There once was a time when the Braves were home to two outstanding baseball playing brothers, Justin Upton and Melvin Upton Jr. – we will call him BJ starting now. There have been few occurrences where two family members have the opportunity to play for the same MLB team, even more at the same time. But the Braves were awarded this affair, not knowing how extremely different these two players would end up playing.
Justin had came from the Arizona Diamondbacks in a 2013 trade that also included the Braves receiving third baseman Chris Johnson. The Braves sent back five players, most notably Martin Prado and Randall Delgado.
Justin played very well for the Braves in that 2013 season. He hit .263 with a .818 OPS. He had excellent power, hitting 27 HR and sporting an above average wRC+ of 129. His first season with the Braves was an absolute success. His 3.5 WAR was his third best season of his career at that point in time. And he was even better the next season.
In 2014 Justin Upton hit even better for the Braves. He improved just about every notable batting statistic. He hit .270, slugged 29 HR, and pushed his WAR total even higher than the previous season, to 3.7. Justin was a key player in the batting lineup for two seasons with the Braves. He had great power and hit for decent average. After the 2014 season, Justin went and spent a season with the Padres, one-in-a-half seasons with the Tigers, and has now been with the Angels since mid-season of 2017. He accumulated 7.2 WAR for the Braves in two seasons. He is still producing very well since leaving Atlanta, generating 10.3 WAR the past three full seasons, and is up to 2.5 WAR so far this year. He was fun to watch!
Now we move on to BJ. His tenure in Atlanta was about as completely different as it could possibly be, compared to Justin. Boy was it excruciating to watch. The Braves signed BJ Upton, as a free agent, in 2012. He signed a 5 year deal, worth $75.25MM.
The season of 2013 was a nightmare for BJ. He couldn’t get anything going. The whole season you thought he could turn it around, but he couldn’t. He couldn’t hit a lick ALL SEASON. His batting average was below the Mendoza Line at .184. Ouch. He posted a 56 wRC+ and a .557 OPS. His horrible 2013 was good for -0.9. Yes (-)!. BJ struck out 33.9% of the time in 2013. It was all bad. Just bad.
Then came 2014. Everyone thinks that 2013 was a fluke, and that BJ can right the ship. To his credit, he improved a little. But he was still so terrible that it just didn’t matter. In 2014, his final Braves season, he hit .208 with 12 HR, and a .620 OPS. He got his WAR all the way up to a nice and even round 0. He went to the Padres in 2015, and had one-in-one-half average seasons more or less before joining the Giants system. By 2017 he was playing in AAA for the Giants. And this past March he was released by the Indians, never making it to the majors. Such a shame for a player that averaged 3.73 WAR in six seasons before joining the Braves. The Braves just got him at the worst time possible, the beginning of the end for BJ.
I look back at these two players and find it interesting how two brothers who were having outstanding careers joined the Braves at the same time. Then see how both players went into complete different directions.
This FanPost does not express the views or opinions of Talking Chop.
The Los Angeles Angels made up some ground in their slim playoff pursuit this week, but still have a long road ahead if they hope to get back in contention.
They’ll open a crucial three-game series against the Oakland A’s beginning Friday night at Angel Stadium.
The A’s (68-47) won six of their past seven games to surge ahead of the Seattle Mariners for the second wild card from the American League. They’ll enter Friday 10 1/2 games ahead of the Angels (58-58), who are coming off a three-game sweep against the visiting Detroit Tigers.
Los Angeles has scored 66 runs in its past eight home games and could get center fielder Mike Trout back during the series. The two-time AL Most Valuable Player missed the past seven games with a sore right wrist.
“Obviously, you never want to play too many games without a guy like Mike in your lineup, but we’ve been forced to, and I think we’ve been holding our own,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia told MLB.com following a 6-0 win against the Tigers on Wednesday.
Oakland second baseman Jed Lowrie has been battling leg issues and the 34-year-old has just four hits in his past 37 at-bats to drop his batting average from .280 to .265, but the Angels have usually brought out the best in Lowrie ever since he delivered the walk-off RBI single in his rookie year with the Boston Red Sox to complete a sweep of the Angels at the 2008 AL Division Series.
Lowrie will face the Angels for the 100th time in his major league career on Friday. He’s hitting .269 with nine home runs and 33 RBIs in the previous 99 games against Los Angeles.
“We’ve given him some day games off and I communicate with him all the time,” Oakland manager Bob Melvin told the San Jose Mercury News after a 3-2 win against the visiting Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday. “He wants to play and wants to be out there, especially in the position that we’re in. Whether or not he’s 100 percent with his legs, probably not, but he holds down the three-hole. Everybody’s going to have some periods during the season where they struggle some. He’ll get it going back again.”
Lowrie will be up against Angels right-hander Felix Pena, who has lost his past three starts. Pena (1-3, 4.97 ERA) was better in his most recent outing than he was on July 29. He recorded just one out against the Seattle Mariners while giving up seven runs, six hits and two walks in the 8-5 loss.
