The Braves owe Dan Uggla $36 million over the next three years, and they’ll be lucky to come out only slightly behind on the deal. In all likelihood, they’ll come out way behind. In 2012 Uggla showed signs that foreshadowed the beginning of what may be a rapid and steep decline.
Braves fans, of course, were hoping that Uggla would improve upon his mildly-disappointing 2011 season—a season in which he managed to be both wretched and amazing at the same time. Unfortunately, Uggla’s hitting got worse, not better. Uggla this season replicated his streaky tendencies, but this time he countered a dreadful half with an only-merely good half. When it was all said and done, Uggla had posted a 103 wRC+, barely above league average. His isolated slugging, when compared with the previous five seasons, had plummeted. And while his walk percentage spiked to an elite 14.9%, his strike out percentage rose to a worrying 26.7%.
It wasn’t all disappointment, though. For a change, the defensive metrics actually liked Uggla. Both his DRS and UZR were positive for the first time since 2008, and that, when combined with the average hitting, allowed the brawny second baseman to post a respectable 3.5 fWAR and 2.7 rWAR. Each of those tallies, I’ll note, marked an improvement upon 2011, and if they’re to be believed, Dan Uggla was worth the money the Braves paid him this year.
The bigger question remains whether he will continue to be worth it. My fear is that he won’t. A decrease in power and spike in strikeouts and walks foretells, often, a decline in bat quickness. That’s what has me worried: if Uggla continues these tendencies, he will probably be a below-average player starting as soon as next season. The trouble, of course, is that the cash-strapped Braves are paying him to be at least good for three more seasons.
Ultimately, Uggla will have to regain some of his power and whiff a bit less often to maintain his value, as there is little reason to hope that he will continue to post positive defensive marks. We are, after all, talking about a guy whose career DRS is -43, and whose UZR/150 is -4.3. Those numbers suggest regression to the mean. They also suggest that Uggla’s value, as ever, will be tied to his bat.
Oh, and did I mention that he’s going to be 33 years old next year? Dan Uggla is going to be 33 years old next year.
Yes, I’m concerned.