The San Francisco Giants win in spite of their offense, not because of it. However, they are getting some positive contributions from their position players, including the surprising Juan Uribe, who they picked up on a minor league deal in spring training. Uribe not only made the club, but has become one of the team’s more valuable players while swinging a ridiculously hot bat of late.
For the season, he’s hitting .282/.320/.492, good for a .344 wOBA. Toss in quality defense at second and third, as well as passable work at shortstop, and Uribe’s been worth 1.9 wins in 341 plate appearances this season. He’s going to end the year as around an average major league contributor, and the Giants got him for next to nothing. However, even with his struggles the last few years, perhaps we shouldn’t be totally surprised at Uribe’s production.
His overall profile hasn’t changed at all. Coming into the season, CHONE projected he would walk in 6.2% of his plate appearances, strike out in 18.3% of them, and hit for a .158 ISO. His actual marks? 6.0%, 20.1%, and .211. The power number is up a little bit, but he posted ISOs over .200 in 2004 and 2006, so it’s not like this is a new skill for him. His plate discipline numbers are practically identical across the board to his career averages. He’s the same guy he’s always been, but just getting better results.
Why? Our good friend BABIP. When Uribe posts a reasonably normal batting average on balls in play, he’s a decent hitter. From 2005 to 2008, however, he posted four straight years with below average numbers on balls in play, bottoming out at .244 in 2006. This year, he’s at .319 – the highest mark of his career.
Hitter BABIP isn’t nearly as luck related as pitcher BABIP, but it’s still subject to significant fluctuations around a player’s “true talent” level. That Uribe can run the following six BABIPs in succession is a great example of this: .311, .271, .244, .262, .289, .319.
The only major difference between Uribe this year and the one that the White Sox saw the last few years – and of course, the one no one wanted to employ this winter – was the amount of times the balls he hit found the fielders gloves. Even the most accurate projectors of BABIP will have fairly significant variation, and finding these types of players is a great way for teams to find hidden value. Not all low BABIP guys are “unlucky”, but if you want to find a guy who can take a pretty big step forward in a hurry, look for players like Uribe who have established levels of skill and could be productive hitters with some better results on balls in play.
The Giants are sure glad they took a shot on him.
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