He came back Saturday at the Cleveland Indians and held them to two runs and three hits in 5 1/3 innings, but received no run support in the 3-0 loss.
Pena made his only career appearance against the A’s out of the bullpen on April 8, giving up a solo homer to Matt Joyce in one inning of work.
Pena will be opposed by A’s left-hander Brett Anderson, who’s coming off his best start in nearly six years but didn’t get a win to show for his effort. He retired the first 16 batters in order and blanked the Tigers for seven innings on two hits last Friday, but left with the game still scoreless. Oakland scored in the bottom of the 13th for a 1-0 win.
Anderson (2-3, 4.64 ERA) is 1-3 in his career against the Angels with a 3.76 ERA in 52 2/3 innings.
ANAHEIM — If it’s possible to have a “successful” injury, Kole Calhoun had one.
In the seven weeks since Calhoun returned from a stint on the DL to recover from a strained oblique, he has engineered a remarkable turnaround to his season.
By the numbers, he went from being one of baseball’s worst hitters to one of the best.
He was hitting .145 with a .374 OPS when he hit the disabled list June 1. His OPS was the worst in the majors, with a minimum of 100 plate appearances, by 78 points.
Since coming back June 18, he’s hitting .292 with a .996 OPS. To put that into perspective, Mike Trout won the 2016 MVP award with a .991 OPS.
The sample size for Calhoun 2.0 is now up to 175 plate appearances, which is almost as much as the 185 plate appearances of his slump.
“It’s crazy impressive,” marveled hitting coach Eric Hinske. “Look at him. He’s a fire hydrant. He’s strong as an ox. He just needed his body to work the right way for him. For him to make that swing adjustment in the middle of the season is definitely a tough thing to do. He’s a stud.”
By now you know about the swing adjustment. Calhoun returned from the DL with a new stance, more crouched than before.
Clearly, it’s worked.
To understand how it’s worked, and how he got into the hole that necessitated this in-season makeover, you have to go back to last season.
Calhoun hit .244 with 19 homers and a .725 OPS in 2017. The numbers were slightly down from his career .266 batting average and .764 OPS coming into the season.
What frustrated Calhoun was the inconsistency within the season. His monthly averages were, starting in April: .255, .158, .324, .169, .300 and .245.
“Last year was so up and down,” Calhoun said. “I’d go good. I’d go bad. I’d go good. I’d go bad. I didn’t really have a stable base of what I was doing. I kept trying to find something. I’d find it for a minute and then I’d lose it.”
So Calhoun spent the winter trying to change his swing. Although Calhoun said it was simply to find more consistency, Hinske said he was also trying to join the launch angle revolution.
“He was trying to hit the bottom half of the baseball and hit the ball in the air and drive the ball out of the yard,” Hinske said. “It turned into an uphill swing on him and he couldn’t find his way out.”
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Despite the success of spring training — “To be honest, I kind of got lucky,” Calhoun said — the season began and he was almost immediately a mess.
Essentially, Hinske said, Calhoun was trying to get under the ball with an uppercut swing, but he was doing it from such an upright stance that it required him to bring his head and hands down and then back up. All that motion, which obviously also included his eyes moving, made it difficult to track the baseball and square it up.
Hinske also said Calhoun’s back hip was locked in place by his upright stance. Power comes from the legs turning the hips and then pulling the barrel through the zone.
Calhoun’s problem was his hands were pulling the barrel out front before his hips could catch up, Hinske said. That resulted in weak contact and pulled ground balls.
Calhoun hit the ball on the ground 55.7 percent of the time in the first two months, up from his 42.5 percent previously. All those ground balls, even the hard hit ones, were being gobbled up by the shift.
Calhoun’s average plummeted, dragging his confidence along with it.
“Day in and day out, I was beating myself up, honestly,” Calhoun said.
He was physically punishing himself, too, as it turns out. He took so many extra swings in the cage trying to get right that it was almost inevitable that eventually something would pop.
On a steamy May 31 afternoon in Detroit, Calhoun was grinding away in the cage when he felt his back lock up. He talked to the trainers.
“They said if you keep going, maybe you blow it out for a while,” he said. “Or you can take a step back. When you’re hitting .145, it’s kind of hard to plead your case, honestly.”
The Angels placed Calhoun on the disabled list with a strained oblique. Instead of staying with the team to rehab, he went home to Arizona. For five or six days, he didn’t touch a bat.
“I went home and kind of relaxed, I guess,” he said. “Tried to clear my mind.”
When he was ready to begin swinging again, Calhoun met with Jeremy Reed and Shawn Wooten, the Angels’ Arizona-based minor-league hitting coordinators. They showed him video and helped him understand where his swing had gotten lost.
Concepts that may have been difficult to grasp – amid the noise of daily games, crowds and questioning reporters – suddenly connected in the quiet of Arizona.
