Buy Low: Dan Uggla
Monday June 6th, 2011
Let's just get it out of the way: Dan Uggla is struggling. This isn't the garden-variety two-week kind of scuffling, however. With a .172/.242/.312 triple-slash line (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage), Uggla's 553 OPS is sixth-worst among all MLB regulars who qualify for the batting title, a list which will soon, due to his time on the disabled list, lose the similarly struggling Adam LaRoche.
Also at the bottom of this OPS totem pole are defensive wizard Alcides Escobar and the charred remains of vetarans Miguel Tejada and Chone Figgins. So what gives with Uggla?
The first thing that jumps out with any buy-low candidate is their batting average on balls in play (BABIP). The league average generally runs right around .290 or .300, with some players able to consistently exceed that mark. Uggla's career mark is .293, comfortably within the realm of reasonable. This year, however, Uggla checks in at a ghastly .183, which is 22 points beneath the nearest worst hitter, the aforementioned LaRoche.
Plenty of things can cause lower than usual BABIP numbers. Typically, a hitter is striking fewer line drives than usual. In Uggla's case, this is certainly a factor at work against him. By hitting a line drive in 13.5 percent of his at bats, Uggla is almost a full three percent beneath his career mark. That no doubt accounts for some of the struggles, but not nearly enough to make Uggla's OPS drop into the .500s.
Another thing to check is groundball-to-flyball rates. In 2010, National League hitters had a .235 BABIP on groundballs and a .137 mark on flyballs. That doesn't really check out with Uggla either, since he's actually hitting groundballs at an unprecedented rate for his six-season major league career.
An additional factor that often springs up when a player starts slow is his strikeouts/walks ratio (K/BB). Uggla's walks are down to 8.1 percent (from a career mark of 10.6), but he's managed to cut his strikeouts to 20.9 percent (from a career rate of 25.6), so his overall K/BB ratio of 2.58 this season is not alarmingly worse than his 2.41 career mark. Thus, it's probably safe to rule that out.
A few other factors to figure with Uggla include his 12.9 percent pop-up rate, which is pretty much a no-win situation. That's a fair bit above his career mark of 8.6 percent and, when put in conjunction with his greatly diminished home runs per flyball rate (HR/FB), could spell tough times for a player like Uggla. Still, none of these mitigating factors should have caused Uggla a 300-plus point OPS decrease from last season. So now, it's time to pounce.
Fantasy owners will have to get a little creative, as Uggla is still owned in 97.6 percent of ESPN leagues, and 91 percent of Yahoo! leagues. I think owners are about ready to unload Uggla, though. He's already dropping in popularity in ESPN leagues (down from 100 percent ownership recently) and, since the calendar switched to June, panic may set in for owners thinking that an early season slump might be a full season letdown. It happened with Gordon Beckham last season too, as he flopped to a .216/.277/.304 first half slash before rebounding to a .310/.380/.497 line after the mid-summer classic. Uggla is a far more proven commodity than Beckham, and in order to get to his 162-game career averages (he typically averages games played per season in the high 150s, so this estimate should be close), he'll need to hit 24 more home runs, drive in 76 more runs, and hit a triple-slash of around .304/.391/.565 to get there. I think that's a bet worth taking.
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