Saturday, July 6, 2013

Atlanta Braves 2013 Myths: Part IV

Time for another Walk-Off Walkmythbusting adventure. Today, let's specifically go over one player who has been the target of tremendous derision from Braves fans.

1. Atlanta doesn't make productive outs because of strikeouts.
2. Atlanta seems to fall behind early and has to play catch-up.
3. Atlanta can't win if they keep striking out so much!

4. Anyone would be better than Uggla!

We have all heard it.  A good number of us have thought it.  Still more have said it.  Due to his inability to perform at the level he routinely reached as a member of the Florida Marlins, Dan Uggla has been one of the most disappointing performers of the last three seasons and often, that makes fans wonder about alternatives.  Like a QB without a Super Bowl win, suddenly everyone would be a better choice than Uggla.  Is that true?

Well, admittedly, this is subjective.  Better is an imprecise term that is a reflection of the person using the term.

Except in this case because the Braves DO NOT HAVE A BETTER OPTION than to play Uggla.  There, it's said and it's quite simply the truth.  There are two ways of looking at it.  One, the less obvious way, is that despite all of his struggles, Uggla has remained, at the very worst, an above-average option at second base in his two-and-a-half years in Atlanta.  All stats were entering Friday's contests. 

Cats BB% ISO wOBA WAR
Uggla 12.5% .195 .327 6.2
2B Rank 2nd 2nd 13th 13th

In no way does that mean Uggla has produced at the level expected from him when he was acquired before the 2011 season and subsequently inked to a 5 year, $62M contract.  He has been a massive disappointment and I'm sure he would tell you as much.  And I'll grant you that his WAR is likely inflated by an unlikely 4.2 UZR last season, second-best of his career.

However, the idea that Uggla is one of the worst second-basemen in the game is simply misguided.  27 different second-baseman qualified for this and Uggla was at least average in most categories.  So, finding a replacement for him that is noticeably better than him isn't quite as easy as people think.  Of the 12 that are ahead of him in WAR, the expected names of Cano, Kinsler, Utley, Pedroia, Phillips, and Zobrist are among them.  As are young cornerstones like Jason Kipnis and Neil Walker.  Finding a 2B who can put up consistent 2 WAR seasons seems easier said than done.

The more obvious way of looking at this is who would conceivably replace Uggla at second?  Ramiro Pena was suggested before his injury and Pena had definitely played significantly better than ever before.  Fredi Gonzalez called him an NL-player.  I don't know if that's really a thing, but Pena was outperforming his Yankees years by a great margin before hitting the DL.  In fact, his .335 wOBA would have ranked as his best season of his career, minors or majors, outside of a 55-game run in AAA in 2011.  However, he still wasn't truly outperforming Uggla by a great degree like some might think.  And unlike Pena, Uggla has done this for a full season at the majors.

But with Pena gone, this really shouldn't be a discussion, yet with the promotion of Tyler Pastornicky as essentially Pena's current replacement on the bench, some have flirted with the idea that Pastornicky would be a suitable replacement for Uggla.  After all, Pastornicky makes more contact!  And he slashed his way to a .309/.351/.429 run at AAA this year.  However, now in 207 major league PA, Pastornicky has a .266 wOBA with 10 EBH.  Yes, I will grant you that Pastornicky will make considerably more contact that Uggla and possibly, in certain situations, that might make Pastornicky an attractive option, though that skill is considerably lessened by Uggla's walk-rate.  Pastornicky is unlikely to do a better job at making fewer outs and gives you little else.

That leaves us with Uggla and he is signed through the 2015 season and the smart money is, unless he gets injured before then, he will play a good 350 more games at second base for the Braves.  Fans will often get stuck on his average and the money he receives and yell "Struggla!"  But remember that a player is not paid for what he does today, but what he did yesterday.  The contract he signs has no true bearing on the production to follow outside of incentive clauses.  It is a symbol of the player he was when he signed and what the market called for.

For all of his warts, Uggla is not easily replaceable, nor, as the myth states, is anyone anywhere better than him.  In fact, to find a second baseman that is clearly better is quite rare.  He may not be the Uggla we want, but the Uggla we have is still better than half of the guys trying to find a long-term home playing second for much worse teams than the . 

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