Washington’s Max Scherzer struck out 20 batters Wednesday night, tying the major-league record. (Earlier members of Club 20K are Roger Clemens, who did it twice; Kerry Wood, whose famous flurry of strikeouts has been characterized as the greatest game ever pitched, and Randy Johnson, who did a lot of amazing stuff.)
For Scherzer, Whiff No. 20 came at the expense of Justin Upton, who has done little except whiff since signing with Detroit for $132.75 million over six years. (There’s a opt-out involved, but the way he’s going, J-Up isn’t opting out of anything.) Upton also supplied the third of Scherzer’s 20 strikeouts, and the wonder was that he managed a double — snapping an 0-for-19 streak — and went 1-for-4.
Upton has long been a flailer — he has struck out at least 121 times in each of his seven full big-league seasons — but never like this. Over 33 games, he has K’ed 53 times. Over 162 games, that would translate to 260 strikeouts. Yes, that would be a record. The current standard (word used advisedly) is 223 by Mark Reynolds, set in 2009. Upton’s previous worst was his 171 strikeouts in 2014, his farewell season as an Atlanta Brave.
Just as Jason Heyward — once a Brave and Upton’s outfield mate, as I’m sure you recall — is struggling after signing his even-more-massive contract with the Cubs, Upton has appeared nothing like himself as a Tiger. We all know he’s streaky. To date, his season has been one awful streak. He has two homers and nine RBIs. In April 2013, his first month as a Brave, he had 12 homers and 19 RBIs.
Upton has walked only seven times, four of those coming in two games against Texas over the weekend. His on-base percentage is .259, placing him 180th among the 194 qualifying MLB hitters. He’s 181st in OPS. His WAR value is minus-0.4.
I don’t mean this as any form of gloating. I like Justin Upton a lot. We used to talk about the blue glove he’d wear when shagging balls in batting practice. I thought it stylish. “It’s hideous,” he would say, which I guess is why he didn’t use it in a game. But his is just another chapter — Heyward’s is another — in “The Perils of Signing a Big-Ticket Free Agent.”
There was absolutely no reason to think Upton wouldn’t hit anywhere he went. Since landing in Detroit, he has mostly missed.
Further glad tidings: