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Bullish on Dan Uggla

This is part of an ongoing pro/con series on RotoGraphs over the next couple of weeks. Today we’ll look at the positive/negative side of Dan Uggla. Expect the opposite side shortly.

Coming into this past week, you’d be hard pressed to find a player that better epitomized the phrase “fantasy disappointment” than Dan Uggla.  While he had seven home runs to his credit by the close of May, he was also sporting a .178 average and had produced a measly 17 RBI.  His OBP hung at a woeful .246 and the talk of manager Fredi Gonzalez giving him a “rest to clear his head” became more prominent, threatening his playing time.  Not that anyone thought the Braves would really bench their new prized second baseman, but with each week that passed from the start of the season, Uggla’s owners have been more and more concerned.

Fortunately though, greener pastures lie ahead and the patience you’ve shown is about to start paying off.  If you’ve looked at his BABIP, his batted ball statistics and his plate discipline, you’ve seen some serious deviations in his normal totals that, when corrected, should allow the slugger to return to form.  Now I’m not saying that you’re going to see him come close to his usual 30 HR total – this early season slump has wiped away almost all chance of that – but if you’re looking for a second baseman who can still hit you another 15-18 HR the rest of the way, then you’ve got your man.

First off, there’s the expected rise in BABIP that you can expect which will lead to much better overall results.  I’m not sure if it’s a mechanics thing or that he’s just pressing too hard at the plate, but Uggla’s abnormally high 44.8 GB% and subsequent 1.12 GB/FB, coupled with some bad luck are obviously dragging him down.  A career low 14.9 LD% isn’t helping the situation either.  To put it simply, more ground balls in the dirt and less line drives leads to more outs for a slow-footed, power hitter.  Fortunately though, the 14.1 IFFB% is a fairly good indicator that more fly balls and, hopefully, home runs are on the horizon.  As he continues to make his adjustments at the plate, all of those numbers should regress towards the means, thus improving his overall performance and totals.

But shouldn’t those adjustments have already been made by now?  Well, ideally yes, but seeing as how none of us are inside Mr. Uggla’s head, we can’t really know just how convoluted things have actually gotten in there.  You can get a pretty good idea by looking at his plate discipline though.  The increased Swing% and dramatically reduced walk rate tell you that he’s up there hacking away, and the increase in his O-Swing% means that what he’s hacking at isn’t very good.  Sure, he’s making his usual contact, but when you start off the majority of your at bats in the hole (60.6% F-Strike) and you’ve been struggling at the plate, you’re throwing your bat at almost everything regardless of whether it’s a pitch you can or should hit.

Fortunately though, we’ve already seen signs of the improvement, which means your window of opportunity to buy low is rapidly closing.  Uggla has now hit safely in 4 of his last 5 games, including two multi-hit games, and is batting .316 in that span with 2 HR, 3 RBI and 6 runs scored.  All of the aforementioned rates have seen an improvement over the last week, and should continue to do so as the season progresses.  Again, don’t fool yourself into thinking that he’s going to produce overall numbers, but his ZiPS for the rest of the season – .240-16-45 are well within reach and those totals aren’t too shabby coming from your second base position.