The Rapid Fall of Dan Uggla

Very recently, Dan Uggla was one of the better players in baseball. Two years ago, his 135 wRC+ put him in the same company as Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Adam Dunn, and Joe Mauer. He hit for average, he hit for power, he drew walks, and he faked it at second base well enough to provide a lot of value, averaging +4 WAR per season during his first five years in the big leagues.

Last year, Uggla looked lost for the first three months of the season, as he wasn’t drawing walks and his BABIPs were below .200 in each month from April through June. However, for as bad as his first half was, his second half was equally amazing, as his power spiked, his BABIP returned to normal, and he closed the year looking like the Dan Uggla of old. The overall line was down a bit from his years in Miami, but given how well he closed the season, it didn’t seem like an early decline was in his future.

However, there was some evidence of worrying trends, even while Uggla was killing the ball last summer, and this year, the continuation of those trends has cost him his job as the Braves starting second baseman.

Here are Uggla’s strikeout rates by month in 2011.

Month K%
Mar/Apr 18.1%
May 21.4%
Jun 24.0%
Jul 24.3%
Aug 25.2%
Sept/Oct 26.3%

Uggla’s second half power surge hid the fact that he was striking out more often than he ever had been before. Uggla’s never been a high contact guy, and trading strikeouts for additional power can be a good trade-off, but Uggla had never needed to swing and miss this often in order to hit for power before. It was his combination of good power with respectable strikeout rates that had made him a quality hitter, but last year, Uggla could seemingly only succeed at one while failing at the other.

2012 has been the same story, only magnified to a new extreme. In April, he showed better contact skills but had only seven extra base hits, so his productivity relied on a .328 BABIP that wasn’t likely to continue. In May, he got his power back, but once again, his strikeout rates went through the roof. Once again, here are Uggla’s strikeout rates by month:

Month K%
Mar/Apr 21.6%
May 28.3%
Jun 32.7%
Jul 29.2%
Aug 27.8%

Or, if you’d prefer a visual representation, here’s a graph of Uggla’s strikeout rates by month since the start of the 2011 season.

Given the amount of variation that there is in any one month sample of data, a line that approximates linear growth is pretty amazing. And that line is not good news for either Uggla or the Braves.

With a strikeout rate of 28.1% — Uggla’s season total this year — he would need to either hit for a lot more power or show an offsetting change in his batted ball profile to make up for the loss of singles that come with swinging and missing that often. Instead, Uggla’s power has continued to regress, as he’s posting a career low .165 ISO, and his batted ball profile is also taking a turn for the worse.

Uggla’s BABIP woes the last two years likely include some bad luck, but they’re also influenced by his new-found affection for the infield fly. Pop-ups are essentially automatic outs, and the more you hit, the lower your BABIP will be, with the quality of the defense or a team’s positioning having nothing to do with the outcome. During his time with the Marlins, Uggla’s IFFB% was 8.3%, slightly below the league average. Last year, that spiked to 11.9%, and this year, his 18.7% IFFB% is tied for the second highest in baseball. That’s 26 infield flies this year, already twice the total he had in 2010, and there’s still a month left in the season.

Already a pretty extreme fly ball hitter, Uggla is going to be prone to lower than average BABIPs, but adding so many infield flies to his skillset essentially guarantees it. Over the last five years, there are 26 hitters who have posted a FB% over 45% and an IFFB% over 10%. These hitters have combined for over 51,000 plate appearances, so we’re not dealing with a small sample of data. Their weighted average BABIP? .273.

It’s not impossible to be a good hitter with this skillset. Jose Bautista is an extreme fly ball hitter who hits a lot of pop-ups, but his breakout came when he cut way down on his strikeouts, and he now strikes out about half as often as Uggla. Same with Ian Kinsler, who is one of the best contact hitters in baseball, even though not all of that contact is overly productive. In reality, there just aren’t many examples of productive hitters who both strike out a lot and hit a ton of infield flies. Perhaps the best player with this sustained skillset is Carlos Pena, and he just lost his job in Tampa Bay too.

Lots of strikeouts and lots of infield flies is just a lousy combination for a hitter, and likely speaks to an uppercut swing that is designed to get power out of a body that is losing the ability to hit home runs without trying for them. Uggla’s calling card has always been his power, but now, he’s having to make significant sacrifices to the rest of his game in order to try to keep driving the ball like he used to.

Adam Dunn’s miserable 2011 is a cautionary tale against writing anyone off after one lousy year, and in Uggla’s case, it’s more like a few lousy months, as he was productive in April and May, albeit productive in a way that wasn’t likely to continue. However, we can’t simply chalk Uggla’s struggles up to a normal slump. Yes, his BABIP is low, but he’s earned that low BABIP with his batted ball profile, and his drastic uptick in strikeouts point to a serious problem that needs fixing rather than simply noise in the data that just needs more time to even itself out.

