ATLANTA – For 19 years, the Atlanta Braves depended on Chipper Jones, who spoke loudly with a bat and was a respected team leader in the clubhouse. Just a little over a year removed from the game, the Braves hope they can still depend on the eight-time All-Star.
Jones won’t be talking with his bat anymore, but he will be talking about everyone else’s.
Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez reached out to Jones on Tuesday and asked him to come by to talk to the team, and specifically struggling center fielder B.J. Upton, who’s hitting .138 and leading the team with 13 strikeouts. Jones got to Turner Field at 1:30 on Thursday, a little more than five hours prior to Atlanta’s game against the New York Mets, and went to work, both in the film room and in the batting cage.
“He’s [Upton] got a little extra hinge with his hands that is taking his bat past perpendicular,” said Jones. “Whenever you do that, your back elbow comes up and in order to get the bat back to swing, your elbow has to come down and the bat path loops.
“He’s got this upward plane. With the ball low, he’ll be able to hit. With a pitch up around thigh high, he’s going to have trouble. He’s going to be behind it, he’s going to be coming around it, trying to get out of his own way.”
Because of this hinge, Jones said Upton’s bat is too far forward past perpendicular, and when he swings his bat is in the strike zone for only six to eight inches at an upward plane. With the fix Jones helped Upton with on Thursday, Upton’s bat should stay in the zone for 16 to 18 inches, and be level.
The way Upton has been swinging this season, with the hinge in his hands, Jones said the “stars would have to line up” for Upton to hit the baseball.
“I know a bunch of guys that came past perpendicular and were successful. But most of those guys, at some point, get back to the right position. And [Upton] he’s never getting back.”
Jones mentioned Gary Sheffield and Adam LaRoche as two sluggers who went past perpendicular with their bats, but always got back to get their swings level through the strike zone.
Jones said he spoke with hitting coach Greg Walker, who said this hinge in Upton’s swing is something new.
“When he was in Tampa, he didn’t do that,” said Jones. “I can remember him hitting homers off Jon Lester in the playoffs, where he was on time. I think he had one playoff run where he hit six or seven or eight homers in a playoff stretch. (Upton hit seven home runs in the 2008 playoffs against the Chicago White Sox, Boston Red Sox and in the World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies). So, it’s there. He’s gotten into some bad habits for some reason and we’ve got to try and get him out of them.
“Right now we just have to get B.J. on the right plane,” said Jones.