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Tampa Bay Rays' B.J. Upton hits a new low when griping about dropping in the batting order

It has been a frustrating year for B.J. Upton, whose strikeouts have soared.

Associated Press

It has been a frustrating year for B.J. Upton, whose strikeouts have soared.

Poor B.J.

Poor, poor B.J.

The disappointment of B.J. Upton grows by the day. He is not happy. He is frustrated. He does not like his spot in the order.

Well, welcome to the club, B.J.

To tell you the truth, everyone else has been disappointed for some time now.

Upton, the Rays centerfielder, is miffed that he has been dropping through the batting order as if his batting average has turned into gravity. He is ninth now, primarily because he didn't hit enough to stay at seventh or eighth. If it gets any worse, the Rays may let their pitchers hit and use the designated hitter for Upton's slot.

He has had a horrible year, Upton. Not much average, not much power. Too many strikeouts, not enough walks. Not enough runs, not enough RBIs.

All of that, and Upton can't figure out why he's hitting ninth? Frankly, Upton should be happy he isn't hitting 10th … and waiting until a pinch-hitting opportunity in the eighth inning to do so.

A quick aside: I like B.J. He's a nice kid with a good smile, and at times he has taken more abuse than he has deserved. Besides, Upton was simply answering a question.

Regardless, there is a whole lot of he-doesn't-get-it going on. What Upton needs most is a mirror in his locker. After that, he needs to look at the standings and the statistics. The Rays, heading into Monday night's game, were 1?1/2 games out of the wild card, and Upton was hitting .239 and striking out 28.7 percent of the time. No, that doesn't qualify him as part of Murderer's Row.

And yet, less than 48 hours after manager Joe Maddon talked about putting egos aside, Upton suggested that being dropped to ninth in the order was "almost like a kick in the head."

It was a strange thing to say, especially when much of Tampa Bay might aim the boot somewhat lower.

Of course, the problem isn't that Upton, 24, is disappointed. That's a good thing, because most of the time, Upton masks whatever passion he feels so well you want to check him for a pulse. Given his talent, he should be disappointed. But he should be disappointed in his performance, not in Maddon's decision.

If anything, Maddon waited too long for this move. Remember, Maddon is the manager who stuck with Upton at leadoff when an entire community was screaming for him to be dropped in the order. That alone should have convinced Upton that it was his numbers that were wrong, not his organization.

You want to know what Upton should have said? He should have said the guy responsible for Upton being dropped in the order was Upton, not Maddon. He should have said that hitting ninth seemed to work just fine for Jason Bartlett. He should have said that August was about the Rays' place in the standings, not his spot in the order.

The best thing Bill Parcells ever said was, "This game will tell you who you are." Parcells wasn't talking about baseball, but he could have been. And there isn't one statistic to argue that Upton should be hitting in the top half of the order for a contending team. Not one.

For instance, there are Upton's 123 strikeouts, some of them at pitches so bad they might have been pitchouts. Only five hitters in the major leagues have struck out more. Not only that, but most hitters who strike out a lot give you a lot of home runs or a lot of walks. But consider: The five batters who have struck out more than Upton have an average of 26.5 home runs and 84.8 walks this year. Upton has seven and 46.

Want more? Despite a hot June (he hit .324 to win the AL player of the month award), Upton's .239 average is 74th in the American League. His on-base percentage is 73rd. His OPS is 78th. Given that, I'm not sure Upton wouldn't bat ninth in Kansas City's lineup. Or in Durham's.

In other words, when you consider how Upton is hitting, it's hard to feel his pain over where he's hitting.

Ninth? Of course Upton is hitting ninth. With those kinds of numbers, he's lucky the bigger kids don't take his last strike for him.

"I know I'm not a 9-hitter," Upton said. "I know I'm not a bottom-of-the-order type of guy."

No? Then prove it.

For most of Upton's career, the talk has been that he was destined to be a star. It hasn't been long since the debate around the Rays was whether Upton or Evan Longoria was going to be the bigger deal.

Ten months ago, Cliff Floyd talked about Upton and the Hall of Fame. Three months ago, James Shields referred to him as "a season-changing player."

Lately, that has become harder to believe. Upton lost 27 points off his batting average from '07 to '08, and he has dropped 34 more this year. He hasn't hit for power, he hasn't hit for average, and his plate discipline has vanished. In other words, Upton simply has not progressed on a major-league level.

Still, it's hard to forget what we saw from Upton in October when he had seven home runs in 66 at-bats. By contrast, he has seven home runs in 422 at-bats this year.

The smartest thing ever said about baseball was this: The worse a guy's numbers are, the less he should have to say.

For Upton, it's time his bat did the talking.

Tampa Bay Rays' B.J. Upton hits a new low when griping about dropping in the batting order 08/10/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 12, 2009 4:54pm]
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