After the 2012 season, Dan Uggla ranked just 17th among second basemen. We thought that was bad and he had hit rock bottom. But the downward spiral actually continued. His encore was not one to celebrate, as he slid even further to just 27th within the position. Heading into his age 34 season, is the power hitting, some time acceptable batting average contributing middle infielder officially done as a fantasy delight?
To put his fantasy value into some context, it was on par with Mark Ellis, who combined for just 10 home runs plus steals, and Marco Scutaro, whose only contribution that generated positive fantasy value was his .297 batting average. It got bad enough that he actually lost his starting job to Elliot Johnson, he of the .263 career wOBA and .240 mark this season. Even Uggla was able to beat that handily!
So do you want the good news or the bad news first? Let’s start with the negatives, so by the end, you can turn that frown upside down. Uggla, never an example of a hitter with good contact skills, took the inability to swing and not miss to a new level this year. While his SwStk% sat above the league average during every season of his career, he recorded a new career high in 2013.
That SwStk% ranked 13th worst in all of baseball. Even worse, his sub-70% Contact% ranked an appalling third worst among all qualified hitters. To put it simply, Uggla had more troubling putting the bat on the ball than ever before. If he was on the good side of 30, one might just chalk this up to a bad year and project a rebound. Unfortunately, a decline in contact rate could just be another sign of old age and a loss of bat speed. These issues don’t reverse and improve.
Let’s move along to the BABIP thing. His .225 mark was second worst in baseball among qualified batters. Surely he must have endured a massive amount of bad luck, right? Not so fast. While it is true that Major League hitters don’t have true talent .225 BABIP marks, Uggla’s xBABIP was just .258. If he had posted that instead, his average would have shot up to…just .199. An improvement of .020 batting points is a healthy gain, but it still remained just short of the Mendoza line!
The problem is that Uggla’s swing is simply incapable of producing respectable BABIP marks. Although his line drive rate sat at a career low this year, it has been below the league average nearly his entire career. And over the past three seasons, he has suddenly been infected by pop-upitis. To make matters worse, he’s an extreme fly ball hitter. That’s the exact recipe that leads to a low BABIP and there’s little reason to believe anything is going to change.
I promised to share some good news and there are certainly some positive signs. For one, he remains as patient as ever, walking at excellent rates. Of course, that could be an acknowledgement that he lost the ability to actually hit and his best chance of getting on base is via the free pass. But at least we know he hasn’t completely lost his plate discipline.
In addition, he still has his power. His ISO rebounded only slightly off its 2012 mark, but his batted ball distance of 297 feet was actually his highest since 2010. How he managed just 10 doubles is beyond me.
This is far from earth-shattering to type, but we should expect more of the same from Uggla next season. He’s obviously in the decline phase of his career and it would be silly to suddenly expect a return to peak form. But the power has remained, and coming off a career worst mark, there’s a good chance he enjoys some rebound in his strikeout rate. While that still won’t come close to making him even neutral in batting average, there’s still an opportunity for a high-20 home run total with a .220 batting average. Draft him with the likes of Chris Carter, Adam Dunn and Pedro Alvarez and you have the beginnings of an interesting little strategy.
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