June 11, 2013; San Diego, CA, USA; Atlanta Braves center fielder B.J. Upton (2) prior to the game against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta Braves: Wins Without Replacement?

Stat nuts know about WAR – Wins Above Replacement.  WAR is is a non-standardized sabermetric baseball statistic developed to determine the value of a player’s total contributions to their team, derived from baserunning, batting, fielding, and pitching. It is claimed to show the number of additional wins a player would contribute to a team compared to a replacement level player at that position, usually a minor league player or bench player. (Wiki)  

Perhaps we need a new, non-standard sabermetric called WWR – Wins Without Replacement.  WWR could be a baseball statistic designed to figure out how many games a team is going to lose, if it doesn’t eventually replace a player that is of little or no value to the team.  I’m joking about the WWR of course, but the Atlanta Brave’s need to replace at least one gaping hole in the lineup is no joke at all.

I know to a great degree, writing about B.J. Upton and Evan Gattis is like beating a dead horse, but I cannot seem to help it.  I keep hearing some Braves fans say they believe B.J. Upton will turn things around.  I’ve said the same myself, but am growing ever more skeptical as the weeks and months progress.  I’ll grant that he has shown some positive signs recently.   B.J. hit dismally below the Mendoza Line (.200) in April with just a .143 AVG, and only a slightly improved .147 AVG in May.  During the month of June however, B.J has gone 8 for 31 with a double, 2 homers, and four RBIs, and has hit for a .258 AVG.  In the last 7 days, Upton has gotten 4 hits on 15 ABs, with a double and 7 BBs, for a .267 AVG.

Those are clearly positive signs, but let’s not forget how B.J. Upton has hit situationally.  His numbers are best (although not good), when there are no runners on base (.179 AVG), and when he leads off in an inning (while there would also be no runners on base – .214 AVG).  When there are runners on base, B.J. has hit just .137, and with runners in scoring position, he has hit just a .071.  It appears that BJ Upton tends to fold a bit under pressure.  I’ve said for awhile now that I believe his biggest problem is mental, or a confidence problem.  He cannot take what he works on in BP out onto the field, and while his demeanor is one of confidence, it appears to simply be masking some inner turmoil that perhaps only a sports psychologist could help repair.  It was good enough for John Smoltz!  Whatever the reason, it’s evident to me that B.J. Upton has always been streaky, and has been on a slow decline since 2009, and with a WAR of just -0.8, it can only get better.

I really do hope that B.J. turns things around, for his sake and mostly for the Braves’s sake, but I still have mounting doubts.  His only value appears to be defensively, and I will argue that Jordan Schafer has better burst speed and quicker lateral movement than B.J. Upton.  The Braves will put Jordan in center field, he’ll have a great game, and then he’ll be benched for a week again.  It’s just a bit strange.  In the month of April, Schafer got 9 hits in 26 ABs, for a .346 AVG, and in May got 17 hits in 58 ABs, for a .293 AVG.  June?  Fredi has only given him 8 ABs, and while his June AVG is down significantly in those 8 ABs, perhaps it’s because he’s not getting enough ABs to start with at the moment.  Jordan has always seemed to me to be a player that thrives on trust, and when given the opportunity to play, day-in, day-out, he typically performs better.  Granted, he hasn’t always deserved such trust, but he has reportedly grown as a player and a teammate, and has matured significantly.  Situationally, Schafer has hit fairly consistently in multiple situations, with a .300 AVG and none on, a .281 AVG with runners on, and a .227 AVG with runners in scoring position.  Leading off, he has also hit better than B.J. Upton.  With a .293 AVG this season, I personally believe the Braves would fare much better playing Jordan Schafer in center field. With the money they paid for B.J., I realize that is probably not going to happen, but I believe the Braves will pay a heavy price for not doing so.

Then there’s one other wrench in these lineup gears, and one other possible solution to the problem of B.J. Upton –  Evan Gattis.  No one is going to argue that he has been on fire in key moments for the Braves this season, and with all the excitement surrounding his magical moments and the romanticism of his life story, fans simply want to see Gattis in the lineup.  It’s a justifiable desire with the numbers that Evan Gattis has put up as a mere rookie.  The question is whether or not he should be, or specifically, whether or not he is good enough to justify a regular spot day-in, day-out.  I’m going to argue yes, I think he should be.  I will admit that he lacks polish as a catcher , but I would not argue he needs to catch regularly anyway.  For as long as we have Brian McCann, he should catch most games because he is valuable offensively, and is a polished veteran behind the plate.  As some have said, Gattis cannot seem to play well offensively and defensively at the same time, and that those are kinks that only time will correct.  That’s probably true, but if the Braves are going to give B.J. Upton all this time to correct much more significant problems, then why not give Evan Gattis at least equal time in left field? It probably boils down simply to investment.  That’s the often sad business of professional baseball.

I’m certainly not the first to argue this, but one possible solution to the problem of B.J. Upton, and the need to get Gattis more play time, is to put Evan Gattis in left field, Jason Heyward in center, and Justin Upton in left.  No, Jason has not played much center field, and probably doesn’t have the same burst speed as a Jordan Schafer or a B.J. Upton, but I’m confident the gold glover can figure that out quite quickly.  This solution obviously involves benching B.J. Upton, which is precisely where I think he should be, either on the bench or signed and agreed to go down to get some practice in the minors.

Whether Jordan Schafer plays more, or Evan Gattis plays more, the problem with B.J. Upton isn’t likely to go away anytime soon.  I hope I’m wrong, and plenty of you will say I am, but seeing is believing, and I haven’t seen enough out of B.J. to justify keeping him in the lineup each and every day.  The Braves have tons of talent, and the problems they have with where and when to play that talent is a good one to have.  In the end you just hope that the Braves patiently waiting for slumps to go away won’t come back to bite them in the butt come September.

