Uribe Bounces Back

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

32 Responses to “Uribe Bounces Back”

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  1. Steve says:

    so how many seasons does a player have to actually suck for before we can declare that he sucks?

    apparently 4 seasons of horrific production in a row was the fluke, it’s not THIS season that’s the fluke?

    Uribe has horrible plate discipline, why should anyone other than a desperate team have taken a chance on him?

    this isn’t Nick Swisher here, he had 4 seasons in a row with an OBP of .301 or lower.

    The Giants got lucky that Uribe has hit a few more HRs this year. Good for them. But the “I told you so’s” ring a little hollow here.

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    • Dave Cameron says:

      You couldn’t have possibly missed the point any more than you did.

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      • Steve says:

        No, I get it.

        I just think it’s horseshit.

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      • Dave Cameron says:

        Thanks for reminding me why I don’t bother responding to you guys.

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      • B says:

        Dave, maybe you should just limit your responses to people who seem reasonable…?

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      • Steve says:

        I’m sorry, was your response supposed to generate a productive dialogue?

        Now, to clarify, here is the sentence I was talking about:

        “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. ”

        It had been FIVE years since Uribe was productive. My point was simply that after some very long stretch of poor BABIP, it wasn’t unreasonable for most of baseball to assume that this wasn’t just variance.

        I was disagreeing with the implication that Uribe’s rebound should have been apparent to anyone who was looking in the right place.

        I am sorry that you disagree with my opinion and that I dared challenge your infinite wisdom.

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      • Dave Cameron says:

        You missed the point and acted like a prick in the process. That’s way too common in the comments around here, thanks to the anonymous nature due to the lack of comment registration.

        If you want to have a productive conversation, don’t be an ass. Otherwise, go away. I’m beyond tired of our comments section reading like a bunch of nine year olds got on the internet for the first time.

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      • Steve says:

        I wasn’t trying to act like a prick (initially). If you took it like that, I apologize. I haven’t follow the comments that closely, so if this is a common problem, I can understand your reaction.

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      • Jerry says:

        I didn’t catch an ounce of “I told you so” attitude in this article at all…

        Dave calls Uribe’s season “surprising,” then gives an overview of his BABIP numbers and says “perhaps we shouldn’t be totally surprised at Uribe’s production.”

        That’s a far cry from implying it was obvious and that he has infinite knowledge. I know this is an inherant problem with the written word and the interwebs, but if people would stop attempting to infer attitudes from articles and responding in kind, that would be a major step forward for this site right now.

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      • wobatus says:

        I don’t think he missed the point at all. After this year’s bump up Uribe is still a career .309 wOBA hitter. I do not think his initial response was any different from the general attitude the writers for this site take towards major league team front office types who make moves with which they disagree. He didn’t call you a name or anything.

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      • rizzo says:

        No offense but I think the remark about the quality/tone of commenters is a little late is it not? I don’t recall anyone at FanGraphs complaining a couple of weeks ago when ‘Nick’ was swearing and ALL CAPPING anyone who dared disagree with him on the John Smoltz posts.

        I don’t agree with Steve’s position – as Davidceisen pointed out below Uribe has dropped his flyball rate/increased his gb rate which certainly will help his BABiP. However his comments aren’t even in the ballpark of inappropriateness as compared to what’s been on the site recently. I suppose I’m being cynical in suggesting that the difference is that Steve didn’t agree with the author here………

        BTW – I’m registered with FanGraphs, you have my e-mail address and name.

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    • Alex says:

      “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.”

      Yeah, I mean, this does seem like “I told you so.” Except, not. He didn’t even say at any point that the White Sox could or should have expected this, his main point was just that Uribe’s a good example of the (correct) idea that players with very low BABIPs are pretty good bets if you want to look for value. And yeah, this season is probably a little fluky in the other direction for Uribe (he’s been a little lucky this season with balls in play) – I’m pretty sure Dave would agree with you there. I don’t know why there’s this reductionistic tendency to have to declare that players ACTUALLY suck, like there’s this threshold for sucking beyond which we don’t care about someone’s peripheral numbers. Obviously, this doesn’t exist, and I think Dave would also say that we shouldn’t have assumed that Uribe was a valuable major leaguer last year, just that the natural variation of BABIP should be taken into account when projecting him forward. But congratulations on your impressive combination of straw man arguments and aggressive, smug posting style: it was impressively infuriating.

