Dan Uggla on Hitting (and Not Hitting)

Dan Uggla isn’t the most popular player in Atlanta, and he has only himself to blame. The well-compensated second baseman has hit .213/.320/.399 since being acquired from the Marlins prior to the 2011 season. After going deep 36 times in his first year in a Braves uniform, he’s seen his power numbers plummet. His K rate has climbed.

Uggla isn’t necessarily cooked. The ability to drive a baseball is still there, and his OBP skills – always good for a low-average hitter – haven’t completely deserted him. At 34 years old, he’s not over the hill. It’s a matter of rediscovering his stroke, which he readily admits is easier said than done.

Uggla talked about his struggles, and what it will take to regain his old form, prior to a mid-April game at Turner Field.


Ugla on his approach: “When I first broke in, I was more of a hitter. I wasn’t worried about home runs at all. I knew I had power. But after a few years of hitting a lot of home runs, I kind of… you have to be mentally strong enough to stay within yourself and just try to hit the ball hard where it’s pitched. The last couple of years, whether it was because of coming to a new city, getting a new contract, or whatever, I got caught up in trying too hard and wanting to hit home runs. I let my approach get away from me. It’s been a huge challenge to get back to where I was. I doubt I’ll ever be known as a hitter that hits home runs, as opposed to a guy that hits homers and swings and misses a lot.

“I’ve always been a see-ball-hit-ball guy. The difference the last couple years is that when I’ve seen a pitch in the zone, it’s been an automatic, ‘I can hit a homer on this pitch,’ rather than, ‘Just see it and hit it hard where it’s pitched, and if it goes out it goes out.’ My approach hasn’t changed as far as looking in zones or sitting on pitches – it’s still see-ball-hit-ball – I’m just not hitting as well as I did.”

On walks and strikeouts: “Some people draw a bunch of [walks] and some people don’t. You can look at it a couple different ways. For guys who can hurt you with one swing — the 30-homer guys — pitchers are going to be more careful. They’re going to try to pick around you a little more. They’re going to throw more balls out of the zone, more junk in the dirt. You get better at laying off those pitches. At the same time, guys who don’t walk a lot make more contact when they swing the bat. I’ve been making a little more contact this year, so my walk rate is down. That’s fine. Everything is going to pan out the way it’s supposed to pan out.

Joey Votto makes a lot of hard contact and walks a lot. Freddie Freeman makes a lot of hard contact and doesn’t walk a lot. Guys like me and Russell Branyan… we’re not really cutting down our swings with two strikes. We’re just trying to be selective and battle. We can still go deep with two strikes.

“If it was after 2011, I’d say you could look at my career and say what you want about strikeouts and I’ll prove you wrong every time. But the last two years it has been a problem. It does need to be addressed. I didn’t drive in 90 runs and hit 30 homers, so there has to be an adjustment made. I have to get my swing back to where I’m making more contact so I can drive in runs. That’s whether it’s with home runs, two-out base hits, or whatever. Last year there were way too many strikeouts and not enough production.”

On Three True Outcomes and advanced stats: “I’ve heard [TTO] a lot in the last few years. I probably wasn’t on that list when I was in Florida, but that’s the perception here in Atlanta. Everybody looks at batting average, but when you get to this level it’s all about run production. I’ve always been a guy who produces runs. Even though I had the worst year of my career last year, I still drove in almost 60. That’s not good by my standards, by any means, but it’s not terrible.

“My on-base percentage was somewhere around .300 and when you hit .180 that’s hard to do. That’s been a big thing for me. I’ve always had a pretty good on-base percentage, whether I hit .240-something or .280-something. I’ve been close to scoring 100 and driving in 100, and that’s what’s most important to me.

“I don’t look at WAR and stuff like that. I’m familiar with it – things like ‘The Shredder’ on MLB Network – but I know how people view me. None of that matters. Last year was tough because I wasn’t able to live up to my usual self, but everyone is going to have a down year. I know what I’ve done in my career, and I know what I’m capable of.”

On his swing: “I had a lot of bad things going on in my pre-swing last year and that led to my swing not being very good. My setup wasn’t letting me get to the right spot to recognize pitches and put the barrel on the ball. I was missing pitches I should be hitting. I wasn’t in sync mechanically. There’s a huge connection between mental and physical. Being mentally strong is important, and mechanically… all the years before, I was always able to hit. If you threw a 99-mph fastball and I was ready for it, I was going to hit it. Last year that wasn’t the case. It was more that if I hit it, I got lucky. I’m trying to fix that. It’s definitely a work in progress, but I feel great this year. I haven’t got hot yet, but I’m feeling better and better every day.”

