March 13, 2013 at 4:44 pm by Mark Smith under Atlanta Braves
Dan Uggla is easily the most frustrating player on the Braves. He makes the second-most money on the team, but he’s probably the seventh-best position player. And while he hits some mammoth blasts, he strikes out 5 times as much, and that doesn’t include the botched plays at second. His ability to hit some mammoth blasts and take walks, of course, gives him value. The main concern about that value, however, is that it’s expected to plummet sometime soon, and the main reason for that is because strikeout-prone hitters don’t tend to age very well.
Uggla strikes out a lot, but I was curious whether he’s worse than he had been in the past.
K/AB is the traditional K%, but I added K/PA to see if he was striking in out in more of his plate appearances than normal. As you can see from just looking at those numbers, Uggla has done 2012 before (2008) and recovered. Uggla swings at a few more pitches out of the zone (oSW%), but the number isn’t drastically higher. He swings at a similar number of pitches in the zone (zSW%), and while his contact rate (CT%) is the worst of his career, it’s not substantially worse than 2008.
Looking at some zone maps for Uggla’s contact rate …
Uggla’s sweet spot is middle-in, which shouldn’t be surprising, and in 2012, it saw a substantial drop in contact rates. This, however, can be explained in two ways. One, Uggla is losing his ability to make contact, or two, it’s no worse than 2008. Unfortunately, the maps don’t go back to 2008, so we remain in the dark a little bit. But seeing the other numbers react in a similar manner indicates he might have done this before, and it is more troubling now that he’s 33. As Franklin said in the last CACast, it’s one thing to strike out taking a few close pitches, but it’s another to simply miss pitches. Maybe he should use a lighter bat.
Going back to the table above, there is one troubling column – Strike%. Since the beginning of his career, pitchers have been throwing Uggla fewer and fewer strikes as they realized the danger he presented at the plate. The problem, however, is that Uggla isn’t laying off of those pitches. In fact, he’s swinging at more of them now.
Where is he swinging at more pitches out of the zone?
Low-and-away. He’s actually gained a keener eye when it comes to inside pitches, but he’s losing it when it comes to pitches below and outside of the zone. While the overall percentage of swinging strikes hasn’t changed drastically, the denominator (number of balls) has gone up, which means the numerator (number of swings at balls) has to go up as well.
The most recent example of Uggla losing some plate discipline and contact ability is concerning. We’re not a fan of 30-somethings having such issues, but at the same time, none of this is exactly new. Uggla’s had rough seasons before and bounced back. The question is whether he made changes that time (unlikely considering 2008 was a really good season for Uggla – 4.6 fWAR due to a near career-high BABiP of .320) or can this time. Looking at the projections, ZIPS sees a sharp decline, but Oliver and Steamer don’t see a drastic drop. Will Uggla turn into an albatross, or will he continue to be frustrating-yet-valuable? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.