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

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