With Martin Prado‘s positional flexibility, the Braves don’t have to keep running Uggla out there everyday, and given how lost he is at the plate right now, giving him a break to try and fix whatever’s wrong is probably in everyone’s best interests. If it’s fixable, they’ll still have time to work him back into the line-up before the playoffs start. This doesn’t look the kind of thing that can be changed with just a minor adjustment, though. It’s certainly possible that the changes in Uggla’s strikeout rates and infield fly rates are symptoms of a serious loss of skills that may never return.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


45 Responses to “The Rapid Fall of Dan Uggla”

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  1. Braves Fan says:

    Dan Uggla is THE WORST

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    • Braves Fan says:

      Good thing he has 3 more years at 13 mil per left! And good thing the Braves have a good media contract to soften the blow!

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  2. Jack says:

    This has sure gotten Uggla for the Braves real fast. Soon their going to have to face the Uggla truth and cut their losses with Dan.

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  3. TKDC says:

    At least getting Uggla out of the lineup has allowed Fredi to get Jose Constanza in… batting second!!!

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    • Dan says:

      Jose Constanza is not good, but he does make a lot of contact (which can lead to some lucky Babip streaks with his speed), and he does have some small amount of defensive value. Unfortunately, that is an upgrade over Uggla.

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  4. Andrew says:

    Enjoyed the article. Uggla has just looked completely lost at the plate. I still hold some hope that he can return to a productive ball player for the remainder of his contract, but it is in the team’s best interest to sit him down for the rest of this season as he’s hurting the team too much.

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  5. BillWallace says:

    He has 2.4 WAR this year. That’s good isn’t it? I’m confused. Regress his D to his career average and he’s somewhere 1.7-2.0. Still a good player. He has a 97 wrc at second base with his .340 obp. This must be better production at 2B than at least half the teams in the league.

    So… what?

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    • Braves Fan says:

      So have you seen him swing the bat since the AS break? He’s been a complete joke.

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    • BillWallace says:

      Shouldn’t this article be about how stupid the Braves are for replacing Uggla with the barely above replacement Constanza and Reed Johnson?

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      • JT says:

        Reed Johnson is decent but Fredi starting Constanza is a joke.

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      • Wil says:

        Considering Dan Uggla created most of his WAR during the first half, I’m not sure it’s “stupid” at all. Especially because as of late Uggla has been barely above replacement level himself (if even that).

        Fact is Reed/Constanza will produce a positive WAR during this month, something Uggla was probably not going to do.

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    • Desertfox says:

      He isn’t what the Braves signed…or hoped to sign.

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    • chiefglockandhummer says:

      i’m with you on this. but reed johnson can put up that same .340 obp with scratch power, and a johnson in left / prado at 2B alignment is better defensively than prado in left and uggla at 2B. i think this is an overreaction, but it’s also not insane or anything.

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      • Rallyk says:

        True, and Reed Johnson hits lefties decent and the Braves always need that skill. Too bad Constanza is not even platoon worthy.

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  6. Brent says:

    The walk rate has spiked, but sometimes that isn’t a good thing. It can mean that the player has lost the ability to make consistent contact with most pitches, and thus takes anything borderline. Pitchers tend to figure it out pretty quickly when that’s what has happened.

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    • Phantom Stranger says:

      That’s what it looks to me. Uggla has recognized his contact skills are greatly declining and has decided to milk as many walks as possible. This works in the short run, until opposing teams figure out the actual talent level and skills that once made him an All-Star are gone.

      What is most worrisome is how many hittable pitches he’s missing in the zone, that used to be crushed.

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      • CptSpandex says:

        At some point the man has to swing the bat. When he does, it’s extremely apparent to anyone (yet alone pitchers and managers) that the man is having trouble making solid contact. He may see more pitches and short-term walks, but I agree with you, that’s only a short term solution. Eventually, you get what we saw from Uggla from like late May until very recently — perhaps the worst hitter in the game. While I don’t think he’s truly THAT bad, he’s obviously broken.

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  7. mike says:

    How much of a jump in ISO would compensate for an increase in K%? Just curious, since Ryan Howard has the same problem. Also, I wish you would have included park factor as that looks like it could be a big part of the problem. Home ISO is 0.144, BABIP 0.235, wOBA 0.296. Away ISO is 0.186, BABIP 0.303, and wOBA is 0.333. Seems like the pitcher’s park may be getting to him? How would he do in a hitter’s park?

