Commentary

Grey's Clipboard: B.J. Upton ready to rebound

Updated: May 5, 2009, 11:24 AM ET
By Jason Grey | ESPN.com

As his brother Justin heats up (hitting .322 and slugging .593 in his past 17 games), B.J. Upton continues to slump. The elder Upton went 0-for-5 with two strikeouts on Sunday to drop his average to .162 with no homers on the season.

Thankfully, at least he has stolen six bases to provide some semblance of value to fantasy players, but what's going on with his offense? Sure, it's very easy to just say, "it's still early" -- because it is -- and assume Upton's offense will kick into gear shortly, but that doesn't necessarily assuage the fears of his panicked owners.

B.J. Upton
AP Photo/Steve NesiusB.J. Upton is hitting below the Mendoza line, although he is still stealing bases.
By now, we all know Upton played through a shoulder injury for most of last season that helped depress his power output, limiting him to nine homers during the season. And we all know about how his pop suddenly materialized in a big way during the playoffs, with seven homers in 16 games, as he was a bit healthier toward the end of the year. Between the playoffs outburst and November surgery to fix a torn labrum, it was thought that Upton would be ready to mash again this season.

After a shoulder injury, it can be tricky to regain your swing. Both Carlos Quentin and Shawn Green told me how they needed to kind of rebuild their swings after shoulder surgery. Obviously, how each player responds is different, but considering Upton's rehab lasted into the first week of the season before he started playing big league games again, it's somewhat reasonable to assume Upton is still getting back up to speed in some respects. An early quad injury that knocked him out of the lineup for a few days and likely hampered him for a few more didn't help.

Because of Upton's past performance, I'm certainly willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Nothing markedly different shows up in his swing at this juncture compared to years past that would raise a red flag.

Upton has been a bit unlucky. His .250 batting average on balls in play is extremely low, especially for a player who hits his share of ground balls, can use his speed to leg out infield hits and has a career mark in that category of better than .350. His strikeout rate is up, as he's fanning in more than a third of his at-bats and appears to be pressing a bit at times trying to make things happen, but it's not a huge concern yet. Upton isn't chasing outside the strike zone. In fact, he's letting a few too many hittable balls in the zone go by. The strikeouts are part of the package, as his big 2007 campaign also came with a healthy strikeout total and a similar rate.

I can't point to any one thing that would explain why Upton struggled in April. But a combination of things added up to a slow start for the five-category player. So Upton is a prime buy-low candidate, because there is every reason to believe that he's going to turn things around soon, and when he does, things could turn around in a hurry.

Andrew Bailey has seemingly come out of nowhere to become a key reliever for the A's this past month. His combination of stuff, poise and early results had manager Bob Geren talking this past weekend about potentially making him a closer, as "he's moved up that quickly," according to the San Francisco Chronicle. So although others are grabbing Michael Wuertz after he picked up a couple of saves while Brad Ziegler had the flu late last week, Bailey -- who has struck out 20 in 17 2/3 innings and posted a 1.53 ERA -- might be the real saves sleeper in that 'pen.

Although Ziegler has done nothing to cost himself his ninth-inning job, we all know a co-closer arrangement with Joey Devine could have happened this season before Devine underwent season-ending surgery on his elbow. Bailey has emerged enough to potentially garner some late-inning consideration. Because Geren mentioned making him a closer on consecutive days this past weekend, we probably need to pay attention.

Bailey was a sixth-round pick in 2006 as a starter out of Wagner but wasn't adapting well in that role in Double-A. Midway through last season he was switched to a relief role, where he has flourished. He finished the season strong, posting strong results in the Arizona Fall League and carrying it all the way through to a big spring and April success in the majors.

Credit a combination of three things: (1) a simplified repertoire, (2) an improved cutter and (3) being aggressive.

As a starter, Bailey tried to throw five pitches, with both two-seam and four-seam fastballs, a cutter, slider, curve and changeup. In the bullpen he could focus on just his best offerings, his four-seam fastball that routinely sits at 93-94 mph, an 86-89 mph cutter and a 75-78 mph curveball with enough shape to be effective as a third pitch in a three-pitch mix. There's a slight crossfire in his delivery, but it helps his movement and provides easy velocity.

Simplifying the mix allowed him to really refine and improve his cutter, which has proven to be a very effective pitch against big league hitters thus far. He had worked on the pitch during the Arizona Fall League.

"It's trying to control the depth and amount of break for it," Bailey said. "I've always had natural cut, but they really wanted me to develop it when I went to the 'pen, working on getting it off the barrel a bit and in on lefties."

After Bailey struggled with his control at Double-A, his work in relief allowed him to be more aggressive and fire at hitters with his best stuff.

"I was struggling with control and was trying to pick too much instead of trusting my stuff," Bailey said. "Mentally, the biggest thing was going right after guys, and I started having success. Now, I just want to get ahead of batters, throw strikes and keep guys off the bases with the free passes. Just be aggressive in the zone, and make them hit their way on."

So far, he's been aggressive at the big league level, and as that cutter has developed into a legitimate weapon against hitters on both sides of the plate, we can expect him to continue to have some success.

In the coming days, if Ziegler is unavailable, it's entirely possible Bailey will earn a ninth-inning shot to see what he can do. He is worth watching if you're desperately trying to find saves in mixed leagues. He's not out there in any of the AL-only leagues I've seen, but if he is, snatch him up.

• Homers always have been the bugaboo for Scott Baker, but when he can keep the ball in the park, his numbers can be pretty impressive. Fantasy owners were starting to drop Baker in mixed leagues this past week, and I think they made a mistake.

Yes, averaging just less than 3½ homers per nine innings is not the hallmark of a successful pitcher, and his six innings of no-hit ball on Sunday were partially derailed by a three-run blast, but his delivery has looked looser in his past couple of starts. Baker gave up a lot of bombs during spring training, and toward the end of camp we learned he was suffering from shoulder stiffness that wound up putting him on the disabled list to start the season. I would be willing to bet the injury contributed to his inability to get the ball down in the strike zone, as a stiff shoulder can cause the arm to throw late and make a pitcher leave the ball up. Baker has looked a little more in sync in his latest outings, a good sign that he can correct problems. Another good sign is that the shoulder issue has had no effect on his velocity, which is up a tick from the past two years.

Baker's ERA also has been inflated because his bullpen has let half his runners score, a luck trend that also likely will not continue. If someone has dropped him or is looking to move him cheaply, it's time for you to make a move.

For scouting reports on Max Scherzer and Howie Kendrick, join ESPN Insider. Insider

Max Scherzer is coming off his best start of the season, throwing six shutout innings against the Brewers while allowing just six baserunners and striking out seven. Scherzer battled through shoulder issues during camp and had problems throwing strikes in his previous three outings, but if velocity is any indication, the shoulder problem is behind him at the moment, as all three of his pitches -- his fastball, slider and change -- are right where they should be.

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