September 08, 2012

Benching Uggla Not the Way to Go

Dan Uggla clearly hasn’t been the player the Braves hoped for. We can argue about whether they should have seen this coming. Personally I think giving him a contract extension was a mistake but I can’t blame them for wanting to shore up second base and the right-handed portion of their lineup with one of the better power-hitting second basemen in recent memory. If nothing else, you would have hoped he would give them power from the position. But he’s not even doing that.

I’ve been a proponent of the Braves exploring a trade for Uggla. I don’t think they would have to get all that much back for it to be worth their while, although it needs to be something significant. I know that’s rather vague, but what would make a trade worthwhile may depend on the Braves’ budget situation going in to next season and what they plan to do with the rest of the roster.

At any rate, even with Uggla’s struggles, benching him, at least against right-handed pitching, is probably not the way to go. On the season Uggla has a 91 OPS+ and got there with a .336 on-base percentage. Not great but not awful for a second baseman. With Uggla sitting, you have to figure Martin Prado will get the bulk of the playing time at second base, which of course is just fine. But that means Reed Johnson plays left field.

Johnson is basically league-average offensively, with a career 97 OPS+, which isn’t all that good for a left fielder. He’s just fine against left-handed pitching (.313/.369/.465 in his career) but he’s merely serviceable against right-handers (.267/.324/.382). If Johnson sits against righties, maybe the Braves go with Jose Constanza, Tyler Pastornicky (at second base) or Jeff Baker (at second base or left field). Neither of those options look all that much better than even a struggling Uggla.

Sitting Uggla against left-handed pitchers is fine. Uggla has actually hit a little worse, throughout his career, against lefties. The on-base is virtually equal but he’s slugged .482 against righties to .431 against lefties. Reed Johnson has been quite good against lefties, as has Jeff Baker (.297/.345/.503). So the roster is set up nicely to give the offense a boost, against lefties, by benching Uggla.

It’s fine to bet that Uggla isn’t the player he once was. In almost two full seasons with the Braves he’s had one good half-a-season. It seems pretty clear that Uggla is on the decline. It’s fine to bet that Reed Johnson or Jeff Baker will be better than Uggla against left-handed pitching over the course of the next month or so. But I’m not so sure the Braves should bet that Reed Johnson, Jeff Baker, Jose Constanza or Tyler Pastornicky are better than Uggla, against right-handed pitchers over the next month or so.

Admittedly we aren’t privy to all the information. Perhaps Uggla and the Braves are hiding an injury or something else that’s going on behind the scenes and that, based on that information, it is indeed a good bet that those other guys will be better than Uggla, in most situations. However, based on the information we have, the Braves should probably stick it out with Uggla in the majority of games for the remainder of the season.



2 Responses to “Benching Uggla Not the Way to Go”

  1. 1
    Mike Says:

    This is easy to say after his recent upswing in performance, but I agree with your argument. And to add to your reasons, if we want to deal Uggla in the off season, he will appear more valuable if he’s our guy at second for the rest of the year, especially if he shows a glimmer or two of hitting proficiency.

  2. 2
    Shaun Says:

    Mike, thanks for reading and commenting. Yes, as soon as I start this post and get it almost fully written, they decide to start playing Uggla again.

    I meant to write this but I forgot and left it out, but this kind of reminds me of the Heyward situation last year. It’s not that Uggla is having a good season. It’s that he’s the best option and he’s clearly the player with the most talent, of all the available options. So to me it seems inevitable that you pretty much have to keep running him out there. The best they could have hoped for by benching him is that they would be a tiny bit better and no worse, so what’s the point?

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