How bad was Dan Uggla‘s 2012 season? Actually, not that bad. Everyone remembers the horrible end of June and July and thinks it was a lost season. However, his .220/.348/.384 line was right around average, and his defense rated above average for the first time since 2008, ending up around 3 WAR.
It was nice to see improved on-base skills after a .311 OBP last season. His 15% walk rate was a big part of that, surprising that it remained that high after his horrible slump. His swing rate dropped down to his career normal after a spike last season. He saw fewer pitches in the zone this year, and a slight drop in contact rate also helped raise the walks. I would think that he might get more pitches to hit early in the season, at least until he shows signs of regaining his old form.
Speaking of old form, the power was the true missing factor last season. After posting six straight 25+ HR seasons with at least a .195 ISO, those stats read 19 HR and a .168 ISO. After a four-season period with a HR/FB% averaging about 18%, last year’s rate was shy of 12%. At age 32, this could be the beginning of a sharp decline, or it may just be a bad season. The rest of his batted ball profile was actually pretty good, hitting 20% line drives and more fly balls than groundballs. Only a 17% pop-up rate caused a below-average .283 BABIP, not far off from his career norms and expected BABIP.
Strikeouts were Uggla’s other main problem, whiffing in 26.7% of his plate appearances, a rate only surpassed in 2008. He did not have a complete bottom-out month, as June was the highest just shy of 33%, and his K rate dropped below 20% in September. Less power and more strikeouts is usually a scary combination, but with a hitter as streaky as Uggla, you really have no idea what to expect.
Uggla has shown a bit of a reverse platoon split in his career, but he was normal this year, hitting lefties a bit better. His home/road splits were massive, struggling with BABIP and power at home, something not seen last year. His clutch numbers were actually pretty good, hitting .262 with a .477 SLG. In a completely useless stat, he hit .439/.519/1.000 in the third inning, but it does mean he was torching pitchers the second time through the order. As we all know, he has no ability to hit to right field, as his .137 AVG and .235 SLG% shows.
On the bases, Uggla was above-average, despite his lack of base-stealing ability. At 4-for-7 this year, he cost the Braves about a run. However, he is a hustler and he took a high percentage of extra bases, adding about 3.5 runs. I think this is the under-rated part of his game, as his stature and power give the impression of a lack of speed, when in fact it’s around average.
Defensively, all metrics had him as an above-average defender, something strange for Uggla. After sitting around -10 the past three years, his +5 average was a welcome surprise. He did make less errors, despite having his highest range factor since his rookie year. Most of his errors come on throws, unusual for a second baseman, while his hands are not exactly the softest either. I would expect something closer to the -10 in the future.
With three years and $39M coming to him, Uggla is not going anywhere soon. He needs to get back to around a 125 wRC+ to be worth the salary, as his defense is bound to regress. His “old man” skills, power and walks, don’t suit him well for aging, which does raise some concern. The two best historical comparisons I found for a power-based, poor-defending player at a premium position were Javy Lopez and Gorman Thomas. Both guys had drastically sharp dropoffs in their careers, so Uggla will be up against it to avoid similar fate.