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  2. Matt B. says:

    “The Giants are sure glad they took a SHOT on him.”

    I hope this line was done on purpose!!

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  3. B says:

    Juan Uribe only has 341 PA’s so far this year. Bengie Molina, he of the .277 OBP and .300 wOBA has 469. Randy Winn (.301 wOBA) has 537 PA’s. Edgar Renteria (.290 wOBA) has 496. Meanwhile younger players that can actually improve (instead of getting worse like players in their mid-30′s tend to do) like Fred Lewis (.336 wOBA) sit on the bench. Nate Schierholtz has only put up a .303 wOBA for the season, but at least he’s young and Zips projects him to put up a .341 wOBA for the rest of the season, as opposed to Winn’s .314 projection.

    How hard is it to play our best players? It’s so frustrating watching Bochy/Sabean do what they do. I’m happy Uribe is succeeding, now let’s get him onto the field more often and get those bums off it. Garko/Ishikawa, Sanchez, Uribe, Sandoval, Lewis, Schierholtz, Roward, Posey should be starting every day. I’m happy Velez has been successful so far, but what are the chances that continues (Zips forecasts a .317 wOBA for the rest of the season)…?

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  4. Davidceisen says:

    What sticks out the most to me about Uribe this year is that he is hitting more balls on the ground instead of in the air–he’s increased his GB% by 6% and dropped his FB% by 5%. His infield hit% is 10.7%, which is inline with his numbers the two previous years (12.4 & 9.8), so an increase in grounders probably has helped him out.

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    • B says:

      True, plus it always helps to decrease your IFFB% (though that may just be a product of a decrease in total FB%) while increasing HR/FB. If you compare this year to last year, he’s hitting more total HR’s even though he’s hitting less total FB’s and less total LD’s.

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      • Bhaakon says:

        Does IFFB% record all pop-ups prduced, or just the ones that are fielded or fall for a hit? Because if it the later, I’d imagine that the tiny foul territory in his home park plays a large role in the diminished IFF rate.

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      • B says:

        That’s a good question, it’d be nice if there was a little more transparency in how some of these things are calculated (it would be easy enough to include info like this in the glossary, I’d think). Not that I would criticize a free service, or anything. :)

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  5. wobatus says:

    Jerry, I am replying to you here. Of course we shouldn’t be totally surprised about Uribe’s production. No one thinks he isn’t capable of this. The question is how likely was this outcome. To suggest (and yes, you’d need to infer this, but if he isn’t suggesting this then the article is a bit of a thumbsucker, no offense) that somehow this was good process rewarded I think is incorrect. Although I suppose a freebie with a 1/5 chance of turning out ok isn’t awful process.

    If you look back at some other articles on the site, dave has taken this attitude towards major league managers, GMs etc. He called (correctly as it turned out) the Rockies not playing Smith over Spillborghs more often was “ridiculous” and that Tracy and Hurdle should be “embarassed.” This was early on in a season when Spillborghs had outproduced Smith to some degree last year, and when Smith’s time ws limited not so much by Spillborghs but by the emrgence of Carlos Gonzalez. In the event Smith got better and better,a nd Spillborghs worse, perhaps predictably. But there was still an attitude that the major league managers didn’t know what the hell they were doing. Really no more or less harsh than anything that was in Steve’s initial post.

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    • Joe R says:

      It’s just funny to me that out of all the Dave Cameron posts that could’ve ended in a shit show, it was this unoffensive one.

      Actually anything about Smoltz will likely turn into one as well, but I think that topic’s been beaten into the ground on here when we had all caps mcgee equip himself w/ some pitch f/x numbers and go to war with the me’s of this website because we dared say that Smoltz was grooving pitches bad once he got fatigued.

