With all the Dan Uggla trade talk that’s been bandied about the last week or so, I thought it would be pertinent to bring up one of the more important angles with regards to trade talks. Recently, Uggla’s agent Jeff Borris said that Uggla would be reluctant to move positions if he were dealt, preferring to play second base. Teams that are interested in Uggla are considering moving him to either third base or even left field. Now, while there is something to be said about a player’s happiness when it comes to playing baseball, it is ultimately a team decision when it comes to where a player plays around the diamond. We all recall the situation Alfonso Soriano ran into with the Washington Nationals in 2006, when despite his claims of sitting out until he was put at second base, he still moved to left field when the Nationals did not budge on their position.
So, if and when Uggla is dealt, he will have to play whatever position his new team requires of him ultimately. Now, we know Uggla is a below average defender at second base, though depending on your source, how far below average is debatable. Beyond the Box Score’s Jeff Zimmerman has done UZR projections for each player, using a 5/4/3/2 and regressing 125 defensive games, and has Uggla at -3.4 runs in 143 defensive games. I did a similar method, including the Fans Scouting Report and regressing only 75 games for infielders, and got -4 runs per 150 defensive games, meaning that Jeff and I are more or less in agreement.
Now, in a vacuum, we would expect a shift to third base to not affect Uggla’s defensive numbers, while a shift to left field should in theory add ten runs to Uggla’s defense per 162 games (around nine runs in 150 games). Of course, those measurements were done based on a sample of players who played multiple positions, something Uggla has not done since his minor league days. So how can we determine how well Uggla can play at these positions if we have no data on him doing so? The Fans Scouting Report, when converted to runs, can give an estimate as to what we can expect to see out of Uggla’s defense in other positions.
Uggla at second base
The Fans have Uggla slowly declining at second base. In 2006, they agreed almost to a T with UZR, rating him at +6 runs (UZR had him at +7). In 2007, the Fans dropped him to -2.6 runs, and in 2008 he dropped to -4.2 runs. This year, the Fans were very harsh on Uggla’s defense, rating him as the eighth worst defensive second baseman in baseball, ahead of such luminaries as Ronnie Belliard, Delwyn Young, and Aaron Miles. Uggla actually ended up slightly behind St. Louis Cardinals‘ Skip Schumaker, who just started playing second base this season. That can’t be good.
Via these weights provided by Tom Tango, you can see the relative importance of each of the seven ratings on which each player is measured. It should be obvious that, for third base, arm strength is the most important aspect of the position. You can also see that instincts, first step, and hands are quite important as well, while speed is not. How does that bode for Uggla? Well, I used the weights to convert his 2006-2008 FSR ballots into runs/150 games. Here’s what I got.
2006: 5.7 runs / 150 games
2007: -3.4 runs / 150 games
2008: -3.6 runs / 150 games
This all generally coincides with the -4 run mark I have projected for him at second base. But the second base projection includes UZR data from this season. Where does Uggla stack up among the third basemen in baseball. There were 51 third basemen with ballots in the 2009 Fans Scouting Report. Here are Uggla’s 2009 ballot results for each of the seven rated categories, along with where Uggla ranks among third basemen and the median for third basemen in that category.
Category: Uggla’s Rating (Rank, Median)
Reaction/Instincts: 2.9 (T-35th, 3.3)
Acceleration/First Step: 2.4 (T-39th, 2.9)
Velocity/Sprint Speed: 2.5 (T-33rd, 2.8)
Hands/Catching: 2.8 (T-42nd, 3.4)
Release/Footwork: 2.9 (T-36th, 3.4)
Throwing Strength: 3.2 (T-38th, 3.8)
Throwing Accuracy: 3.1 (35th, 3.4)
Based on both the ranking and using median as a gauge to where the mean approximately is, I’d give a ballpark estimate of -8 runs per 150 games. Now, that’s just a broad estimate, but looking at these numbers, Uggla compares very closely to players like Garrett Atkins and Mark Loretta, two players who are rated below 3 out of five overall. Atkins and Loretta are rated as the 10th and 11th worst third basemen in baseball, but Uggla appears to rate somewhat higher than those two. If I were to project Uggla’s using this estimate and the previous season’s data, I get a weighted projection of -3.8 runs per 150 games without any regression to the mean. Of course, he has not played any games at the position, so I did not attempt a regression, but my instinct says that this estimate is a bit high.
I did the same sort of study for left field. Looking at the left field weights, you can see that arm is not as important in these positions as speed and range, things Uggla appears to be lacking. Taking his 2006-2008 data, I got the following values:
2006: 5.6 runs / 150 games
2007: -2.8 runs / 150 games
2008: -3.7 runs / 150 games
These values are very similar to the third base ratings, signaling that Uggla would be not significantly better or worse at either position. In the FSR, there were 61 left fielders recorded.
Reaction/Instincts: 2.9 (T-29th, 2.9)
Acceleration/First Step: 2.4 (T-51st, 3.1)
Velocity/Sprint Speed: 2.5 (T-48th, 3.3)
Hands/Catching: 2.8 (T-48th, 3.2)
Release/Footwork: 2.9 (T-29th, 2.9)
Throwing Strength: 3.2 (T-27th, 3.1)
Throwing Accuracy: 3.1 (T-26th, 3.1)
These numbers suggest that Uggla is around average when it comes to throwing for left fielders, but he rates quite low compared to other left fielders in the most important categories for outfielders. Looking at comparable players, Jason Bay appears to be a decent comp, though that does not speak well for Uggla. I’m going to give an estimate of -5 runs per 150 games. If that were the case, we would get a projection of -2.6 runs per 150 games in left field. This would certainly not be bad, but it would drop Uggla into the 2.5 WAR range in terms of production after the change in positional adjustment.
(Given the Bay and Atkins comparisons in left field and third base respectively, do not be surprised if Uggla is around -8 or -9 in either position. A fair warning. These are JUST SPECULATION)
These numbers should be taken with a grain of salt. When the 2009 FSR data is converted into the 0-100 scale again, I’ll use the relative weights to determine a proper estimate of Uggla’s 2009 defense in the other positions. Also, 2006 and 2007 data was based on less than ten ballots each, so I think the data may not be as significant as the 2008 and 2009 data, as those were based on ballot counts of 15 or more. There are holes in this study, but I just wanted to insert some numbers into the equation. Remember, the 2009 numbers are JUST SPECULATION.