The ‘Anyone But Uggla’ Myth…

After Dan Uggla‘s recent continued struggles at the plate, many fans have taken to the FaceTweeterBlog-osphere calling for him to replaced in the lineup–by anyone. In and of itself, this probably does not seem like a bad idea. Since his arrival in Atlanta in 2011, Uggla has a batting average of .211. Combine that with an average of 20 HR and 56 RBI per season since he’s been here, and Uggla looks more like Rob Deer every day. The fans have grabbed their pitchforks and are calling for Uggla’s head, demanding he be replaced by this nebulous ‘anyone’. But is that really feasible?

The problem is two-fold. First, Uggla has actually been right at an average to slightly above average offensive producer since he has been here, when you factor in the position he plays. Since 2011, Dan Uggla has a .714 OPS in Atlanta, slashing .211 / .318 / .396. He also has a wRC+ of 99. Uggla has been a strikeout machine, though, with a K Rate of 27.0%. By comparison, the average second baseman in the NL over that same time frame has has a .623 OPS (.255 / .315 / .308), with a wRC+ of 90 and a K Rate of 17.6%. Among all second basemen who have accumulated at least 7f0 plate appearances since 2011, Dan Uggla ranks 8th among 23 NL second basemen with a WAR of 5.7. While Dan Uggla has been less than expected–maybe even bad–he hasn’t been awful, considering the alternatives.

And what are those alternatives? That’s the second part of the “play anyone but Uggla dilemma”. The Braves have Ramiro Pena and Tyler Pastornicky on the bench. Both Pena and Pastornicky are career backups, and a look at their numbers may indicate why. Pena can play 2B/SS/3B equally well, and is capable of playing 1B or a corner OF spot if pressed. In many ways, he’s very similar to Martin Prado and Omar Infante, two super-utility types whom the Braves previously had and seem to covet. Pena has trouble with LHP, with a career OPS of .359 (.144 / .184 / .175) against lefties, versus a .681 OPS (.267 / .306 / .375) against righties. In games he has started, Pena has an OPS of .588 (.227 / . 267 / .321), versus an OPS of .718 (.298 / .337 / .381) as a sub. Pena is a good bunter, a smart base-runner, and has good baseball ‘awareness’. His ability to play multiple positions effectively and lay down a good bunt make him a valuable bench piece late in the game. Fredi Gonzalez has hinted that Pena is more valuable to him as a bench player than he is as a starter because of all the options and flexibility a player with Pena’s skills provides him when making moves.

Tyler Pastornicky doesn’t have such disparate platoon splits (.625 OPS v RHP, .607 OPS v LHP), but his defense is far from ideal. Pastornicky can play 2B/SS, and he has played some CF for experience, but he is a poor defender at each. He does have good speed, and he can get a bunt down. Pastornicky ideally would be used as a PR/Sac Bunt specialist, with the odd start against LHP. He has played regularly before and proved incapable of getting the job done, and it was ultimately his inability to perform as an every day MLB shortstop that opened the door for Andrelton Simmons.

Another option, and the one many fans are waiting on, is the call up of prospect Tommy La Stella from Gwinnett. La Stella has been successful with the bat at just about every level of pro baseball. He had a good spring in the Atlanta camp, although he tailed off at the end (notably, when more teams are playing their likely MLB talent more often). La Stella is hitting .297 / .379 / .322 at Gwinnett. However, facing the better AAA pitchers has sapped his power, as he only has 3 extra-base hits in 140 PAs. Normally, La Stella is gap doubles hitter who sprays the ball all over the field. He has a good eye and will draw walks without striking out too much. There has been a lot of question about La Stella’s defense, with various reviews calling it anywhere from terrible to simply below average.