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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-March 2011 and is a regular contributor to several publications. His first book, Interviews from Red Sox Nation, was published by Maple Street Press in 2006. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA

21 Responses to “Dan Uggla on Hitting (and Not Hitting)”

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  1. David Laurila's Forearms says:

    Great interview!

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  2. Zach says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone willingly compare themselves to Russell Branyan before.

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  3. fastatlast says:

    I respect Uggla because I know he works really hard and never just puts on the uniform so he can collect his paycheck, but he’s got about of month to keep playing like this before La Stella takes over for him.

    Good interview though, Dan’s a good guy.

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  4. Benji says:

    I like Uggla as a person but hate him as a player. Braves always get that lucky “come to our team and underachieve hitting compared to your last place” guys with BJ and Uggla. BJ doesn’t have LaStella on his neck and I think Uggla got one more month cuz he’s finished

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  5. ecocd says:

    It’s pretty hard to hit .179 over the course of a season, have negative defensive value and still maintain a positive WAR so that’s something, I guess. Good 2B are really hard to find so he gets some slack there. As a Brewers fan, I can relate to watching a once-great 2B that’s now just collecting a paycheck regardless of his best efforts. 2B sure do seem to breakdown quickly in this game.

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    • SucramRenrut says:

      I started playing the Game with a 2B and it is the shocking how not fun it is to pick every day. Not surprising Uggla still has a job.

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  6. janustattoo says:

    For fantasy purposes, I’ve always avoided Uggla. In real life, I don’t see many Atlanta games. After this interview, I am impressed with his self-awareness and attitude. Good luck to him.

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  7. Hurtlockertwo says:

    Good luck to Uggla, seems like a good guy. BUT, even in little league the coaches tell you “don’t try to hit homeruns, if you make contact the HR’s will come”. I think the free agent money these guys get puts too much pressure on some players. Uggla comes to a new team for a bunch of money and feels pressure to hit HR’s.

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    • Kenny Powers says:

      May not change your argument but Uggla was traded to ATL and then they signed to him to an extension afterwards.

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  8. Dave Cameron's Puppy says:

    You’re kidding yourself if you think he’s “not cooked”. This is likely bias just because he was a nice interview for him. He’s looked nothing but cooked for over a year.

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  9. Brian says:

    Uggla is done. Braves are waiting long enough on LaStella this year so that he’s not a Super Two, and then they’ll bring him up to take over Uggla’s spot.

    Pitcher’s have figured out that Uggla can’t hit anymore, so they aren’t pitching around him. Walk rate is down, strikeout rate is just as bad as it has always been.

    Braves will not have good enough pitching this year to be able to afford a negative WAR starting position player.

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    • cthabeerman says:

      Let’s pretend this is true. Do teams really care if a player entering arbitration at 28 or 29 is a Super 2 or not?? By the time he reaches his serious arbitration salaries, he’s already on the wrong side of 30.

      The Braves aren’t waiting for La Stella to not be a Super 2. They’re waiting to see how well he does in AAA, which, to date, has been pretty good.

      There’s no real reason to wait for Super 2 unless you’re talking about an elite prospect or a really young guy. La Stella seems to be a good player, but he’s not either of those.


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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        I completely agree. La Stella is 25. So if anything, the longer they wait, the more of his prime they lose.

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  10. macheesmo3 says:

    Uggla has weird stats this year, his contact and line drive rate are up, but his fly ball rate and walk rate are down. Almost like he and the hitting coaches have tried to turn him into Rajai Davis or something. Dan needs to be hitting the ball in the air and pulling it, not going the other way. This new aggressiveness isn’t really a good idea IMO.

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  11. CJ says:

    Uggla is cooked. It’s past time for him to be released. The Braves just need to eat the money and play the better player, Tommy La Stella.

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    • TKDC says:

      Oh god, I was about to say “Can La Stella play third, too?” but the Braves just signed Johnson for 3 years. Going to go jump off a bridge now.

