Pondering Dan Uggla replacements


It may still be early to think about replacing Dan Uggla, but if he’s thinking about being traded, why shouldn’t I?

“I kind of thought about it the other day,” Uggla said. “You get kind of sad because this is the team that gave me my first shot in the big leagues, and I made a lot of friends here.”

Uggla is as cognizant as anyone that he might become too pricey for the Marlins to keep in 2010, when his salary could go as high as $8 million through salary arbitration. As such, there’s a good chance the Marlins will trade him and fill his spot at second base with either Chris Coghlan or Emilio Bonifacio.

It’s true that Uggla’s arbitration figure is likely to be very high and that the team probably won’t want to pay that much for a player not in the club’s long-term plans. After all, Uggla is 29 bordering on 30 and going into his second year of arbitration. In a few years, when he reaches free agency, he’ll be 31 bordering on 32 and the Marlins most certainly won’t pay for his services. There is something to be said about taking advantage of two of his cost-controlled but high-priced years by dealing him to a team that will be able to afford it.

But what will we do to replace Uggla? Let’s look at the options that were mentioned in the article and see what kind of net result we can expect. First, I’m going to assume for the purposes of this exercise that the return for Uggla will not involve any major league position players. This means all options to replace Uggla will be in house. This is also fairly accurate, as the Marlins are likely to get prospects back and would be more interested in pitching since their farm is deep in position players at the moment. The two options mentioned were current Marlins starting left fielder Chris Coghlan and deposed Marlins utility man and subject of the ire of many Marlins fans Emilio Bonifacio.

The easiest projection I can make is involving Bonifacio; the Marlins would simply replace Uggla at second base with Bonifacio. A while back, I did a projection of Uggla’s performance to see if he’d be worth arbitration (he was). Since then, his offense has improved, so I’ll fudge up an update that projection a bit. ZiPS has him ending the season with a .361 wOBA. Let’s make it .360. If it’s .360 and we apply the 8/4/2/1 and regression, we get a projected wOBA of .357, worth about 16 runs above average in 657 PA, his projected total for this season. Even though it’s likely that Bonifacio will receive more PA’s then Uggla (thanks Fredi!), to make it easier I won’t adjust the PA. Next, I generously gave Bonifacio a .300 wOBA for next year. I say it’s generous because he was a good deal worse than even that this season. If you do a projection and regression using just his rookie year data, it’s actually almost right; I got a .297 projected wOBA, so I’m being nice. In 657 PA, Bonifacio would be worth a whopping 32.6 runs worse than Uggla on offense.

Of course, that doesn’t count defense. In the projection I did before, I had Uggla at -5.2 runs per 150 games, but let’s make it easier on the two replacing him and call him -7 runs per 150. Looking at Bonifacio’s Minor League Splits defense page and using the Total Zone minor league adjustments to infielders as described by Total Zone creator Sean Smith himself, Bonifacio rates as a -4 second baseman per 150 games; in other words, not pretty. If that were the case, he’d be three runs better than Uggla in the field, making him a total of about 27 runs, or 2.7 WAR, worse than Uggla in the same amount of time. Not a good option.

The other option is a little more complicated. Moving Coghlan into second base, the position he primarily played in the minors, would involve replacing him in the outfield. The first part is easy. Taking only the seasons in which Coghlan registered more than 100 chances at second base, he has a regressed weighted average of -5 runs per 150 games at second base. That means he’s about two runs better than Uggla.

For the hitting part, we would have to consider the difference between Uggla’s offense and Coghlan’s outfield replacement’s offense. For the purposes of this exercise, let’s use my favorite bench guy Brett Carroll as the replacement. Carroll so far has shown a slightly better than league average bat in a very limited stretch, but that isn’t likely to stick; he has a terrible career line offensively when converted into major league equivalents. At this point, I’m inclined to give him a .300 wOBA as well, as in the minors he and Bonifacio appeared to be similar in terms of MLE production. That would also make him 32.6 runs worse in replacing Uggla in the lineup.

The last part is crucial in this equation. Throughout the minors and in his short stint (256 innings this year) in the bigs, the one thing Carroll has shown is an extremely above average glove at the corner outfield. Using just this year’s 12.8 runs above average in 39 defensive games worth of chances, you get a UZR/150 of 13.8 run above average. Similarly, we run a projection for Coghlan in left field and get a projected UZR/150 of -7.8 runs in the outfield. The difference is an astounding 22 runs more for Brett Carroll’s defense over Chris Coghlan’s in the outfield.

