There are four main offensive cogs with the Braves that are sucking wind right now, including one that most think has been doing great, when in reality, he really hasn't.
Justin Upton is on a 162 game pace of about 45 homers, 94 RBIs and 120 runs scored. That would be a stupendous season. However, I've listed him under the headline “Struggling.” Why? Let me explain.
(1) Upton hasn't gone deep in eight games and he has two homers in his last 25 games. Two. Let me repeat, two. Must be a sample size thing, right? I mean the homers will start flying soon, right? Will they? His fly ball rate of 41 percent is one point above his career norm, so that looks fine. However, take a look at that HR/F which is sitting at 28.0 percent. Not only has he never finished a season with a mark of 19 percent, but his current rate is nearly double his 14.6 career mark. Is it reasonable to expect him to continue to double his career mark?
(2) Upton is batting .267. That's worse than his career mark of .277. He's also hit .232 over his last 23 games. His line drive rate is down about three points this year which could easily be a sample size thing or just some random fluctuation so there's no reason to panic, but it's still not a very impressive number.
So what do we have? Upton was arguable the most impressive power bat in the NL in April as he hit .298 with 12 homers an a 1.136 OPS. In May he's hit .232 with two homers, a .726 OPS and he all of a sudden looks a lot like Jeff Francoeur. OK that's not fair cause he's already walks 33 times in 49 at-bats, but don't just give Justin a free pass and think to yourself “superstar” just because of his hot April.
Older bro B.J. Upton – now that guy has no excuse. He's getting some time out of the lineup to try and correct some mechanical flaws that have crept into his hack, and boy does he need some serious work on the stroke. Yeah, I'm the king of the understated.
Upton is batting .148... in 155 at-bats. He's only a .251 career hitter and last hit .251 in 2008, so it's not like it should be a shock that his average hasn't been up to snuff. Still, this is pathetic. Always a huge K guy, his strikeout rate has gone from 25.5 percent for his career to 34.1 percent this season. The odd thing is that his swing percentage this year is 49 percent, two percentage points below his 52 percent mark from last season and two percentage points above his 47 percent mark from 2011. Obviously if you add together his work the last two seasons you end up with a mark virtually identical to his mark this season. The real issue is that when he swings at pitches in the strike zone, he's simply missing them. For his career he's made contact on 81.2 percent of the swings he has taken at pitches inside the zone. This season that mark is at a career low down at 71.3 percent. Ugly. More ugliness. His line drive rate has dropped five full percentage points down to 12.5 percent. His BABIP is .109 points below his career mark at .207. Funk or no funk, it's just not reasonable to think that he will continue to be this bad. Of course sometimes guys do this out of nowhere, hello Adam Dunn, so it's not impossible to think that it will continue to be this dreadful for the man who nearly went 30/30 last season. However, a guy who is this talented and just 28 years old... it hardly ever happens that a guy like this just straight out face plants.
All the numbers say pathetic. Still, history, talent and logic say that there will be some period of time this season where things will snap back into place. Upton won't get to the 25/30 levels we expected, but there's still a chance that he performs at that pace per at-bat the rest of the way, that is if he can clear his mind and get that swing back a workin'.
Jason Heyward had a strong rookie season (.277-18-72-83-11). He was terrible in year II (.227-14-42-50-9). He was terrific in year III (.269-27-82-93-21). He's been atrocious this season (.163-2-8-17-1 in 26 games around an appendix surgery). What gives?
First, it's time for everyone to admit that at this point of his development that Heyward just isn't a complete hitter. Don't know how you would argue with that. I can support that claim rather easily. He has hit .255. The NL has hit .260 during his career. His OBP is .349. The league average has been .328. His SLG is .410. The league average is .438. Overall Heyward has a .786 OPS, just .012 points better than the league. To compare, Brandon Moss has a career OPS of .762 and Chris Denorfia is at .758. I will say this for Heyward. Pretty sure he's not going to sport a .183 BABIP all season (career .301) so he's obviously going to be more productive moving forward.
Second, Heyward isn't a big time power threat – yet. For his career he owns a 49.7 percent ground ball rate. You aren't hitting 30 homers with a mark that high. Now that mark has gone down each season from 55 to 54 to 44 percent the past three years, and it's encouraging to see that mark down yet again this season at 37 percent, though I'm of the opinion that we might be looking at a small sample size artifact at the moment. Unfortunately Heyward hasn't been able to marry the increased fly ball rate with a career level HR/F mark as he's currently operating at 6.5 percent, well under half his career rate of 15.3 percent. If he returns to his career level, and he keeps hitting the ball in the air, a run at 30 homers is possible, though of course he's not getting there this season with the time he has missed.
Heyward will see his performance improve this season, I have no doubt about that. The question is will he get back to the levels that he displayed last season? At this point one has to say that it seems just as likely that he won't this season as he will, and who would have thought that two months ago? Oh yeah, it would also help if he could finally get rid of the “soft” label that continues to dog him.
Dan Uggla is batting .193 and he has 63 Ks in 46 games. After hitting a career best .287 in 2010 it's been dumper city in the average department for Uggla: .233 and .220 the past two years and .193 this season. Face it, the best you should be hoping for is .250, and even that seems like an extreme long shot. Oh he's still taking plenty of free passes, but his always high K-rate has reach Dunnsian levels this season. Still, there's enough here that Uggla might have some value. With 10 homers, the Braves have played 50 games, Uggla is on pace for 30+ homers. Don't forget that he hit 31 or more big flies each year from 2007-2011. Uggla is also on pace to score 87 runs. He's never scored fewer than 84 times in seven big league seasons. Though his RBI total is a bit down, we're still talking about a projected rate 65 which isn't horrific and is far from enticing for a guy expected to knock in 80+. Let me ask you though. How many times has Ian Kinsler done that, hit 30 homers with 65 RBIs and 85 runs scored? Twice. Robinson Cano? Once. Dustin Pedroia? Never. Uggla is a flawed player without an iota of doubt, but he still has his uses.
BY THE NUMBERS
33: The RBI total of John Buck this season, tied for 8th in the NL. Unfortunately he's been absolutely brutal of late. Buck has hit .164 over his last 61 at-bats. As disconcerting is a month of May in which he's gone deep twice with eight RBIs, this on the heels of his massive April (nine homers, 25 RBIs). With a .223 batting average and .287 OBP on the years he's undershooting his career numbers of .235 and .302. Awful all around.
.364: The batting average of Jhonny Peralta over his last 151 at-bats. Peralta has also hit safely in 34 of 39 games, and there isn't a shortstop in the Junior Circuit who can best him in AVG (.341), OBP (.392) or SLG (.500). Cold alert. He's never hit .300. He's never had an OBP of .370. He's never had a SLG of .480. He does, however, have almost 5,500 career plate appearances.
.579: The batting average of Jason Castro from May 20th through May 26th when he went 11-for-19. Over his last eight games he's gone deep five times leading to an OPS of 1.520. He's reached base safely in 14 of 18 games for the Astros. He also leads catchers with 13 doubles and is on pace for about 20 homers as well.
Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive on Sirius 210 and XM 87, Monday through Friday at 5 PM EDT. Ray's analysis can be found at BaseballGuys.com and his minute to minute musings can be located at the BaseballGuys' Twitter account.