Thursday, June 14, 2012

For Dan Uggla, Patience is a Virtue

Its been a tale of two first-halves for Dan Uggla his past two years with Atlanta. Every Braves fan remembers his horrendous first half last year. When July rolled around, Uggla was sporting a slash line of .178/.247/.340 to with 12 HRs, and 28 RBIs. Not something you'd pay someone even $62 to produce, let alone $62 million. Even his monster 2nd half could only bring his slash line to a career low .233/.311/.453.

Turn the calender over 1 year, and we see a completely different Dan Uggla. He is running away with lead in the All-Star voting for 2nd basemen, and leads NL  2nd basemen in WAR with 2.5 (which already matches his WAR total for the entirety of last year). He leads all 2nd basemen in OBP at .386, is tied for first with Cano in HRs, and is 2nd in wOBA (.367) and wRC+ (132), just barely trailing Robinson Cano in each.

Through June 2011 2012
Avg .178 .260
Obp .247 .386
Slg% .340 .471

So what accounts for the stark differences between the two first halves? Some of it is certainly luck. Uggla was ridiculously unlucky before the All-Star break last year, holding the lowest BABIP of all qualifying hitters in the majors at .187 - far lower than his current .326. So more of his hits are simply finding holes.

But luck doesn't tell nearly tell the whole story. Much of Uggla's higher BABIP is due to his quality of contact. His line drive rate has jumped to a career-high 20.6% from last year's career low 15.4%, and his ground ball rate has plummeted from 41.2% to 32.9%.

Watching Uggla everyday, its easy to see why his batted ball profile has improved to his career best: plate discipline. Uggla seems to be taking more pitches, having much longer at-bats, and avoiding looking like a flailing rhino swinging at curveballs in the dirt. Uggla, taking a leaf out of Larry Wayne's book, has been watching pitches with a much more discerning eye, waiting for hittable pitches in the zone before swinging. Last year, he swung at over 27% of pitches outside of the zone, by far the highest rate in his career. That number is this year is down to 21.6%, according to Pitch f/x. This extra discipline has translated into a superb 16.5% walk rate (compared to last years 9.2%) good for 4th in the MLB. The best news from this is that his career-high OBP, bolstered by his career-high walk rate, is unlikely to regress to much to his career averages. Walk rate is one of the quickest hitter's stats to stabilize - discipline (once you've learned it) doesn't really fluctuate.  Lets hope Dan Uggla's continued production brings us to the division title.

We need one.

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