Last Monday the Braves lost to Cole Hamels and the Phillies. Hamels is one of the best pitchers in the game and was certainly on that night. Like many great pitchers however, if you can get to him early you have a chance of getting him out out the game sooner. The Braves had a chance – a glimmer of a chance – in the second inning but back-to-back strikeouts by Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton end that tiny threat and the Braves never really created another. The next day Uggla’s on the 15 day DL in order to have Lasik surgery and B.J. is according to the skipper a platoon player but not really a platoon player. I’ll leave Upton the elder for others to analyze. I’ve shown before all the chatter about him being a second half player is just chatter without substance. Today my eye is on Uggla. I apologize now for that and the other eye puns that are likely to pop up throughout this post. I like puns and you do too, admit it and smile dang it.
Recapping A Recap
When Dan Uggla came to the plate Monday Brian McCann was on third there was one out. The Phillies were playing the infield back conceding a run on a ground ball to the right side and the outfield was deep so a medium depth fly ball would have scored McCann. The Phillies outfield was mostly unarmed that night so any fly ball might have done it. Uggla’s task then should have been a simple one for a veteran ballplayer, hit the ball to the right side or lift a fly ball anywhere into the outfield where Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley couldn’t catch it. But he didn’t. He struck out and looked bad doing it.
Striking out against Hamels isn’t new to Uggla, he’s never had good luck against him. Before that at bat he had faced Hamels 64 times and struck out 18 of them, 13 time swinging. He’d had only nine career hits off Hamels, – four singles, two doubles and three home runs – and walked six times for a slash of .150/.235/.333/.569. Knowing his chances against Hamels, one would think that a hitter would say, “he’s had my number and my job is to get the run in. I won’t strikeout trying to jerk one out. I’ll look for a pitch I can drive and hit it where it’s pitched which will likely be up the middle or to right because he’s going to pitch me away.” But Dan didn’t have his eye the prize, he was eyeing a home run. That’s been part of his trouble at the plate but this is about what happened after the game.
The next morning the Braves put him on the 15 day disabled list and announced a” mutual decision” that he needed to get his vision corrected prior to the post season. Uggla’s post decision interview didn’t exactly support the mutual decision part of the announcement. He said that he was seeing pitches really well as shown by his walks but that sometimes ground balls were hard to see. Uggla should rethink that statement because if he’s seeing them and not hitting them – and he’s not – he has bigger issues to deal with. The Braves said that the GM, Skipper Fredi Gonzalez and Uggla sat down after the game and came to the decision together. Here’s how my imagination says that went.
Dan: You wanted to see me skip?
Fredi: Dan we’re concerned that you aren’t seeing the pitches well and wonder if it might now be time to have the Lasik. We’re 15 games up and this will give you time to get back for post season. ( I know Fredi doesn’t talk that way this is my imagination remember?)
Dan: Naw skip, I see pitches fine.
Fredi: It didn’t look like it tonight Dan and frankly hasn’t looked like it all year. You have 11 hits since the all star game. Eleven! In over 100 plate appearances. Evan Gattis has 20 in only 81. If it’s not your eyes what is it Dan. I’d like to know.
Dan: I’m working on it every day skip. Greg and I have ideas . . .
Frank: Greg says he’s out of ideas. We think you need to get your eyes corrected now.
Dan: It’s not my eyes. . .
Frank: You aren’t paying attention Dan. You say it’s affecting your defense and we think it may be affecting your hitting. We need you to do both well. Lasik might well make that happen. So it seems we all agree you need to have your vision corrected. . .don’t we?
Dan: Okay boss I guess we do.
Frank: Fine then we’ll announce in the morning that by mutual agreement you’re having Lasik now to get ready for the post season.
Dan: Whatever you say boss.
Fredi: Can you ask B.J. to come see me Dan?
It might not have gone exactly like that _ okay it didn’t - but that’s the gist. Uggla has asserted all along his astigmatism wasn’t affecting his hitting and the Braves – searching for any way to salvage their $13M a year – have pressed him to to do the necessary. I explored this back in June when Uggla broke down and got his contacts.
Uggla’s was told in spring training that he had astigmatism, was fitted with contacts but quit wearing them when he didn’t see instant improvement. Carroll Rogers reports that after giving up on the contacts he continued to have vision problems at the plate telling her the ball looked like a blur coming in . . . . (Uggla said) “I was just doing it to try it, hoping that instantly, I’d be able to see twice as good as I could before.”
The questions not asked because I assume they know the answer will be meaningless, still beg for answers. here are just a two.
1. Friday’s game in Milwaukee is the 75th of the year. Uggla has been unable to see breaking balls during that period yet he didn’t feel the urge to go check with an eye specialist again until Thursday. Why?
Obviously the contacts didn’t really take care of it and now he’s having Lasik for the same reason he got contacts; the Braves told him politely he had to do it. That’s their right as his employer and his duty as a well paid employee who hasn’t performed close to his capabilities. The guy who was once the definition of a power hitting second baseman isn’t much of a threat this year. Here’s how he stands among 18 qualifying second basemen according to Fangraphs with a little help with RC from Baseball-Reference.com
“Note that his weighted runs created is a negative number.
Last night I heard Harold Reynolds on MLB Network’s Post Game Show talking about how young players who have always been the best were often too hard headed to change when they get to the majors and suddenly nothing works. That goes double for veterans who have not only made it to the majors but also built a career on doing things their way.
Swinging for the fences when he goes to the plate has been Uggla’s style and it served him well. From 2006 through 2011 he hit at least 27 home runs a year and from 2007-2011 hit over 30. His 2011 season should have raised warning flags because although he hit 36 homers his batting average slipped to the lowest in his career – .233 – and only made it that high because of his once in a lifetime hitting streak. By any standards and with an eye on the back of his baseball card, Uggla’s 2012 was a disaster.
His average was just .220 and for the first time in his career his slugging percentage dropped below .453 to a measly .384, the lowest among Brave regulars and one of only seven NL hiters who qualified for a batting title to have a slugging percentage below .390. It’s obvious to the most casual fan that something’s been wrong. Only superior pitching and a lineup that no longer depended on him kept him in the lineup. With the post season approaching and every bat needed Braves leadership finally decided they had to force his hand.
That’s a Wrap
I’m glad Braves management finally showed some backbone with Uggla and B.J. I’m sure that the Braves don’t know if the Lasik will but I suspect they believe as I do that it’s likely to make minimal difference or in the field. Uggla is a nice guy and by all accounts a good teammate but he isn’t performing well enough to hold a lineup spot and the game is about performing on the field. We hear almost every game that baseball is a game of adjustments, it’s time for Uggla to make some permanent adjustments. If he doesn’t I doubt he’s playing second in Atlanta next year.