July 24, 2012 at 12:31 pm by David Lee under Atlanta Braves, Player Analysis
I’ve seen the question raised in the past few days asking if Dan Uggla’s cold streak is similar or worse than last year’s. While I’m not in the business of comparing cold streaks – I mean, that’s just depressing – I do want to see if I can diagnose Uggla’s problems.
The first number that automatically jumped out at me when analyzing Uggla is an infield fly ball rate of 44.4% and a total fly ball rate of 50% this month. His previous IFFB% per month were 14.8%, 12.1% and 9.1%. While all of these are small samples, and Uggla’s cold streak included June, I think it might help answer his issues.
While the big arms may distract you, Uggla’s swing is in fact lower-body heavy. He has strong hips and uses rotation very well to drive the ball when he’s in sync. The problem begins when Uggla abandons his lower half, falls out of sync and attempts to make up for it with an arm-heavy swing. I can safely say that power hitters cannot get by on an arm-heavy swing.
The result of this for Uggla is making contact farther out in front of the plate, causing weak contact, including infield fly balls and ground balls, as well as whiffing on pitches low and away. This is evident in the map below, which measures the whiff rate per zone in July. Notice how Uggla is making contact on pitches on the inner half and up. He has been able to cover the inner half all season because of that rotation and bat speed, but he completely abandoned his whiff rate in that area lately because his bat and hands are ahead of where they need to be.
Another telling number is foul balls. If Uggla’s bat and hands are ahead of where they need to be because of being arm-heavy, he will likely foul the ball off more because of not squaring the ball up correctly. On the simple four-seamer, Uggla fouled it off 17% of the time in the first two months. Since his cold streak began, Uggla has fouled the four-seamer off 22% of the time. On the slider in the first two months, his foul rate was 14% and he put it in play 13%. During the cold streak, the foul rate is 16% and it’s in play 8%.
And weak contact means poor numbers. In April, Uggla had a .346 wOBA and .328 BABIP. In May, .368 and .349. In June, .284 and .222. In July, .244 and .171. Uggla’s weak contact is dropping his batting average on balls in play like an anchor, resulting in easy outs.
These are imperfect numbers considering the sample size and the fact that I can’t pinpoint the exact date when Uggla started stepping in a bucket. But an infield fly ball rate that high is tough to ignore, and considering I am of the belief that his struggles this year, and last year, stem from abandoning his lower half and relying on his arms, I think the numbers fit well with my observations.
Uggla needs to return to a swing that utilizes his lower half more, and in the process, syncs with his arms and hands to square the ball and drive it. Until he does, expect more pop flies, foul balls and missed opportunities. It was a half-season project last year, and it’s shaping up to be similar this year. He will be back, it’s just a matter of when.
Map provided by Baseball Prospectus and Brooks Baseball.