

ncscoots
ncscoots

A brilliant young player gets paid more earlier, yet the team gets to control their "asset" for a year longer.

I think longer club control might be a deal-breaker, regardless of incentive. I believe what you propose would indeed be fair, but a really hard sell to the membership.

EMWTK
EMWTK

If you were a player, would you exchange an additional year of arb on the back end for an additional one on the front?  This might be equitable.  A brilliant young player gets paid more earlier, yet the team gets to control their "asset" for a year longer.

ncscoots
ncscoots

 JDA?  What would the player's union have against the Journal of Discrete Algorithms?  They seem like an upstanding bunch.

Probably found out that Brian Kenny was a member. :-)

Hugo, what about this: a four-year sliding scale with minimums and maximums, and one year of arb before FA after five years? That should put more players into FA at younger ages (which should deliver higher AAVs) and might also deliver more pre-FA extensions.

HugoZHackenbush
HugoZHackenbush

Anyone notice the repeating words in posts? This year's version of the time warp...

ZAZ
ZAZ

noleee and VJ, hang with me and I learn you some stuff.

ncscoots
ncscoots

In an era of new tv revenues, I have trouble envisioning the players giving back two years of arb money.

I don't think that would be the single issue in a vacuum. What if the union wants to get deadly on the JDA, with serious penalties? What if they have another hot-button issue of some sort? Owners want cost certainty, and there could be a sweet spot somewhere on a longer pre-FA scale, if a new CBA gives the players something else that they want.

Terminator
Terminator

All, have a good one! Talk later tonight, and Peace My friends, and"Go!!!!!Braves!!!!!" Proud to be a Braves Fan.

Terminator
Terminator

Just thought I would come on for a few. Like Elander a lot, and he's a big guy with power, and Braves like what he's been dong, so you could see him move up the system quickly. Real deal, and big on this guy. Huge promise.

HugoZHackenbush
HugoZHackenbush

In an era of new tv revenues, I have trouble envisioning the players giving back two years of arb money. Don't know why it would sound more "equitable" either. Especially to Mike Trout...

ShaunATL
ShaunATL

The players union wouldn't trade no arbitration and 5 years of the rookie pay scale for free agency a year earlier.   That would be giving up too much for them.  


I would say arbitration works pretty well for the owners.  Arbitration still suppresses salaries relative to what eligible players would get in a free market.  But the system works well for the players because there is still a system of free agency and guaranteed contracts.  

Terminator
Terminator

I think BJ, and Justin will still be there. with additions of Elander, and Lipka.

Bert-57
Bert-57

@Lemke_Knuckler I don't think there are any areas without teams that would be populated enough to support a team, without going out of the country. 

ShaunATL
ShaunATL

@HugoZHackenbush The problem with arbitration, the way it is set up, is that teams have incentive to argue their own player's weaknesses while the player or the player's representative listens.  It obviously encourages animosity.  


A better way to do it may be to have a union rep and a team/owner rep in the room to make sure the process is fair, but that aren't associated with specific players or teams.  Hire third parties to make the arguments for each side, that are not directly associated with the players or the teams.  The individual player and his rep isn't in the room nor is a specific team rep.  Make the process as impersonal as possible but also as fair as possible.


I don't know that this is realistic though.  That's a lot of trust in the process and other people when there are millions of dollars at stake.    

Lemke_Knuckler
Lemke_Knuckler

Then you'd have players holding out during spring training to renegotiate, similar to the NFL.

Lemke_Knuckler
Lemke_Knuckler

Las Vegas has been pushing for a pro sports teams for a while now.  Oklahoma City has been doing really well with the NBA franchise, might be something there.

Lemke_Knuckler
Lemke_Knuckler

Charlotte just moved the AAA team downtown, so that probably eliminates any chance of bringing in an MLB team.  And I think the guy that kept trying to bring the Marlins to Charlotte finally pissed off enough people and got run out of town.

Lemke_Knuckler
Lemke_Knuckler

Yeah, but everyone's at the race track drinking up all the Busch Light.

EMWTK
EMWTK

@DS1 Freddy Garcia is still a available.

EMWTK
EMWTK

@ncscoots Yes.

No problem, though.  Just push for two more franchises!

Lemke_Knuckler
Lemke_Knuckler

That's the other solution, isolate the arbitration process from free agent contracts and have max values.   

Lemke_Knuckler
Lemke_Knuckler

That may be part of the posturing with MLB over the drug testing program and the harsh suspensions.  Dangle a little carrot in that area in return for a little negotiations on the labor/contract front.

EMWTK
EMWTK

@ncscoots JDA?  What would the player's union have against the Journal of Discrete Algorithms?  They seem like an upstanding bunch.

ShaunATL
ShaunATL

@HugoZHackenbush Yep.  If Mike Trout were a free agent, what would he make?  The owners would gladly take the current system over giving Mike Trout what he would make on an open market.