This is the 3rd in my series comparing the Braves' 2011 offense at each position to the rest of the NL and looking forward to the 2012 season. Part 1 focused on catchers and Part 2 focused on 1st basemen.
Say what you will about Dan Uggla, but at least you know what to expect when you have him on your team: huge power, a lot of strikeouts, a good walk rate, and just short of cover-your-eyes-awful defense at second base. Actually, you could say just about the same about Uggla's 2011 backup, Brooks Conrad. Except with even more strikeouts and even worse defense.
This article doesn't concern the defensive aspect of these guys' games, however, and when you just look at their offense, they come out looking really good. In fact, despite Uggla's terrible first half, he and Conrad formed one of the best-hitting groups of NL second basemen in 2011.
The graphic below uses Weighted Runs Created, a better version of runs scored or RBIs that is on the same scale as those stats. Please click on the graphic to expand it to full size:
Surprised to see that the Braves had the 2nd- or 3rd-best production in the NL from 2nd base? I know I was. More breakdown and look at Uggla's 2012 projections after the jump.
The story of Uggla's first season was one of two completely different halves. In the first half, he produced just 21.7 wRC, which put him on pace for just 46 wRC in a 700 PA season. As you can see from the graphic, that would be significantly worse than even the worst NL team's 2nd basemen.
Fortunately for the Braves, Uggla's hitting came around in a big way in the 2nd half. He actually produced 24 wRC in August, which was more than he had in the first 3 months combined. Overall in the 2nd half, he had 61.5 wRC in essentially the same number of PAs as in the first half. Over 700 PAs at that pace, that'd be a whopping 127 wRC. That's not just far better than any NL 2nd baseman produced this year, it's nearly equal to the numbers posted by the best NL hitters, like Ryan Braun, Matt Kemp, and Joey Votto.
As always with these wild swings in performance, Uggla's true talent level is somewhere in between the two extremes. He's averaged 96 wRC per season in his career, which is firmly in that middle ground, though it is a bit closer to 2nd half Uggla than 1st half Uggla.
As for 2012, Uggla seems to be a good bet to improve slightly based on his track record. Those 83 wRC from 2011 definitely seem anomalous (though so do his 110 wRC from 2010). Given that he's now past 30, you'd probably expect age to diminish his performance slightly, but not to a huge degree.
The three projection systems on FanGraphs (Bill James, RotoChamp, and the Fan projections) all believe Uggla will be worth 92 or 93 wRC in 2012. They all see him getting about the same number of PAs as he usually gets, too (650 to 673). He's been extremely durable in his career, so there's no reason to think he'll miss much time with injuries.
The ZiPS projections by Dan Szymborski are a bit more pessimistic; they project Uggla to hit just .248 / .330 / .451, which is a bit better than he did in 2011 (in OBP anyway) but lower than the other projection systems. I'd estimate that if Uggla hits like his ZiPS projection, he'd be worth about 86-88 wRC. That's certainly good for a 2nd baseman, but given Uggla's defensive weaknesses (and his salary), it's probably not enough to please Braves fans.
As for Conrad, he certainly hit well enough for a backup infielder. His 80 wRC per 700 PAs was above the NL average for 2nd basemen, in fact. Sure, he didn't do quite as well as he did in 2010, but he was still a useful bench bat.*
* By the way, ZiPS projects Conrad at only .223 / .296 / .386, which is much lower than the Bill James and Rotochamp projections, and also much lower than his career MLB line of .229 / .305 / .428. Presumably, ZiPS thinks Conrad's age (he'll be 32 in a few days) and limited skill set will come back to bite him. I hope not, though.
With Conrad now on the Brewers, the Braves' backup middle infield slot is a bit up in the air. Non-roster invitee Drew Sutton could certainly be an interesting piece, as he has good on-base skills. ZiPS projects Sutton at .238 / .320 / .355, which doesn't seem all that impressive, but also isn't terrible for a bench guy who can play a lot of positions, like Sutton can. There's also still a strong chance that the Braves will sign or trade for another infielder, presumably one who is a good defensive shortstop. That player may end up being Uggla's primary backup as well.
Regardless of who Uggla's backup is, the Braves' 2nd basemen should again be among the best in the NL next season. With the bat, anyway.
Next week, we'll cover shortstop, 3rd base, and right field, starting with shortstop on Monday.