Clever Title: An Uggla Situation

[Alt: “Uggla’s Stick,” “Dan’s Uggla Stick”]

When the Atlanta Braves moved Marvin Prado to left field in order to make room at second base for Dan Uggla, whom they signed to a five-year, $62 million extension, this is obviously not what they had in mind. Prado (27) is currently hitting .252/.292/.370 (77wRC+) on the season, and Uggla (31) is chugging along at a robust .209/.266/.391 (73 wRC+). Prado’s problems are easy enough to explain by way of the pool of toxic waste in Turner’s left-center field — the same one that mangled the careers of Nate McLouth and Melky Cabrera. But what’s going on with Uggla? Is this simply a small-sample slump, or should the team be worried?

Uggla had the best offensive season of his career in 2010, hitting .287/.369/.508 for 136 wRC+ (+32 batting runs above average). While his peripherals were good, they actually weren’t the best of his career, as he had better walk rates in 2008 and 2009, and better isolated power in 2007 and 2008. His 2010 BABIP, however, was the highest of his career at .330. Given his age, that high BABIP, and simply regression to the mean, it was to be expected that he would come down a fair bit in 2011, and ZiPS’ pre-season projection for Uggla was .259/.346/.469 (118 wRC+), which is pretty close to his current career line (with a bit less power). That would still be good for a second baseman, but, of course, he hasn’t been close to that projected line.

Uggla’s power really hasn’t been the problem so far this season. His current .183 ISO would be the lowest of his career, but it is still above average. While Atlanta’s home stadium is slightly harder for right-handed power hitters than Florida’s, the difference isn’t big enough to make that much of a difference. His rate of home runs on fly balls is down to 12 percent, but he hit for good power in 2006 and 2007 at only 13 percent, so that isn’t the issue. Uggla is actually hitting about the same percentage of fly balls in 2011 as he did in 2010, and while his rate of infield fly balls is up to 9.8 percent, that isn’t particularly high, and he’s hit for power with that sort of rate before (2007 and 2009).

As one might expect, the problem isn’t with balls leaving the park or not, but that the balls that are staying in the park aren’t going for hits. While it would have been unrealistic to expect Uggla to repeat his .330 BABIP from 2010 (ZiPS projected .297), his current .213 BABIP is dreadful. Here, the numbers indicate that Uggla may be having some bad luck. While his line-drive rate is down to 14.9 percent this season from the 16 and 17 percent of earlier years, that shouldn’t lead to that drastic of a drop on balls in play, even with the small increases in ground balls and infield flies. So far this season Uggla has a .184 wOBA on grounders, a .287 on fly balls, and a .773 on line drives. For his career, Uggla has had a .259 wOBA on ground balls, a .436 on fly balls, and a .730 on liners. While batted-ball classification is tricky, and Uggla is getting older, it does seem likely that he is having some bad luck on balls hit to the outfield and those that are kept on the ground. Even if he’s lost a bit of power and isn’t a speed demon, some upwards regression seems likely.

One area that might be of concern (ignored small sample caveat here) is that Uggla may have taken a different approach (as seen in his plate discipline) which is related to his current problems. While Uggla has managed the best strikeout rate of his career so far (18.3 percent), his 8.3 percent walk rate is the lowest since his rookie season. Looking at his more granular plate discipline numbers, the drop in walks isn’t surprising: Uggla is making slightly more contact (although not enough to adequately explain the big drop in strikeouts thus far), but he’s swinging at more pitches inside and out of the strike zone, which naturally leads to a drop in walks. If the pitches Uggla is swinging at are harder to drive, that might explain his lower BABIP and power numbers.

I’m just looking at the numbers, of course. People who have watched Uggla every day might see something in his swing that has changed. Nor am I a psychologist, so I’m not going to speculate that “he’s pressing to fulfill the big contract!” I do think that the increased swing rate is something to watch, but if I had to hazard a guess, I would say that so far Uggla simply has been in an extended slump rather than having permanently fallen off of a cliff. While he isn’t likely to replicate 2010’s, there are still enough signs of life in his bat in terms of contact rate and power to return to something like 2009’s offensive performance for the rest of the season (although his final line would be worse, of course, as April did happen).

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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

20 Responses to “Clever Title: An Uggla Situation”

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  1. Worry says:

    “although his final line…”

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  2. Bronnt says:

    Braves’ lead-off situation should improve as soon as they get Martin Prado back to replace Marvin Prado.

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  3. vivalajeter says:

    On a sidenote, I really wish Fangraphs was around a decade ago so that I can read a similar article on whether Alomar’s performance, after being traded to the Mets, was a slump or a loss of ability :)

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  4. Josh says:

    T is not really close to V on the keyboard, care to explain Mattrew?

