After a sterling 2010 with the Marlins, Uggla signed with the Braves for five years and $62 million. This did not, as I recall, seem unreasonable at the time. In the five previous seasons, he’d averaged 3 Wins Above Replacement per season. Not great – he’d been up and down some with the bat, and his fielding was never good – but $12 million for ~3 WAR seemed reasonable enough. The only red flag was Uggla’s age; players in their 30s usually decline, and five years is a long time.
I don’t know if anybody saw this coming, though.
Uggla was actually decent in 2011 and ’12. Nowhere close to great, but roughly worth his salary and certainly deserving his regular playing time. So it’s really just these last two seasons, and the numbers are dramatic: since Opening Day last year, Uggla’s got a .175 batting average. Which basically overwhelms anything else he might have done.
What’s strange is how he’s done that. Yes, he’s struck out more often: around 30 percent of the time, compared to 25 percent earlier in his career. But the real problem is BABiP. Uggla swings hard, and has a .285 career batting average on balls in play. These last two seasons, though? It’s just north of .220. And I don’t know how to explain that, since his batted-ball rates – grounders, liners, flies – have all held steady, right in line with his earlier career.
Could this really be a season-and-a-half of bad luck, plus the ravages of mild aging? With results this dramatic, it’s hard to believe that. And again, Uggla has been striking out significantly more often. I mean, if you want a wild theory, maybe he’s striking out when he swings hard, and hitting easily fielded balls when he swings softer to make contact.
Would you give Uggla a shot? I wouldn’t. But I don’t have a mainframe computer or a platoon of crack scouts backing me up. If I did, and I needed a decent hitter, I might do some extra digging. Even if Uggla’s been unlucky, though – and really, it’s hard to hit .175 unless you’re unlucky or a pitcher – there’s still that little matter of his poor fielding. He really shouldn’t play second base regularly, and even a lucky Swedish owl probably doesn’t hit enough to play one of the corners.
Regularly. This owl might make sense in a platoon situation, or as a pinch-hitter back in the olden times when teams had room for pinch-hitters. Now, though? I’m afraid we might have seen the last of Uggla. Of course, I said the same about Bobby Abreu. And Jamey Wright, six times. So youneverknow.
As for the Braves, what do you think? Applause, or opprobrium? It’s not easy to just eat $19 million, so they deserve credit for that. Considering that he was actually decent before 2013, I don’t think you can really blame management for hoping that last season was an anomaly. And maybe it was; after all, Uggla’s played in only 48 games this season. But his contract is a sunk cost, and rookie Tommy La Stella has taken over at second base with aplomb. So there just wasn’t any need for Uggla, plus an unhappy veteran can be a difficult thing. My only quibble with the Braves is that a five-year contract was probably too much in the first place. Sometimes you just do whatever it takes. But that should apply to truly great players. Which our Swedish owl never was.
Now, about B.J. Upton ……