“Everything just kind of made sense,” Calhoun said.
Reed and Wooten helped Calhoun develop a new stance, which was actually just a snapshot of a position he’d been trying to achieve all along. Instead of starting off upright and crouching slightly as the pitch approached, he began in the crouch. He eliminated some of the bat-wagging as he waited for the pitch. It was as if he took a video of his good swings and edited out the beginning.
“I tried to really simplify it and get closer to a spot that I feel powerful,” Calhoun said. “Instead of all this stuff that helped me get there.”
Having more bend helped Calhoun get his hips around before his hands, Hinske said. Starting with his head lower prevented Calhoun from dipping while trying to track the ball, which allows him to see the ball better.
“You are trying to eliminate moving parts,” Hinske said. “This is freeing him up to take him to the baseball, which is where we want everything to happen in the first place.”
The results showed immediately. On the first at-bat of a rehab assignment at Triple-A, Calhoun hit a home run. He went 6 for 19 in five games at Triple-A, and then returned to the majors.
On June 18, Calhoun stepped to the plate and unveiled his new stance to the major league baseball world. Zack Greinke was on the mound for the Arizona Diamondbacks. The former Cy Young winner threw him a first-pitch fastball, and Calhoun yanked it into right field, through the shift, for a single.
“Hey, I can do this,” Calhoun recalled telling himself.
He got another hit that night. The next night, he hit his first homer since opening day. The next night, he hit another one.
“You start rolling and get a little bit of confidence,” Calhoun said. “Hopefully you’ve turned the corner.”
Since coming back, Calhoun has cut his ground balls from 55.7 percent to 31.6 percent. His line drive rate went from 16.8 percent to 23.1 percent. His percentage of hard hit balls went from 35.1 percent to 47.0 percent.
After hitting one homer in two months, he’s been on one of the best power binges of his career. His 14 homers since returning are the most in the American League over that span. His 10 homers in July were his most in any calendar month of his career.
What’s more, Calhoun believes this is not just a hot streak, but a sustainable change to his swing.
“It’s something I feel like is easier to repeat, day in and day out,” he said. “I have a good understanding of it.”
Manager Mike Scioscia agrees that Calhoun has done better than rediscover his old self. He’s improved on the hitter he used to be.
“The struggles he had in April and May have ended up putting him in a better place right now with the adjustments he’s made,” Scioscia said. “There’s never been a question he was going to find where he needed to be. He’s done that, plus. He’s reworked some things in his swing from even when he was very productive in the last couple years… He’s more free. He’s looser. There’s a confidence level that he’s able to handle a wider array of pitching even from the last couple years. His numbers are off the charts since he came back.”
THE NEW CALHOUN
Kole Calhoun pulled himself out of a miserable slump when he changed his stance while he was on the disabled list in early June.
Before (185 PAs)
1 HR, .145 BA/.195 OBP/.179 SLG/.374 OPS
After (175 PAs)
14 HR, .292 BA/.360 OBP/.636 SLG/.996 OPS
Angels (RHP Felix Peña,1-3, 4.97) vs. A’s (LHP Brett Anderson, 2-3, 4.74), 7:30 p.m., Friday, Fox Sports West, KLAA (830 AM).
Jaime Barria and three relievers combined on a five-hit shutout in the Los Angeles Angels’ 6-0 win over the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday afternoon in Anaheim, Calif., completing a three-game sweep.
Barria (7-7) struck out five, walked one and gave up five hits in 5 2/3 innings. Taylor Cole, Hansel Robles and Noe Ramirez combined to hold the Tigers hitless over the final 3 1/3 innings to finish it off.
The Tigers took their sixth loss in a row while the Angels won their third straight.
The Angels got all the offense they needed in the first inning when leadoff man Kole Calhoun hit Detroit starter Blaine Hardy‘s second pitch of the game over the fence in right-center for his 15th home run of the season.
Los Angeles also got back-to-back home runs from Justin Upton (No. 23) and Albert Pujols (No. 18) in the fifth inning. Hardy was able to get out of the fifth inning but went no further, giving up five runs on seven hits and one walk.
Calhoun, Andrelton Simmons and Jefry Marte each had two hits for Los Angeles, which finished with 10 hits in all. And they did so without center fielder Mike Trout, who missed his seventh consecutive game because of a right wrist contusion.
The Angels have an off day Thursday, and Trout is expected back in the lineup on Friday against the Oakland A’s.
The Tigers did not put up much of a threat against any of the Angels’ pitchers, and when they did, they failed to come up with a big hit, going 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position.
After Calhoun’s homer in the first, the Angels kept the pressure on Hardy. Marte had an RBI single later in the inning.
In the fifth, Eric Young Jr. led off with a single and two outs later scored on a two-run homer by Upton. Pujols followed with a homer to make it 5-0.
Juan Briceno’s sixth-inning RBI single capped the scoring.
–Field Level Media