When compared to his peers using a real metric (i.e. not batting average), he has actually been a serviceable, middle of the pack second baseman. The issue with that, however, is that the Braves didn’t obtain him, and then give him a hefty extension, to be a middle of the pack producer. Uggla’s superior power and run production were the impetus behind the trade and subsequent extension and raise. But the alternatives–the as yet unnamed ‘anyone’–aren’t viable options for a team expecting to contend for a World Series. A team doesn’t improve by getting rid of a bad option and giving more playing time to a worse option. There is a small chance Uggla could regain some form of what he was, but even if he doesn’t, he has still been a better option with the bat than the available alternatives.

That, however, was the Uggla of 2011-2013. The 2014 version is not walking or hitting for power when he does hit, and he is still striking out at incredible rates. The Braves will likely move to replace Uggla on the field with some form of a three-way platoon involving Pena, Pastornicky, and Uggla. This will allow all three players to get semi-regular playing time, and it will allow Fredi Gonzalez to make gameday match-up decisions. Eventually, someone will be moved from the roster to make room for La Stella, and I expect La Stella to be the Braves’ starting second baseman for most of the second half of the season. Will he hit? Can he play defense? That is yet to be determined, but there is no reason for the Braves to hold off in finding out.

One could argue that Uggla should be replaced in the lineup. But saying ‘anyone’ would be better hasn’t been shown to be the case.

About Chris Jervis 69 Articles
Chris Jervis is an accountant in the Atlanta area. He's long had an interest in baseball, and, being a numbers nerd, loves analyzing player performances. He also likes to argue and is kind of an ass.

2 Comments

  1. The problem with your analysis is that it treats “2011-2013” Uggla as if his performance has been consistent over that time, when in fact it has continued to diminish year by year, by most metrics. Consider the following, in order from 2010 to 2014:

    OPS+: 131, 107, 98, 83, 43
    Avg: .287, .233, .220, .179, .184
    K%: 22.1, 23.2, 26.7, 31.8, 27.4
    BB%: Very good in 2012/2013 at about 14-15%, now about 5%

    After posting a -1.3 bWAR last year, he’s already posted a -0.5 in about 1/5 of the season, putting him on pace to be worse than a -2.0 bWAR player.

    Considering the long term trends, the odds of any significant improvement have got to be virtually zero, right? I mean, he won’t finish the season with a 43 OPS+, if for no other reason than he has been unlucky on his timing for smacking deep flys that would have gone out in most stadiums or under most wind conditions, but his performance in 2013 was horrible, and it’s actually been worse so far this season.

    Would a full time Pena or Pastornicky be better? Don’t know. Probably a little. Would a full time La Stella be much better? Don’t know, but wouldn’t a guy who has been an on-base machine at every level of the game (even hitting .297 in AAA he has an OBP of about .385 and still walks more than he strikes out) be ideal to add to this ridiculously strikeout prone lineup?

    • Joe–

      This actually started out with a great thought in mind. Then I stopped mid-post and took my Mom out for Mother’s Day and came back to it later….with a completely different thought in mind, apparently.

      My primary point was that ‘anybody but Uggla’ is a common cry heard from fans, and then they point to his BA over 3 1/2 years here as proof he’s been awful. But realistically, he’s been about average, overall. There really haven’t been any viable options for the Braves to run out there every day…at least not until now.

      You are correct that he is in a continuing, worsening funk. The guy is pretty awful right now. Whether it is mental, mechanical, physical, or a combination, I don’t know…but it really doesn’t matter.

      Pena can’t hit LHP, so it would have to be a platoon. I have seen Pastornicky play enough to know that he is nothing more than the 24th player on most MLB rosters. But, I wouldn’t be averse to sending him down and bringing up La Stella and easing him into the role. Play Pena against RHP, and platoon Uggla and La Stella against LHP. Or leave Uggla on the bench as a power threat late in the game. Or play La Stella full time and sit or DFA Uggla.

      The Braves have options, but those options are going to have to entail less Uggla. The title and first part of the post started out as an answer to certain fans But clearly, as you mentioned, Uggla now is a poor option in nearly any scenario. Which option is the best? Well,that’s not my job to figure out.

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