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  12. Billy says:

    I sure hope he was kidding…

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  13. BaconBall says:

    Uggla is toast. He is a detriment to the team and plays only because of the manager. I tried to send this to the Atlanta Braves but was unable to because of space limitations, so I will post it here in hope someone at the hm=ome of the Braves will read it. Who knows, maybe Uggla will read it and retire…

    Chip & Joe
    Joe Simpson said recently, “You know, Dan’s (Uggla) made a bunch of error’s recently, so there’ve been people who have been on his case about, you know, he’s go to do a better job of playing defense. Well, how soon they forget, He played really good defense last year. I don’t know what his error total was, but he did an outstanding job for Atlanta up the middle complementing Andrelton Simmons, and it seems like the errors he has made recently have been careless errors-dropping the ball-things like that.”
    I played baseball for eleven years, and most of it was at second base. I was born in 1950 and happy to have the Braves come South in 1966. I have watched far too many baseball games, most of them Braves games, in my life to count. I also realize that, like a friend of mine who at one time worked for the Braves said, the announcers are “homers,” and they try to put on a happy face. It is only natural for the announcers to try and “enhance” the merits of the players, but a line has to be drawn when an announcer makes a statement that is so erroneous and demonstrably false that it insults the intelligence of viewers.
    During the course of his career Dan Uggla has always been a below average MLB second baseman. As Yogi would say, “You can look it up.” I did, and will talk about that momentarily, but first I would like to say that the aforementioned former Brave employee, who also played baseball for a decade or more, and I had a discussion about the merit and validity of sabermetrics. He said, basically, that “Seeing is believing.” Although I agree with him to a certain extent, the fact is that there are far too many teams to be able to see a player enough to judge him, unless one is able to watch many games of one team. Since I watch many Braves games, I will say that from what I have seen, Dan Uggla was terrible in the field last year, and he has not improved on defense thus far this year. If anything, he is worse. Since the start of last season it is obvious that he has fallen below the level of a replacement player. A good manager would have seen that fact and put him on the bench and started Ramiro Pena. As for the stats, all one has to do is go to (http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=2b&stats=fld&lg=all&qual=y&type=1&season=2013&month=0&season1=2013&ind=0&team=0&rost=0&age=0&filter=&players=0) in order to see that Uggla was one of the two worst second basemen in MLB last year among those who qualified. Obviously, the stats of those who played the most have more validity than those who played less because of the largerr sample size. If one is generous and includes all second basemen who played at least 500 innings, Dan rates 28 out of 32, still near the bottom (http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=2b&stats=fld&lg=all&qual=500&type=1&season=2013&month=0&season1=2013&ind=0&team=0&rost=0&age=0&filter=&players=0). As my mother used to say, “It’s as obvious as the nose on your face.”
    As far as Mr. Simpson’s talk of errors is concerned, and error is simply a play not made, in the same way a ball that Uggla does not field that an average MLB second baseman would have fielded is simply a play not made. Lack of range is more harmful than an error because good fielder’s with tremendous range get to balls poor fielder’s cannot reach, and may make more error’s because of that fact. The sad fact is that Dan Uggla has lost more than a step and is making errors at an alarming rate thus far this year with a fielding average of .938, far below the MLB average, compared to his lifetime average of .979 (http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/u/ugglada01.shtml).
    I would also like to mention that Chip off the ol’ block mentioned in a later game-it may have been the very next game after Joe made his positive comments about the Ugglaest second baseman in MLB-an article on the ESPN website about the Braves and fielding runs saved (I went there only to be informed I would have to pay to read the article, and there is far too much written about baseball on the internet that is free, and being retired, I do not have money to spend, so why should I? Does Chip get a kickback for mentioning the article? Why not have someone who knows sabermetrics write something for the Braves for the enjoyment, and education, of their fans in lieu of sending them to a pay site?). Chip said something about not knowing much about how fielding runs saved is derived. Why not? He gets PAID to be informed about baseball! More and more fans are learning about sabermetric baseball. It is the wave of the future. Former Georgia chess champion Michael Decker, who has made a career out of writing questions for the College Bowl, once said to me, “Baseball is STATISTICS!” I would like to elucidate Chip using something I read in the wonderful book, Wizardry: Baseball’s All-Time Greatest Fielders Revealed by Michael Humphreys. If an outfielder makes a play that an average outfielder would not have made he has saved .50, 1/2 of a run. Therefore if a player has made two such plays over the course of a season he has saved his team one run more than an average fielder. Ten such runs, or twenty plays, is worth one game-meaning a team would win more game because of the players defense. For infielders it is .45, a little less than half, but close enough that one can think of it in the same way. It is as simple as that…No MLB announcer, or “color man,” should admit he is ignorant of sabermetrics. I would like to recommend a few books for Chip & Joe: Understanding Sabermetrics: An Introduction to the Science of Baseball Statistics by Gabriel B. Costa, and Michael R. Huber; Baseball Between the Numbers: Why Everything You Know About the Game Is Wrong by Jonah Keri; The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball by Tom Tango, etc.; and The Sabermetric Revolution: Assessing the Growth of Analytics in Baseball by Baumer, Benjamin and Andrew Zimbalist (His books on the business of baseball are de rigueur, or should be, for anyone deriving their income from baseball).

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