Three Braves regulars haven’t done much to impress this season, at least from a result standpoint: Jason Heyward, B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla. It’s still too early to judge. Miguel Cabrera is slashing .250/.294/.396 so far, after all. But let’s assess these players and look at which of these players’ struggles are most concerning.
I think it’s pretty obvious that we should be least concerned about Heyward. He’s 24 with a career OBP of .350 and a career SLG of .438, all while playing some of the best rightfield (and sometimes centerfield) in the business and running the bases well. Even in his worst season, 2011, he posted an OPS+ of 93. It seems that Heyward has established himself as a low-batting-average player whose offensive value depends on walks and power, so it’s possible that if he has a down year in the power department, that could greatly affect his value. But odds are he’ll do enough to at least be close to average offensively and provide tremendous value on defense and on the base-paths. Health is always a concern, and has been throughout Heyward’s pro career, but that’s harder to predict than anything. Still, of the three early-season strugglers, I’ll bet on Heyward to provide the most value by seasons end, and that’s an easy choice.
We all are all too aware of B.J. Upton’s struggles a season ago. Upton is hitting .190/.242/.293 so far this season, although he’s looked much better lately. The thing about B.J. is that he posted a 105 OPS+ in Tampa as a centerfielder and, like Heyward, he’s a good baserunner. B.J. isn’t the defensive player that Heyward is but he’s a solid defensive player at a premium position. If he hits at all, he’ll provide some value. He obviously needs to hit better than he did last season but he’s in his age 29 season and he offers something in multiple aspects of the game. Even if he doesn’t bounce back to anything more than okay, somewhere-around-league-average production, he should offer something to the Braves.
The player that should cause the most concern is Dan Uggla. Uggla is the oldest of the bunch. He’s in his age 34 season. He’s been trending downward since 2010. As David Schoenfield of ESPN pointed out this week, here are Uggla’s batting averages and isolated power numbers against fastballs, since the start of 2010:
2010: .352 average, .251 ISO
2011: .255 average, .284 ISO
2012: .240 average, .184 ISO
2013: .224 average, .200 ISO
2014: .190 average, .000 ISO
So Uggla’s offense has been trending downward, he’s in his age 34 season, he’s never been a very good defensive player, and, although he’s a hustler, he rates as something like an average baserunner throughout his career. Players generally peak in their late-20’s and players without a lot of outstanding tools, without much athleticism compared to other major leagues and with the short, stocky body type of a Dan Uggla do not tend to age well.
The good news is Uggla is a power hitter with very good plate discipline, or at least has displayed those skills in recent years, even during his downward trend. Last year he hit 22 homeruns and in 2012 he led the league in walks. If he can put those two things together decently, he could repeat his 2011 season, in which he posted an OPS+ of 107. We’ll take that from a second baseman.
Another bit of good news is that the Braves won 96 games and a division title last season without getting much value from Uggla or B.J. Upton. If those two players bounce back at all, that would go a long way towards helping the team remain a threat for an NL East title repeat. The rest of the team isn’t all that different, and there is really no reason to expect major declines for the rest of the team.