Moving from first base around to the next station on the diamond, Marlin Maniac will now cover the Marlins’ second base situation. At the start of the offseason, the position was one of intrigue, as the candidates for play at the spot were unknown. However, as the offseason wore on, it became clear that one player would return and stabilize the position for 2010. Let’s take a look at that player.
Starter: Dan Uggla
Backup: Emilio Bonifacio
Minor league depth: Danny Richar
The Marlins came into this offseason intent on trading Dan Uggla. Despite a horrendous start and overall regression from the previous season, Uggla was still scheduled to make plenty of money in his second year of arbitration. As the offseason reached December and January and a decision on Uggla’s upcoming salary arbitration needed to be made, it became clear that the Marlins had very few interested takers on Uggla at the price the Marlins requested. As a result, he signed with the team for one year and $7.8M, a figure a tad lower than the $8M thrown around before the offseason began.
Uggla had about as bad a start of the season as any Marlin could have had, at least in the eyes of some fans. Through May 31, he was batting a paltry .208/.317/.428 slash line, good for a below average .321 wOBA. Now, you may point out that a .321 wOBA is not the worst thing in the world, and fans had plenty to complain about when it came to Emilio Bonifacio’s performance. Still, no one gets away with a .208 batting average in two months without receiving the ire of the fans, and Uggla was no different.
I pointed out early in the season that Uggla was suffering from an absolutely horrific .221 BABIP that, even for a player with a high number of fly balls in his batted ball profile, just wouldn’t stick for long. At the halfway mark, Uggla had improved to a .227/.340/.429 mark, which according to wOBA was around a league average hitter. Still, a .227 batting average would never go well with fans, and Uggla heard a lion’s share of disapproval. But I posted in my midseason review that Uggla was a player to watch for improvement, and improve he did: starting from July 1 to the end of the season, he batted .260/.371/.473, good for a .369 wOBA, almost as good as his 2008 season marks. His BABIP during this mark was a solid .313.
Uggla himself expected to be in another uniform by the start of the 2010 season, but says that he is relieved that he is still a Marlin. I too am relieved, as Uggla will likely be among the most productive players on the team once again this season.
Projection: 640 PA, 3.2 WAR
Uggla’s walk rate of around 14% won’t stick in 2010, but his vastly improved eye for the strike zone will once again get him around a 11-12% walk rate. And with Uggla surpassing the 30-homer mark for three straight seasons, there is a decent shot that you could see another season with orange- and blue-seaters deposited into left field at Sun Life Stadium. There are going to be two questions for Uggla to answer:
1) Will his doubles return to him?
2) Will his defense falter any further?
In the past, Uggla was a doubles machine, doubling in 9% of his balls in play. Last season, that dropped down to 7% and sapped a lot of his power numbers and extra bases. It will be interesting to see if some of that lack of doubles came from his relatively poorer BABIP luck in 2009 or whether we should expect fewer gap shots from Uggla. His baserunning still remains solidly above average, so his speed should not be the issue here.
On defense, of course, Uggla has never been a walk in the park. Last year, his glove was worth a very poor 10 runs below average according to UZR, and most scouts will agree that he is a subpar defender at second base. However, Uggla insists on not moving and right now the Marlins do not have much of a choice in shifting him to another position, so he’ll remain at second. CHONE projects a -7 season from Uggla, and that does seem mostly fair given his age and displayed skillset. However, if he goes down to levels we saw last season, the Marlins may not have long until they will have to either shift Uggla to third base, the outfield, or another team. For now, however, he will man the keystone once again.
The main bench option for the Marlins in 2010 is Bonifacio, who had a disastrous 2009 and should remain on the bench if only to maintain the sanity of the few remaining Marlins fans. Bonifacio is athletic enough to play any infield position, though in short playing time he has not excelled at any one spot. His weak bat should keep him on the bench for most of the 2010 season, but you never know with this team and Fredi Gonzalez’ infatuation with Boni’s speed.
Luckily for us, we probably won’t have to consider second base too much outside of Uggla. The Marlins second baseman has played in over 150 games three out of his four major league seasons and has not yet graced the DL. Of course, that doesn’t mean anything necessarily, but I imagine Uggla’s health is a skill and that he should be good for at least 145 games and 620 PA this season.