Monday, August 11, 2014

Upton and Down

On Friday night the Upton brothers homered in the same game for the fifth time, setting a new major league record in the process. Each touched Stephen Strasburg for a two-run dinger, with Justin's breaking a scoreless tie in the first and B.J.'s doubling the lead to 4-0 the following inning. The Braves survived a late rally from the Nationals and held on to win 7-6.

After another bomb by Justin yesterday, the Upton siblings now have 28 long balls between them this year; 20 from Justin and 8 off the bat of B.J.

That Justin Upton leads his older brother by such a big margin is hardly groundbreaking news, as the former has been a much better player since they came together to form two-thirds of the Braves outfield. But as recently as 2012, B.J. Upton could claim outright superiority in that department. At that point the elder Upton had outhomered his kid brother 118 to 108 with three 20-homer campaigns to Justin's two. B.J. had just popped a career-high 28 with the Tampa Bay Rays, while Justin had only managed a disappointing 17 with the Arizona Diamondbacks in a much friendlier park for hitters.

It's fascinating how much their careers have diverged since. In the three seasons before they joined forces in Atlanta, both players compiled 10.7 fWAR apiece. But seeing as how most of Justin's came during his stellar 2011 campaign and B.J. was between three and four wins every year, the latter could certainly claim to be more consistent.

At the time B.J. was coming off the better season, having just established personal bests in home runs and total bases (260). Justin was trying to forget a down year in which he hit 17 home runs with a .785 OPS and 2.1 fWAR, a far cry from his MVP-caliber 2011 that produced 31 homers, an .898 OPS and 6.1 WAR. For the second time in three seasons, WAR rated B.J. ahead of Justin.

The last two years, however, it's like they're playing in completely different leagues. B.J.'s fallen off a cliff since the ink dried on his instantly regrettable five-year, $75 million pact with Atlanta. In his 235 games with the Braves he's batted a paltry .197/.273/.310 (62 OPS+) with 17 home runs, 55 RBI and 297 strikeouts, making him a sub-replacement level player this year and last. Justin, on the other hand, has been comfortably above replacement level thanks to his still-dangerous bat, which since he was traded to Atlanta rates almost 30 percent better than average after adjustments for league and park.

With B.J. already an albatross and Justin a borderline All-Star, the disparity between the two has never been greater. It's just funny to think that not too long ago, B.J. was actually the better player.

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