Dan Uggla and the lesson of BABIP (and other stories)

18/07/2014 § Leave a comment

Dan Uggla’s been released by the Braves.

That would be three-time all star Dan Uggla.

There’s $19 million left on a contract due to expire at the end of 2015. He signed the five year, $62 million deal with the Braves after his explosive 2010 season in Miami.

So what went wrong?

Actually, that should be ‘what went right in 2010?’

Here, kids, is a lesson on what hitters can control. They have influence over vectors of batted balls, both in terms of height (fly, line or ground balls) and direction (pulled, opposite field). Not complete, but some.

Uggla’s put up a career .285 BABIP. In other words, when he makes contact, he’s avoiding outs 28.5 per cent of the time. That’s pretty decent. The thing, of course, is how often does he swing the bat and what is he trying to do with his contact?

Well, as Grant Brisbee noted last year, Uggla is one of baseball’s most disciplined batters at the plate. He doesn’t chase pitches.

But it also seems he’s a below-average hitter on pitches in the zone. (In 2013, Brisbee notes, he made contact with 75 per cent of pitches in the zone, against a league average of 87 per cent.)

When Uggla swings, he’s swinging for the fences.

He’s shown consistent power since reaching the majors in 2006, raking 233 homers in 8+ seasons.

Let’s focus in on that 2010 season. He hit .287/.369/.508 and belted 33 homers. The home run total wasn’t far off what he’d managed to that point in his career – in fact he hit 36 his first season in Atlanta – but his BABIP in 2010 is the big, fat note here: .330, the best of his career.

He still had a solid season in 2011, getting a fair amount of power despite a below-career-average .253 BABIP.

But then it all started falling apart in 2012. He started popping up more balls (the trend actually began in 2011). Why, you ask? Brooks Baseball gives us a clue: he struggles on hitting offspeed pitches. And, surprise-surprise, he’s seen fewer fastballs since 2011.

The moral: Dan Uggla can control the ball when he sees fastballs. If he can’t, he’s done.

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