Of course, these are estimates, and you could expect Coghlan or Bonifacio to improve further in any of these areas, but this is all the data I have to work with, so these calculations are what I got (for what it’s worth, qualitatively Coghlan has improved slightly, but he still looks uncomfortable out there, and his UZR has not improved as the year has passed). Your tallies for each decision:

Emilio Bonifacio to 2B: -27 runs, or -2.7 WAR
Chris Coghlan to 2B, Brett Carroll to OF: approx. -7 runs, or -0.7 WAR

Both moves would be a downgrade, but the Marlins according to this would be much better off moving Coghlan back into the infield and giving Carroll an opportunity to start than throwing the black hole of Bonifacio into the lineup everyday. And given that the team is on the fringes of a playoff hunt now, every WAR is going to count ultimately. This offseason looks to be another crucial one in determining the direction of the Marlins organization and its chances for contention before the new stadium opens up.

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Tags: Brett Carroll Chris Coghlan Dan Uggla Emilio Bonifacio Miami Marlins

  • http://www.miamisportsgeneration.com Miami Sports Generation

    What about Jeremy Hermida and the rumors going around that he will be shopped too? Do you think there’s a possibility that the Fish do a sign-and-trade with Uggla and Hermida in a package?

    I’m sure that the Marlins can get some good value off both of those, particularly if they are sent off together. Instead of prospects, the Marlins need to start looking at veteran replacements that are ready now. The starting rotation is in need of an upgrade more than anything. I hope that the Marlins can make some smart moves and position themselves better for next season.

  • michaeljong

    MSG,

    I think Hermida is most likely gone as well. The way he’s been treated this season by the coaching staff, it’s a sign I think that they’re going to move past him. It might very well be a good idea, because he’s been really bad in the field and does not appear to be making strides towards being the above average hitter teams need from the corner outfield. He’ll be paid a bit more from arbitration and is not improving, so the Marlins will probably deal him.

    A package deal would be interesting, but it would require a team that has both needs at second and right/left field. Not sure who has that kind of need.

    I think we could use a league average starter to help eat innings, but the team probably feels that it needs to rebuild depth in the pitching department. If we get anyone major league ready, they’re going to have to be in their age 26 or 27 season and still cost-controlled. I don’t know who’s going to give that up. We’ll have to see, it should be interesting. I do think that Uggla himself can fetch a decent return; I think a package like the one the Pirates got for Nate McLouth is exactly what the Marlins could get in terms of prospects.

    What do you guys think? Veteran help or pitching depth in the farm?

  • http://www.miamisportsgeneration.com Miami Sports Generation

    If we can get a farm pitcher (or pitchers) that have greater upside than Sean West, Chris Volstad and company then I guess we should go for it. The reality is that great pitching wins playoff series.

    Look back at out 1997 and 2003 pitching staffs, we had at least three decent starters (at that point in their careers). Just in ’03 Beckett, Willis and Penny were studs. If we can get a crew like that with a 4th and 5th that can manage the game and eat innings, we are in good shape.

    I mean the MAIN reason why the Yankees have resurged was because they sured up their starting rotation with Sabathia and Burnett. It starts with great pitching, continues with great offense and finishes off with a solid bullpen – that’s a simplistic way to put it.

  • michaeljong

    MSG,

    I don’t know if we should be so quick to dismiss Volstad and West. Volstad is 22, West 23 (I think). Penny took years to develop into a solid starter. Beckett was an absolute phenom, but those pitchers, the ones who excel right out of the gate, are rare. We have one in JJ, two maybe in Ricky, our third or fourth pitchers have yet to be determined.

    Pitchers can indeed have a profound impact on a race because they’re the players who appear the most in playoff games, so I’ll definitely agree there. It’s more important to have that strong #1 and #2, and I think we have that. Our staff has the ability to find one solid #3 I think out of the guys we have, but the team’s farm lacks pitching, so it may be a good idea to stock up.

  • Stan Makowski

    Two years ago when we had 5 young pitchers excel, which one was best? No one above has mentioned him. Sanchez was possibly the choice. Yes, JJ and probably Nolasco have now passed him. However, I wouldn’t ignore him in any future evaluation. The kid’s (he will be 26 next Spring) been through hell in the past year and a half. This year has been mostly a downer, but there have been flashes of his old self. I’d put him right up there with West and above Volstad.

    In my opinion, we don’t need another innings eater. Not with the 5 kids mentioned and that Dutch boy and Tucker and Penn down on the farm and having major league potential. However, a trusted veteran who fits into occasional starts would be an excellent influence. John Smoltz would be a perfect fit.

    Notice how no one mentioned Miller. If he is still well thought of, then package him with Hermida and off they go and we add through subtraction.

