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, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-March 2011 and is a regular contributor to several publications. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Great interview!