The Value of Dan Uggla

Brian Garfinkel

You hate watching him strike out, but is he better than you think?

Dan Uggla is no one's favorite player.

Uggla strikes out a ton. He doesn't hit for average. He doesn't even get close to hitting for a good average. He's a terrible defender at second base with poor range, stone hands, and atrocious arm accuracy. On top of all that, he's one of the highest paid players on the team who makes $13M this year and will make the same amount in 2014 and 2015.

And yet, there's value to Mr. Swedish for Owl. While he doesn't hit for average, he takes an absurd amount of walks that keep his OBP over league average, and he adds 30 home runs a year. While he might be the worst defensive second baseman in major league baseball, he can still man the position, and there aren't a whole lot of baseball players who can say that. And while the contract isn't ideal, few free agent contracts are, and you could make the argument that Uggla has been close to or even worth his contract.

Since joining the Braves for the 2011 season, Uggla has hit .221/.326/.422, which is good enough for a 107 wRC+. wRC+ is a metric used to weigh offensive events - outs, BB, 1B, 2B, 3B, HR - and compare them against the league while also including park factors. The average is 100 with anything above 100 being "above average" and vice versa. That means Uggla is an above average major league hitter. The thing is that second basemen aren't league average hitters on the whole. It's hard to find guys that can man that position, even capably, and when you have a smaller population to pull from, it's harder to find 30 guys to do as well as other positions that have more possible choices - e.g., first base where pretty much anyone can play. The average second baseman has hit .253/.315/.376 over the 2011-2013 time period, good for an 89 wRC+. Despite the poor batting average, Uggla's walks/OBP and power more than make up for the low average.

The other thing Uggla does capably on offense is run the bases. While he's certainly not a burner - never stolen more than 6 bases in a season - he's a heady baserunner who has enough speed to take the occasional extra base. For his career, he's always graded out around average according to most baserunning statistics - FanGraphs, Baseball Prospectus, and Baseball-Reference all put him slightly over the average. He doesn't steal many bases, but he's apparently taking extra bases when he can on his teammates' hits, though he grades out slightly lower than the average second baseman here.

As for Uggla's defense, there is no defense. He's awful. Only Jose Altuve and Rickie Weeks have been worse than Uggla over his 2+ seasons as a Brave. It's not good company to be in, but like I said earlier, it counts that he can actually hold down the position. If you put Freddie Freeman, Chris Johnson, Evan Gattis, etc. there, they would likely be - if you can believe it - worse than Uggla. Being able to play it - even poorly by MLB standards - counts because there are still a lot of other players who couldn't do it that well.

There is one quality we haven't talked about yet - durability. Over those same 2+ seasons, Uggla has played the third most games, beaten out by only Robinson Cano and Ben Zobrist. If you play a little above average and provide positive value, accumulating playing time makes you a more valuable player. You might not like the aesthetics of what you see, but at least Uggla is out there every day.

But how does Uggla grade out overall? Over his 2+ seasons, he's been worth 6-7 wins according to FanGraphs, and considering his BABiP is about 40 points low for his standards along with batted ball rates that are similar to his career marks, he'll probably be worth about 8 wins in three seasons. Looking at the going rate for wins on the open market, which is about $4.5M per win, that means Uggla has been worth about $36M - slightly over what he's been paid for those three seasons. Is he likely to continue to be worth his contract? Probably not, but considering most free agent contracts are terrible in terms of value, Uggla's really hasn't been that bad.

If you would like another second baseman, I ask who you would like to have. Out of the 27 second basemen who have the amount of ABs to be "qualified" (meaning at least 3.1 AB per game possible in that span), Uggla ranks 12th in terms of WAR. If I switch the parameters to WAR per 650 PA - essentially looking at the rate at which players accumulate wins - Uggla grades out 14th among those 27. The players above him aren't players the Braves are likely to be able to acquire - maybe Chase Utley.

Uggla doesn't do it prettily. He strikes out a ton, and that's frustrating to watch. He makes a bunch of errors and poor defensive plays, and that's frustrating to watch. And those things happen more often than the good things he does - walks, home runs, taking extra bases - and that's frustrating, too. But the thing to remember is that the things that Uggla does well count for more than the things he does not - you can basically say this for the Braves as a whole; they aren't always pretty, but they get the job done. And Uggla's done those things well enough to be worth his contract to this point. Dan Uggla is not a bargain, but he's not an albatross, either.

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