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  5. Phantom Stranger says:

    I have seen every game Uggla has played for the Braves, and a fair amount of games he played for Florida. He is basically an all-or-nothing hitter, who frequently guesses to drive certain pitches. Uggla does not make adjustments at-bat to at-bat very often, and is susceptible to righty sliders. Teams have started playing the shift on the infield more against him, which might partly explain the reduction in BABIP so far.

    When he is hot, he can put up some scary numbers. But his plate discipline seems to have temporarily evaporated, to justify that big contract he signed in his new city.

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  6. Justin says:

    Uggla is known for his slow starts, but he has seemed very pull happy in all the games I’ve seen. Looks like he’s made some adjustments over the last few games though.

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  7. Dan Uggla says:

    Unless you plan on giving me away to the Giants, you’re stuck with me now.

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  8. Mike C says:

    Looking at the #s, you should take a look at his RHP / LHP splits. The big thing this year is that he’s lost all ability to hit lefties even though historically he hasn’t had big platoon splits (and last year hit LHP better than RHP).

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  9. goyo70 says:

    I know it’s uncool to try to outclever a clever title, but I was hoping for the alt title “Uggla Robbed of Stick, is Beaten With It”. On a different note: Looking at his rate stats, the only thing that really stands out is that his O-swing% and Z-swing% are higher, suggesting more than he’s pressing or not being as selective as he’s been in the past. I wanted to suggest that his position in the order and the players bracketing him might have resulted in his being given less to hit, but if that’s true it doesn’t show up in the pitch mix data much.

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  10. CircleChange11 says:

    Is this one of those situations where a 3-HR spree over a few games puts him right back on track?

    Sort of like how Pena went deep twice in short order?

    I completely understand that we have to talk about something in April and may and just cannot write “Small Sample Size” on everything. It’s boring.

    Articles, like these do keep illustrating how to examine a situation from a stat perspective. They also illustrate that more times than not, “regression” will simply “fix the situation”, and I hope that’s the lesson that many take from these articles.

    The other aspect that has come to the forefront is that a knowledgeable observer can detect things the player is doing differently, either better or worse that *could* be the reason for the change in results.

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  11. The Juice says:

    The Angels might also be interested in Uggly.

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  12. GiantHusker says:

    Shame on you, Klaasen and Juice! The puerile “Ugly/Uggla” puns were neither funny nor cool when they started several years ago. Now they are really outdated, as well as stupid and tasteless.

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  13. jase0119 says:

    Guys that work to get better…Who work every year to get where they are. Don’t crap out. I played Div1 baseball against Texas, against OU and teams like Vanderbilt. I was good, I played minor leauge ball…You didn’t.
    I know that much. This is purely a fantasy leauger blah blah blah argument.
    The intangibles of a work ethic always shows up. He is a big time weight room guy…he doesn’t get his power from a tennis swing at the plate. He is severely pressing. The other stats don’t matter to “real players”. If you want to argue the true basic stuff…like hitting left handers. Like hitting with two strikes. Those are things that all players are accountable for. But the fly ball ratio’s….Is complete fantasy player sit on the couch bull shit. And he will be strong for 3 years…the demise is when players don’t work as hard at 31 to play like they did when they are 27. The ability to recover from nagging injuries at 34 IS different than 27. But go back to your couch….Uggla will hit .240-.250 28 HR’s and drive in 85-90. Down a tad…..but he will be solid.

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  14. joedubatl says:

    Yeah, Uggla’s BABIP is low and by the “eye test” he’s hitting of lot of line drives right at’em, but his approach hasn’t been very good either. To me, it’s an extended slump. He’s been vulnerable to breaking balls away.

    But, his power numbers are there and his defense and base running have been better than advertised. I think he’s got 7 dingers on the year and that’s what the Braves brought him in for. Many of them have been late in the game and big. His low BA is a problem though and hopefully his low BABIP is indicative that it will go back up soon. I don’t particularly like him batting 5th, but Fredi G. is kind of retarded like that. I think he’ll adjust and be a solid RH power threat the rest of the way.

    Prado’s raking lately, by the way. I think he’s probably immune to toxic slug. Just took a while for him to develop antibodies.

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  15. Antonio Bananas says:

    Should do a Braves team article “The devil bravely wears Prado, stays Chipper even though it’s pretty Uggla”

    Anyways Uggla is really frustrating right now. Atlanta might be in first place, or at least comfortably “up there” with Philly if he’d been hitting like he can.

    Come to think of it, Atlanta’s offense has a lot of problems. Stupid Heyward seems to not only look 10 years older, but his body acts like it too. Can’t play injured or get injured every year.

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