Few things bring me as much joy as baseball players whose value surpasses their public perception. In the old FJM days, this was usually guys who were slow, lumbering, base clogging sluggers or three true outcomes guys who hit for appallingly low averages. For the first few years of his career, Dan Uggla wasn’t under valued. Traditional stats screamed RUN PRODUCER, as Dan consistently hit 30 homers and drove in 90 runs on bad Marlins teams. On the advanced side of things, his power and double digit walk rate offset what could generously be described as bad defense, and his strikeout rate was manageable for a guy with his pop. A lot of that changed when he was traded to Atlanta.
Once in Atlanta, Uggla had one year where he was the same player he was in Florida. In 2011, he launched 36 homers, and besides a serious crash in his BABiP, he was still Dan Uggla. In 2012, despite a rebound in his BABiP, we heard the first cries of despair over Uggla’s play, as he managed only a .220 average, 19 homers, his ISO dropped almost .060 points, and his strikeout rate climbed. Yet 2012 is probably my favorite Dan Uggla season of all time. While most whined about his batting average, his walk rate climbed to almost 15%. An unlucky HR/FB% led to the decrease in homers, while his IFFB% sharply increased and his FB% ticked back up to where it was early in his career, suppressing his BABiP. Looking at it in combination with an increased K%, it’s easy to surmise that 2012 Dan Uggla was pressing hard to justify his contract and launch DINGERZ. People were calling for his head, as even in a post-Moneyball, Fangraphs society, people still don’t understand OBP, but with his 15% walk rate buoying a 103 wRC+ and surprisingly positive defensive contributions, Dan posted 3.3 fWAR in 2012, over a win better than his 36 homer 2011 campaign.
2013 would be the beginning of the end for Uggs. His K% once again climbed, now over 30%, and combined with a .220’s BABiP, not even a 14%+ walk rate could make him a positive contributor with the bat. His year end 90 wRC+ would be the lowest of his career, and he spent time on the DL for Lasik surgery at the end of the year. That Lasik gave me hope. The recovery time is generally a few of weeks, but I had seen with Brian McCann how it can take over a year to fully adjust. McCann had so many problems he had to undergo the operation twice, and while trying to play through his vision issues his numbers suffered. The problem with Uggla was that unlike McCann, he didn’t have All Star numbers to begin with.
This year, the walk rate fell to under 10%, the ISO fell to David Eckstein levels, and the BABiP cratered to an unfathomable .213. I’d like to look at 2011-2013 and think that he’s still a guy who can get on base and hit for decent power. I’d like to think that he’s still struggling to recover from Lasik, like McCann did before him–that his contact problems last year were those of a man who couldn’t see, and that this year is the tale of a man struggling to recover from surgery. On one hand, he’s not even a year removed from Lasik, and he’s had less than 150 PA’s this year to work himself out. On the other hand–and far more likely–he’s a 34 year old player with skills that don’t age well, playing a demanding defensive position in a not-very-good manner, and who has played in Atlanta where players’ eyes go to die. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Dan rebound in 2015 with a 2012-ish year, albeit without the defensive numbers, but I also don’t see anyone giving him 500+ PA’s to find out if he’s capable of doing so.
I’m going to miss Dan Uggla. I’m going to miss being right about how he’s valuable regardless of his average. I’m going to miss those first two years where he was hitting .230 but was still entirely worth his contract to that point. Most of all I’m going to miss the $18 MM he’s still owed over the rest of his contract. I don’t care about hugs or forearms or baby blue eyes or RBIZ or whatever it is most people love about Uggs. Dan Uggla the player was exciting, powerful, a walking machine, and the defensive liability people always thought Kelly Johnson was. And above all else, he was valuable.