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  8. John DiFool says:

    He came up at 26. IIRC lots of studies of aging curves have found that players who become regulars at later ages than otherwise comparable players tend to age more quickly too.

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  9. Tony says:

    Having watched Dan all season, he seems to swing at a to of breaking pitches that are well off the plate, but will take the next pitch down the middle for strike 3. Or pop up.

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    • CptSpandex says:

      That’s not uncommon for hitters going through major offensive funks. They try to make things happen and end up chasing then realize the folly of that and take pitches they’d normally swing at. A slump has been known to mess with a batter’s approach and mindset.

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  10. Robbie G. says:

    They could always place him on waivers… who do the Dodgers have at 2B again?

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  11. Hurtlockertwo says:

    Uggla hit for average in the past??? What?? He’s a career .250 hitter. Any statistic, calculation, metric that says Uggla was one of the best players in baseball is flawed. One of the best HR hitting second basman, maybe, in all of baseball, no way.

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    • a5ehren says:

      There’s more to being a great hitter than BA. His output in Florida would be above average at any position, but it was WAY above average at 2B.

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      • Hurtlockertwo says:

        I was responding to the third sentence in the article that said he hit for average. I get the production metric’s, “if you hit HR’s and walk a lot you are a great player”, I just don’t believe it.

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    • Jeff Francoeur says:

      Bring me back!

      I don’t want any of this walks and power business either!

      I’ll give you the smiles and grit that Uggla won’t!

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    • Jeff Francoeur says:

      Bring me back!
      I don’t want any of this walks and power business either!
      I’ll give you the smiles and grit that Uggla won’t!

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    • CptSpandex says:

      Unless an edit was made to the article, what it says is that two years ago he hit for average (which he did reasonably well — .287) amongst other things. Over the course of his career, you are correct, his BA has been all over the pot. Trying to predict a BA for Uggla in a given season is like being blindfolded and throwing darts at a rotating dart board during an earthquake.

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  12. Troy,Georgia says:

    Well,we never will know if this had been done earlier in the year if Uggla’s problems at the plate would have been fixed. This seems to be an issue with some managers who seem to feel too much Loyalty to a player who is going the wrong direction. They seem to keep hoping the player can fix himself in time. Bobby Cox did same at times with players. I figure if it was the choice between my job or the players ego I would sit him on the bench despite the salary. When you have players on the team producing constantly making way less how can you justify playing him? I read about what a team leader Uggla suppose to be and it makes his remarks concerning this move more puzzling. I think that is the dumbest thing to say that he is not a numbers person. Owners, Managers, coaches, and players themselves look at the numbers. It was the numbers Uggla was producing in Miami that got him the over paying contract with Atlanta to begin with. He should be happy they did not put in a “non production clause” in the contract

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    • TKDC says:

      What about his remarks are puzzling? He didn’t say anything bad about Fredi, his teammates, or the Atlanta Braves organization. Do you want him to talk about how happy he was to get benched?

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  13. Jeff H. says:

    The Braves did so well in that trade with Florida, and promptly gave back the advantages gained by signing Uggla to that deal.

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  14. Flo says:

    Uggla is still a valuable player, just not as valuable as his price tag

    MLB 2B Ranks
    Home Runs: 17 (3rd)
    BB%: 15% (1)
    OBP: .340 (7)

    strikeouts do not matter

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    • Wat says:

      They kind of do when pitchers realize he can’t make contact anymore and actually go after him in the zone.

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    • CptSpandex says:

      Again, looking at season totals is not the way to evaluate Dan Uggla’s 2012 season. He has been essentially one of the worst offensive players in the game since late May. He’s had long slumps before, but this is ridiculous!

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  15. jcxy says:

    you know who is quietly having a phenomenal season?

    martin prado.

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    • Yeah, if you ignore the fact that he’s slumped his way to a sub-700 OPS since the AS Break the same way he does down the stretch every year. Dude’s body just isn’t made to be an everyday player. He’d e much more effective as a five game a week super-sub.

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  16. shthar says:

    You completely missed the most important number.

    32, his age.

    Which answers all the things you brought up.

    Oh, and comparing what he did 2 years ago to players 3-4 years younger? Pretty sketchy.

    Throwing Dunn in doesn’t save it.

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    • shthar says:

      And since when is .253 hitting for average?

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    • BenH says:

      I remember when David Ortiz was slumping and people were saying he’s just gotten old. But then he came out of it. I remember when Chipper Jones was slumping and people were saying he’s just gotten old. But then he came out of it.

      How many people really lose all their skill because they “suddenly” got old?

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  17. DodgersKingsoftheGalaxy says:

    I just miss the guys who say “His name is Daaaaan Uggglaaa”

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