B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla: A Tale of Two Sluggers
The Braves were supposed to have one of the deepest lineups in baseball, one in which eight players could conceivably each hit 20 homeruns. Injuries to Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward, Andrelton Simmons, and Brian McCann have taken some of the wind out of those sails, although the emergence of Evan Gattis has lessened the impact of McCann’s injury.
But there are two other regulars have been healthy so far, but have dramatically failed to contribute. One should be expected to bounce back and resemble his old self; the other has likely already played his best baseball. It's a tale of two sluggers.
B.J. Upton is not a guy who will hit for a high average. He is the owner of a .252 career average, and he hasn’t even hit that mark since 2008. He is also not as bad as his current .153 average would suggest. Upton is dead last in the National League in BABIP, at a miserable .209. That indicates a whole lot of bad luck, which should stabilize over the course of the season.
He is also popping up at a freakishly high rate. His infield fly percentage is an astronomical 29.6 percent; For reference, his career rate is 8.7 percent. He has not popped out at a rate higher than 10 percent since 2006. The only real explanation for a major league hitter hitting infield pop ups at that rate is if he’s playing through an injury and his swing isn’t quite right. (Think Jason Heyward in 2011.) Upton’s incredible rate is the product of more bad luck, and as he starts hitting fewer infield flies, his average should shoot up.
Upton is also 28, which means he’s right in the middle of his prime. He’s stolen at least 31 bases in each of the last five seasons. UZR generally likes his range in centerfield. There is nothing to indicate that his athleticism is slipping. Upton is a prime buy-low candidate – expect him to dramatically improve over the course of the season.
Dan Uggla is also not a guy who will hit for a high average. He is also the owner of a .252 batting average. He is however, about as bad as his .198 average would suggest. He has a .271 BABIP this year, which yes, is a little lower than his career mark of .291, but it’s not that horrible. It’s not .198 batting average horrible.
Since the Braves traded for him before the 2011 season, Uggla has never hit above .233. His strikeout rate has increased every year, and now it sits at 34.1 percent, which means he strikes out once in every three plate appearances. That is also the worst rate in the National League.
Uggla’s value has always been in his power. His first year with the Braves, he hit 36 homers. Last year, the number was nearly halved and he hit 19. His ISO, which eliminates singles to measure a batter’s power, dropped from .220 to .164. He looked like the same Dan Uggla, just with less power. That’s not good.
Uggla is 33, so he’s definitely past his natural prime. He has always been a terrible fielder, and he still is today. He’s already showing signs of decline, and the aging curve suggests that is only going to continue. He might not be the Braves starting second baseman next year, let alone in 2015, the last year of his contract. Do not expect Uggla to regain his 2006-2011 form.
Editor's Note: This article was written before today's Braves/Reds game, the one where Dan Uggla hits two bombs. You know, because a single outlier two homerun game TOTALLY changes 30 games-worth of data about his batting average, strikeout rate, lack of overall extra-base hits, lack of fielding, making little Atlanta children cry, etc.