  • michaeljong

    Stan,

    I think you’re valuing this year’s results a little too heavily. You can’t fault Volstad entirely for a 17% HR/FB (home runs/fly ball) rate, because that’s extremely high and those sorts of things are subject to a good deal of luck. According to Hit Tracker, which measures various parameters on home runs, 12 of the 28 homers Volstad gave up this season were categorized as “Just Enough,” with three of those additionally categorized as “Lucky.” I expect that to go down, and if it does, you’re looking at the strikeout and walk rates of an average pitcher.

    I know we have our disagreements on Miller, so I’d say that in his case, we’ve probably not seen enough to label him “bad” like I’ve more or less labeled Hermida. The only reason why I think Hermida should be dealt this year is that we’ve seen about three and a half years of the same production, and he’s going to be receiving more arbitration money.

    I suggested an innings eater, someone like a Randy Wolf or a Doug Davis, because we’re looking to protect our young arms. In addition, even with the depth we have, this year we’ve had to scramble for additional arms. Signing a low risk inning eater to a one-year deal can only help the club; instead of having to pitch an extra person between West, Sanchez, VandenHurk, or Miller, we can keep another one in the minors to work on his stuff. A rotation of JJ, Nolasco, Inning Eating Veteran, Volstad, Sanchez/anyone else would be a pretty good one, and the most beneficial perhaps for the development of our young starters.

  • Stan Makowski

    I wouldn’t mind either of the fellows you mention. Especiallly Wolf. However, you are ignoring one important point; Loria’s gold! I mentioned Smoltz in hopes that he would take an incentive type contract and don’t believe that our esteemed owner would permit anything else. Would love to be wrong.

    Please talk more about Sanchez, he was the real reason for my reply.

    Regarding Volstad: I have no stats one way or the other However, what’s more important? Where a HR is hit or when a HR is hit? I would be more concerned with how many were on base, etc. Solo home runs are of much less concern. Many great pitchers gave up many HRs but not so many when men were on base.I think of Robin Roberts, Bleleven and probably even Shilling. How about researching that part of his performance? Incidentally, I like Volstad a lot. I just like Sanchez and West even better. That could change.

  • michaeljong

    Stan,

    Who’s on base when a home run is hit is, in my opinion, fairly incidental. That is, if a guy gives up a single, walk, home run, and 3 outs, and another guy gives up 2 outs, home run, single, walk, and an out, were they really all that different performance-wise? I don’t think so. Where it’s hit is more indicative of him being hit hard or being unlucky, which could help us guess in the future what will happen to him. We want his home runs to go down.

    That being said, B-R.com’s HR Log and Splits have the data you’re looking for on the HR timing. 16 of 28 (57%) home runs Volstad has allowed this season have been with the bases empty. Comparitively, in the NL this season, 1373 out 2331 (59%) HR allowed have been with the bags empty. In addition, surprisingly Volstad has given up only 1 HR with more than one runner on. He’s also only allowed 1 HR with 2 outs.

    As for Sanchez, his numbers in ’06, much like Volstad’s in ’08, were a bit fluky. He didn’t strike out or walk a whole lot of people and gave up a few home runs, so his FIP was a bit better than average. After that, his seasons have been shot and since returning his strikeouts and walks are up. It’s simple for Sanchez; he needs drop the walks and become a Ricky Nolasco-like pitcher. He’s struck out around league average (18.5% this season) but he’s walking well over league average (11.5%, NL average 9.1%).

  • Stan Makowski

    Michael,
    Glad to hear V is at least league average. I would hope for better considering his home park and the RF power alley. Nonetheless, he’s just a kid so there is plenty of room for improvement. My opinion, which contrasts wih yours is that HR w/ no one on can be result of a pitcher somewhat coasting with a significant lead. We discussed “innings eaters” above and that is kind of what innings eaters do. A HR with runners on is almost always hurtful.

  • michaeljong

    Stan,

    Obviously home runs are always bad, no matter whether the situation is high or low leverage. The key is that I think that the types of homers hit (i.e. a good deal of them barely over the wall) and the fact that no pitcher is going to sustain a 17% HR/FB (league average is usually 10%) means that we should expect Volstad’s HR’s to drop. The question is how much, and whether he can help himself by adding a few more strikeouts and a few less walks. He already does a good job of keeping the ball on the ground to limit damage.

    The big usefulness I think to innings eaters is, IF THEY’RE AVERAGE PITHCERS, they provide a lot of value hopefully without a lot of money. A guy who throws a lot of innings, if he’s OK, will give you decent value over replacement. Unfortunately, some teams don’t identify the average ones from the terrible ones.