B.J. Upton And The Emergence Of Melvin

Kevin C. Cox

Everyone's noticed that B.J. Upton has improved with the glasses on, but is it an encouraging sign for the future, or just a mirage?

Do you remember those rosy times of seemingly eternal happiness and optimism way back in the good old days of Winter 2012/13? Do you remember the excitement you had when B.J. Upton decided that he wanted to put the Tomahawk across his chest for the next 5 years for $72.5 MM? Do you remember the jubilation when Frank Wren took advantage of the Diamondbacks’ foolhardy decision to place grit on a shiny pedestal above all other intangibles and grabbed Justin Upton from them? Sure you do! "Y’all gon make me lose my mind, Upton Here, Upton Here," they said! People proclaimed that "All we need now is Kate Upton and the title is ours!" I’m sure that all of you remember feeling that these brothers were going to help take this team further than the Wild Card round, and even further!

Well, two winters, two falls, a summer and a divisional title later, the younger Upton has delivered on a bit of his promise with a 3.1 fWAR season in 2013 and 1.6 in WAR so far this season, as he’s had another strong April. The older Upton, on the other hand, had an absolutely calamitous season last year. I’m not going to write out his 2013 statline here for your sanity and mine, but if you dare to take a look at the grotesque crime scene, then click here. Either way, B.J. Upton had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad 2013.

Now, heading into 2014, it was assumed that as long as B.J. and his partner in sludge Dan Uggla were just decent, then the Braves would see marked improvement on offense and thus be be a better team. Granted, the outlook for Uggla to just be decent was pretty pessimistic since he’s on the wrong side of 30 and has been in a slump for what feels like 3 years, now. But B.J. won’t be hitting 30 until the end of August, so surely he’d have a little bit more time to improve so that his contract wouldn’t end up being a complete money pit, right?

Well, 2014 started off like the same-ol’, same-ol’ for Bossman Junior; high strikeout rate (his K% was 28.8% for the first full month of the season, which was actually an improvement from the horrid 33.9% in 2013) with a low walk rate (9.6%, below his career average of 10.5%). All seemed lost in Braves nation. Any time he came to the plate, there was gnashing of teeth and rending of garments.

Then, on April 25th, B.J. Upton went into the phonebooth, and emerged from it in his new superhero persona: Melvin.

Now, I bet that you're probably thinking, "Typical B.J., he can’t even get the superhero transformation right. You’re not supposed to transform into Clark Kent to save the day, bruh." I'd agree with that. That’s not how that sort of thing goes...or is it? Has Melvin been granted with the superpower of super vision?

Take a look at the following data from Fangraphs. The top table is B.J.’s stats from March and April. The bottom is from the last seven days, which is when Melvin took over.

Melvin_medium

(Click to enlarge)

Look at that jump in, well, everything! Granted, a week’s worth of statistical data is about as small of a sample size as you can get, but that’s some encouraging stuff, especially the walk rate. A better walk rate improves your OBP and wOBA, which are basically the two important stats for a hitter in the 2-slot. In fact, this recent run of form at the plate has bumped Melvin’s numbers in those two departments to .297 and .285, respectively. Those are both 30 point improvements, and if it keeps up, it should go above his ZiPS projections which had him around .300 for both categories. If Fredi Gonzalez insists on having Melvin hit in the 2nd spot of the lineup, then that’s the type of production that needs to be there, instead of the anemia that we were seeing earlier this season. It doesn’t project to be spectacular by any stretch of the imagination, but as I said earlier in the article, all we’re looking for is decent. That, my friends, is decent.

If you prefer your stats on the more traditional side, Melvin already has a whopping 2 HRs after hitting only 9 last season, and has 12 RBI after crawling his way to 30 last season. Plus, he’s seemingly brimming with confidence, and expressed it during an interview with the AJC after his first day with the glasses on:

"It’s just the first day," Upton said. "We’ll see how it goes, but I was definitely seeing the ball a little better."

On top of that, he’s been one of the lone bright spots during this ugly streak that the Braves as a team have been on as of late. So, all indications are that Melvin will indeed be a decent hand in the lineup, and that’s all we’re asking at this point. Who knew that all he needed was glasses to gain a boost in ability?

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