How Bad Was Dan Uggla's Defense In His 1st Season With The Braves?

Braves fans saw a lot of this in 2010. At least no one can question Uggla's effort: look at those grass and dirt stains!

Before the season, I wrote a series of articles (here, here, and here) on Dan Uggla's notoriously poor defense and how it might translate to Turner Field. At the time, there was some hope that maybe he might not be as bad as the numbers (or scouting reports) implied, with the most common source of hope being that his UZR at home was far worse than his UZR on the road.

To sum up those posts, I found no persuasive evidence in support of that theory. I even went so far as to create my own defensive metric (Defensive Outs Per Year, or DOPY) to see if Dolphins Stadium had hurt the fielding of other 2nd basemen. My research found that over Uggla's 5 seasons in Florida, there was no noticeable negative fielding effect on 2nd basemen. However, I did find some fairly credible evidence that Turner Field was an advantageous park for both the Braves' 2nd basemen and their opponents'.

My final conclusion was that Uggla's "true talent" on defense was likely to be in the range of -6 runs per year. Add in the negative effects of aging, and you might expect it to be a few runs worse. So how did Uggla do in 2011, by the numbers?

Well, we can't say for sure with just 1 year of data, but the short answer is: probably just as bad as he did in Florida, and maybe a bit worse. The long answer awaits after the jump.

The Big 3 Advanced Metrics

Let's start by looking at what the advanced defensive metrics said about Uggla in 2011, compared to previous years. The graph below shows Uggla's Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR, found on FanGraphs), Total Zone (TZ, found on Baseball-Reference), and Defensive Runs Saved (DRS, found on either site).

Keep in mind that 1-year samples are inadequate for this sort of thing. This is just to give some context:

Uggla_adv_def_metrics_2006-2011_medium

Overall, the year-to-year numbers show about the same as the previous two years. His DRS went up a couple runs, but his UZR and TZ both went down. The average of the three stats was -10 in 2009, -9 in 2010, and -11 in 2011.

Okay, but you really need 3 years' worth of a defensive metric to make a solid judgment. That means we can't really say much about how good Uggla was or wasn't in 2011, but we can get a sense of how fast his defense is declining (if it is at all). This graph shows a simple 3-year running average for each stat:

Uggla_adv_def_metrics_rolling_avgs_medium

The trend is clear. Before this past season, Uggla's 3-year average indicated that he was around a -6 run player on defense, as all 3 metrics clustered around that number. Now, though, the most recent 3-year average indicates that he is around a -10 run player. Of course, the nature of these averages is that they lag behind actual changes in a player's skill level. Really, it'd be more accurate to say that Uggla was a -10 run player sometime around 2010. His true talent may be different now (and it's not likely to be better).

I like how all 3 metrics cluster together, with UZR and DRS (the more advanced stats) generally rating Uggla a couple runs above TZ (which is comparatively simple). If you trust any of these metrics at all, you'd have to say that Uggla's defense is around 10 runs--or 1 win--worse than an average 2nd baseman.

DOPY

Now let's talk about the metric I created, DOPY. In short, DOPY looks at the number of outs made relative to the average number of balls hit in the fielder's range. It pro-rates to a standard of 480 ground ball chances (80%) and 120 line drives or pop-ups (20%).

Because I don't have the data to break this down by individual player, DOPY uses the results for an entire team's 2nd basemen. This isn't a problem for analyzing Uggla, though, since he's an extraordinarily durable player. Uggla represented 96% of the Braves' defensive innings at 2nd base in 2011.

For a thorough explanation of how DOPY is calculated, read the notes at the bottom of this post.

Now to the results. Here are the DOPY values for the 2nd basemen on Uggla's teams. Remember, this is measured in OUTS, not runs, so you can't directly compare the numbers to UZR, DRS, or TZ.

  • 2006 Marlins: +5 outs
  • 2007 Marlins: -30 outs
  • 2008 Marlins: -7 outs
  • 2009 Marlins: -26 outs
  • 2010 Marlins: -18 outs
  • 2011 Braves: -20 outs

These trends certainly fit with the figures from the other metrics, which said that he was average to start his career, had a terrible year in 2007, bounced back in 2008, but then has dropped back down to awful levels the past 3 years.

Based on this data, I feel comfortable stating that Uggla makes about 20 fewer outs per season than an average 2nd baseman would. The rolling averages confirm this; the most recent 3-year period has him at -22 outs/year.

Notice that Uggla's DOPY did not change much from his last couple years in Florida. If Dolphins Stadium was killing his fielding ability, it doesn't show up in those overall DOPY numbers.

By the way, Uggla's home DOPY (-5 outs) was notably better than his road DOPY (-15 outs). This lends some credence to the idea that Turner Field really does help fielders. In addition, the DOPY of the Braves' opponents showed a similar split: -2 outs in their park, +5 outs at the Ted. Given that these trends have continued now for the 6th straight year, I'm starting to gain confidence in this defensive park effect.*

* For fun, I also ran the numbers for the 2011 Marlins 2nd basemen (mostly former Brave Omar Infante). They came in at +10 outs in Dolphins Stadium and +3 outs on the road. That's the 2nd straight year the Marlins' 2nd-baggers have rated higher at home. The Marlins' opponents also did better at home, +17 outs, than on the road, +5 outs. If there was ever a negative park effect for 2nd basemen at Dolphins Stadium, it certainly hasn't existed for the past couple years.

Unfortunately, Uggla only plays half his games at Turner Field, so there's a limit to how much it can help him. In fact, all it seems to have done in 2011 is mask a decline. If he had posted the same numbers at home as he did on the road, his DOPY would have been -30, tying his 2007 low point. We'll know more in a couple seasons, but right now I'd guess that Turner Field did help Uggla slightly, but that his skills also eroded slightly.

Conclusion

You may choose to believe, like a lot of fans I've heard, that Uggla's defense wasn't as bad as expected last year. The data is certainly not strong enough to deny such a possibility. No matter what you are basing your evaluation on, however, I think you'd be hard-pressed to say that Uggla was anything but bad defensively in his first Braves season. The debate is only over how bad.

I'd say he was about 10 runs or 20 outs worse than average, but there's a lot of room for error in those figures. What do you guys think? Let me know in the comments.

Looking toward the future, I don't see any reason to hope for improvement. He's getting older, and while I expect that he'll try to make adjustments to cope with aging, he'll only be treading water at best. Even if he's continues to get a 10-out boost from Turner Field, he'll still be well below average. And if he gets noticeably worse, he will be borderline unplayable at 2nd base long before the end of his contract.

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