BJ Bye-Bye

Bye-bye BJ Upton, the man who couldn’t or wouldn’t change his swing as easily as he changes his name.

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He really should have stuck with BJ. I don’t care that he didn’t like it (apparently his father was called “Boss Man” and so everyone took to calling Melvin “Boss Man Junior” which is a bit silly but still a heck of a lot better than Melvin), “BJ” is much cooler and maybe could have cemented him with the B(lue) J(ays) (in case you missed that) a bit more permanently.

I said in yesterday’s blog that I was glad to see Upton off the roster, and since there was no game yesterday I’ve had some more time to think about that. It wasn’t that he was a terrible player…I mean, sure, yes, he was kind of complete garbage with the Blue Jays last year (.196/.261./318) and through the entirety of spring training, but his career numbers aren’t terrible and he’s a perfectly serviceable fourth outfielder, maybe even platoon guy…and it wasn’t that he struck out in what seemed like every second at bat (OK, it wasn’t that bad, I know, but 49 Ks in 148 at bats is still striking out 33% of the time), that can also be OK in the right lineup and with the right match-ups (as in: it’s really not the end of the world that Smoak is on the team, so chill).

No, what makes me glad Upton is gone is what it tells me about the direction the team is taking. They’re clearly indicating that players who are utterly incapable of changing or learning, of adapting to new roles, have no place on this team. Upton’s swing was, each and every time I saw it, Upton’s swing. Leading with the hips, swinging from the shoulders, straightening out those arms: it didn’t matter where the pitch was over the plate (or, far too often, off the plate) he’d swing like it was batting practice and if he happened to run into one, give it a ride. Never once did I see him shorten up, try to turn something inside out, drop the bat head. With his speed, you’d think that he’d at least toy with the notion of putting something in play into an infield gap but, nope, forget about that. With Melvin it was always and apparently forever either the fences or go back and sit on the bench.

Which points toward a sort-of second reason I’m glad he’s gone, which is really more aesthetic than anything else. A big swing that connects hard is a fine sight: not beautiful (think: Ted Williams) and not really awe-inspiring (Babe Ruth) but still a fine sight…like a lumberjack felling a tall maple with just a few well-placed blows of the axe, hitters like Melvin (and, yes, Smoak) wail away and pretty much to their own and everyone else’s surprise will occasionally make some contact and boy but does that baby fly. But when that big swing doesn’t connect, when the bat is just a hunk of wood riffling past the ball and the batter is left staggering in the batter’s box, clothed in nothing but failure, well, that’s a really ugly sight. It just looks bad and every swing Melvin took that didn’t connect looked like that.

Yes, I know, Smoak: but if you actually watch the guy you’ll see that he does change his approach from time to time, and he does alter his swing to match the situation…-ish. Maybe not enough to give him a lot of success (yet) but certainly more than Melvin ever did. And given that even a one of something is infinitely greater than a zero of that same thing, in this particular and limited comparison Smoak is literally infinitely better than Melvin.

So, anyway, back to the team philosophy thing. It seems to me eminently plausible (and entirely desirable…which means I really really want this to be true) that Upton is gone because he just could not or would not adapt. Smoak is back because he’s at least trying (or, in fairness, he’s trying because they actually brought him back…either way, result is the same). Changing approaches seem to be all the rage with the Blue Jays these days: Pillar, so far, seems like a different guy at the plate; Steve Pearce is working out in entirely new ways to keep in shape and healthy; Russell Martin went out over the off season and got himself a whole new physique; heck, even Jose Bautista has moderated his tone and self-presentation in the wake of the free agency humbling he received during the off-season (I don’t think this last one has anything to do, directly, with a new direction in the team philosophy, but it does fit or at least reinforce the appearance of the overall pattern of Adapt To Our Needs Or We Will Not Use You that I’m hoping I’m detecting here).

Interestingly enough, Gideon Turk has a report that they let Upton go partly because they were confident nobody else would want him and they could re-sign him easily enough to a new free agent contract. So…OK…sure, maybe, I guess. It doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense for a team to strategise their way toward re-signing someone for more money than they are already paying because he’s so terrible nobody else wants him, but heck, sure: Gideon’s been at this blogging thing longer than I have so who knows? I still don’t think it will happen, but if it does it will be interesting to see if Melvin can do with his swing what he’s done so often with his name: change it.

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