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      • Nick says:

        Well, actually is was the fact that you offered no proof to show that Smoltz was “grooving pitches once he was fatigued”, or that he was even becoming especially fatigued for that matter.

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      • Joe R says:

        He gave up too many damn fly balls. It wasn’t working at Fenway. 12.66% of FB’s this season have left the yard for him, so it wasn’t even all that flukey a number.

        And why should the burden of proof fall on me to show he was fatiguing? He’s 42. He just came back from surgery. Not exactly the makings of a guy who’s about to pull a ’91 Jack Morris.

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  6. wobatus says:

    Rizzo. You are disagreeing with Steve’s postion because Uribe is doing something he didn’t do before? How was someone supposed to guess that Uribe’s babip would improve this year because his groundball rate was going to improve and his hr/fb rate was going to improve (the latter may also have some luck component).

    In my mind the question should usually be what can we reasonable expect from a player based on his past performance. No one doubts this was a possible season by Uribe. The question would be how likely was it.

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    • rizzo says:

      I guess I was so stunned by Cameron’s rebuke of the tone of his comments that my thoughts weren’t entirely clear here……

      I don’t think we should have been able to predict Uribe’s bounce back, but I don’t think that the article was that much of an ‘I told you so’, particularly compared to the stuff on this site about Smoltz/Pedro. That’s where I disagreed.

      Speaking of Smoltzie – how come no one’s written up his last 2 starts?………

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    • B says:

      The point of the article isn’t that we should have expected this out of Uribe. The point of the article was this:

      “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.”

      It’s just a statement that the Giants took a chance and it worked out. It’s also noting that this profile of hitter can be the type of player worth taking a chance on. At no point does Dave say this was expected out of Uribe. All we’re doing is recognizing what Uribe’s done this year…

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      • wobatus says:

        Fair enough, but unlucky 4 years running ws pretty unlucky, especially when, as acknowledged in the article, hitters have some “control” over babip. I suppose it was worth a roll of the dice, but you could have easily thought Uribe is pretty unlikely to do substantially above his career average, which he did this year. Teams sign guys for nothing who then have decent years a lot, but more often they have crappy years. Fernando Tatis had a really nice year last year. Pretty bad this year. Hard to say what Uribe will do next year.

        Not criticizing the article so much as the reaction to the first post. If dave had replied as you just did, instead of saying “you completely missed the point” things may not have escalated. If someone misses the point, reinforce it. Don’t insinuate the guy has a reading comprehension issue.

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      • B says:

        Yeah I don’t think he always handles these things very well, either. Oh well, that’s the internet for you.

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      • PhDBrian says:

        Actually 4 unlucky years is statistically very possible for some player to have. In fact, statistically maybe 3-4 players in MLB are having their 4th or 5th unlucky year in a row. Who those guys are we can’t ever know for certain, but we can make educated guesses that may or may not pay off. Looking at low Babip guys with experience has a better chance of success than looking at high Babip guys. In all things, you only get rewarded if you buy low. Buying high is always a recipe for failure. Uribe was certainly low, so he was a great cheap gamble that happen to pay off.

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      • wobatus says:

        Phd Brian, of course it is possible to be unlucky 4-5 years in a row P. It is also very possible to be lucky in one year after 4-5 years of normal/bad performance. How often will the guy in his mid-30s go from .275ish babips for 4 years to .325? His gb rate went up and fb rate went down. How predictable was that, or was that just luck (his o-swing rate also went down)? Oh, and he moved to the minor league NL from the AL. :)

        Sorry for the delayed response, I was just scouting Uribe for 2010 and came across this dead thread.

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  7. The “resurgence” of 2004 offense Uribe is largely based on his late August+Sept production. Over the last 30 days, Uribe has hit .318/.389/.671 (1.060 OPS). Check the pre-august OPS by month — .733 (apr), .692 (may), .794 (jun), .723 (jul). 7 of his 13 HR have come in the last 28 days. 5 of them in the last 2 weeks. He’s just having an amazing 30-40 game stretch. The rest has been classically passable.

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