Tags: Atlanta Braves FanSided

  • http://tomahawktake.com/ carpengui

    Well, you’ll love this, then: not only is BJ in today’s lineup, he’s been moved up to 6th. :D

    • cheadrick

      More tinkering. I hope it works. He has shown some positive signs.

  • Jacob

    I’m not as worried about BJ as I am about Uggla. I know that BJ is still adjusting to a new team, a new league, and being outshined by his little brother. But, I can’t handle 2 1/2 more years of Uggla at second. Why not sit Uggla and play Pena at second everyday? Let Uggla come off the bench to face fastball pitchers in late innings? Pick his spots instead of letting pitchers pick him apart.

    • cheadrick

      Yeah i have no issue with that, but while Dan is struggling for avg, he still walks alot, and that’s good.

    • Caleb

      The reason why you don’t let Pena play instead of Uggla is because you would have a worse player on the field.

  • Lee Trocinski

    Remember, it’s not about what they’ve done so far; it’s what they’re going to do from now on. Schafer has been good, but I still don’t think he can produce at an average level from here on out if he was given everyday opportunities. You short-change B.J. with showing just his June AVG, as his OBP is at .410 and SLG at .484.

    As far as his clutch stats go, B.J. never had a problem hitting with RISP until last year. Also, Schafer has shown plenty of drop with RISP. I think Schafer hits .250/.330/.350 the rest of the year and B.J. hits .225/.300/.410, essentially the same value. Schafer has never rated above-average defensively, so B.J. should be the better player here-on-out.

    • fireboss

      Hitting: Schafer is to BJ as apples are to oranges. Schafer is leadoff man ground ball – line drive hitter with speed. BJ is a a Fly ball, K, power bat with speed. Schafer tries to put the ball in play BJ unbuttons the top button and lets it fly. Which do we need? I’d opt for Schafer in the leadoff spot. I had hoped Simba would come around but he’s got the swing and to hell with contact disease too. of Justin Upton’s 14 homers three have come with men on base; 1 man twice and the slam in May. Schafer leading off gets Heyward more fastballs because unlike Simba he will steal. Schafer and J-up are the only ones with good steal numbers and Schafer leads the team as a part time player. Even if he as I expect his OBP drops 30 points he’s ahead of every other regular player.

      BJ proves again how awful UZR is as a defensive metric. His UZR 150 of 18.4 is based on other league center fielders not on talent or how well he’s played according tp Fangraphs explanation. The only thing it means is most other NL CFs are not very good this year. I haven’t seen them all but I’ve watched all but a handful of Braves games.He makes routine plays but I’ve not seen anything that puts him in gold glove territory. I’ve also seen him badly blow routine plays. I’m as happy with Schafer in CF as I am with BJ and remember i’m the guy who ask WTF we were going to do with him. Now, is he going to play regularly? Not a chance in hell, there $15M reasons + Wren’s job why.

      I expect BJ to claw his way back to 240 this year because the schedule has given us most of the harder games early and we play a lot of under 500 teams particularly in the second half. BJ will hit the bad pitching like Dan and everyone will say he’s turned around. Then in the post season the good pitchers will generate a tornado every time he bats.
      I think Dan will continue to hit 200-220 and he and BJ may set a record for Ks by two hitters one one team, Dan can’t hit anything with a wrinkle in it anymore and good fastballs with movement elude him too. Bit both will play . . .unless we can drug Sandy Alderson and swap Uggs for Murphy…(yes I know that’s fantasy too)

      • Lee Trocinski

        Key word for Schafer is “tries” to put the ball in play, as he’s struck out in 1/4 of his PAs. Once his .406 BABIP drops to around .330 and his power is toned down a bit, he’s a below-average hitter.

        A note on UZR, it’s a comparison of ML centerfielders, not just by league. I basically tried to say that Schafer likely isn’t better than B.J. defensively, so B.J. should be better rest-of-season.

        • cheadrick

          Look, I know this is anathema to sabermetrists ;), but I don’t care what any of the numbers say regarding BJ vs. Jordan. I watch the games with my eye, and I can see that Jordan has a quicker step in center, a better bat wherever you put him, and is just hungrier. I’m not even saying he should replace BJ for every game, but he needs more playing time, and so does Gattis. My eye sees the same thing with him. What does my eye see with BJ? Project all you wish, but BJ may well not end the season much better in September than what you are seeing in June. Seriously, I hope I am dead wrong on that, for the Brave’s sake. I’m gonna go with Dawg above that he needs to go down, but of course his attitude being a part of the issue, he will never agree.

        • fireboss

          I didn’t say he was a great hitter but at one time he showed the tools to be a good leadoff man. What Schafer will do that BJ won’t is put the ball on the ground and use his speed, we’ve seen bunt for this year, speed shouldn’t slump. BJ is striking out as much or more than Schafer so that’s a wash.

          UZR is a joke. It currently shows BJ is having a better season than McCutchen, Trout, Ellsbury, and Bourn. That’s hilarious.

  • DawgFan83

    This would be my lineup right now.

    1- Shafer-8
    3-J. Upton-7
    4- Fred-3
    7-C Johnson-5

    If this team had any balls they’d send Bj to Gwinnett to work things out.

    • fireboss

      You can’t send him down. He’s a veteran and can only go out if he agrees to do so. Besides if you want to ruin any chance of him ever being worth half his pay tell him you want him to go to Gwinnett and see how bad things get