Uggla's milestone achievement

A few days ago, Dan Uggla hit his 23rd home run of the season and seventh in the last week and a half. The home run was supposed to be special in that it was his 144th career shot, which put him in sole possession of the Marlins record for most home runs with the franchise (passing Mike Lowell).

First off, congratulations to Uggla, who has really made a name for himself as an above average player and solid major leaguer despite being a former neglected minor leaguer and Rule 5 draft pick. But as rewarding as it is to talk about Uggla’s humble beginnings in the majors, I’m more interested in his place in Marlins’ history. To that end, I wanted to draw comparisons between Uggla and two former Marlins who seemed like fitting comparisons.

The best 2B of Marlins history?

The first question is a positional one: is Dan Uggla the best second baseman in Marlins history? When talking about second basemen, there is only one other player in Marlins history to be considered, and that is Luis Castillo. Uggla and Castillo could not be drastically different in terms of their game. Uggla is a high strikeout, high power hitter with decent plate discipline. Castillo has never struck out more than 90 times in one season and has walked more than he has struck out in six different seasons. He also has never hit more than six homers in one year and 28 home runs in his career, just five more than Uggla has this season alone. Of course, Castillo more than makes up for his offensive shortcomings with his defensive prowess, whereas Uggla has been known as a defensive butcher at second base.

Here’s how the two players’ rWAR over the course of their time with the Marlins stacks up (data provided by Rally’s WAR database, but found at Baseball-Reference):

Player PA Off* Fld Pos Rep WAR
Luis Castillo 4966 17 35 22 130 20.1
Dan Uggla 3118 72 -35 14 83 13.6

*Includes batting, baserunning, ROE, and GIDP runs from Rally’s WAR calculations

Obviously, Uggla’s playing time precludes him from being as good as Castillo overall; Castillo played just about 400 more games and had about 1850 more opportunities at the plate than Uggla had as a Marlin. However, the numbers do support the idea that both player gathered value in completely different ways. Castillo was worth -18 runs with his bat alone according to Rally’s calculations, but made up for it with his baserunning (+12 runs) and avoidance of double plays (+19), while Uggla did all of his damage with the bat (+66). Meanwhile, coincidentally the two players were polar opposites on the defensive end, as Castillo was 70 runs better on defense than Uggla (a fairly believable number given their talents during this time period) over the course of their Marlin careers.

However, taking a look at the two players in terms of rate averages shows an interesting look. Castillo averaged 3.1 WAR per 162 games in his Marlins career, which is just a bit lower than Uggla’s 3.3 WAR/162 average. However, that rate includes seasons in which Castillo was very young and was perhaps out of his league playing in the majors. Looking at just their age 26-29 seasons (the last four years of Castillo’s Marlins career), Uggla pales in comparison. Castillo racked up 13.9 WAR in those seasons, averaging 4.1 WAR per 162 games, while Uggla had 11.2 WAR (3.2 WAR/162).

With these data points, it would seem that Uggla still falls short of Castillo in terms of best second baseman in Marlins history. However, the fact that he’ll be getting an opportunity over the next few years means that may change in the future.

The home run king

Since Uggla just surpassed Lowell, I figured taking a look at those two players would be an interesting comparison as well.

Player PA Off* Fld Pos Rep WAR
Mike Lowell 4003 27 24 12 110 16.4
Dan Uggla 3118 72 -35 14 83 13.6

*Includes batting, baserunning, ROE, and GIDP runs from Rally’s WAR calculations

Lowell’s playing time advantage is not as large as Castillo’s, but it is still significant; Lowell played about 260 more games and had about 880 more PA than Uggla in their respective Marlins careers. Lowell was well known for being a good defensive third baseman, but the record according to Rally’s TotalZone metric implies that he is simply above average, though in later seasons he put up well above average years with the glove. Until 2003, however, Lowell’s bat had never really been impressive. Despite accumulating 76 home runs in his first four seasons as a Marlin, Lowell had accumulated just 14 runs above average in that time span. In his 2003 and 2004 seasons, Lowell busted out, batting .283/.358/.517 and hitting another 59 homers.

Despite that power bat, Lowell’s offensive value was sapped by a number of other downsides, according to Rally’s calculations. According to Rally, Lowell was 23 runs below average in avoiding double plays and reaching on error, both unsurprising given Lowell’s slow foot speed and injury troubles during his time in Florida. On the other hand, Uggla was able to avoid this problem by being mostly average in these non-batting departments.

Uggla and Lowell are basically even in WAR/162 rate, at 3.3 and 3.2 WAR/162 respectively. Looking at just their age 26-29 seasons, the comparison remains similar, as Lowell averaged 3.4 WAR/162 during that time. I find this comp particularly interesting because Lowell was traded from the Marlins to the Boston Red Sox after his age 31 season, which is around where Uggla will be. From there, Lowell went on to have two or three more good seasons for the Red Sox, and this is what the Marlins are hoping for from Uggla if the team indeed extends him for the next three years.

If Uggla were to be extended for the next three seasons, with an average 0.5 WAR/year decline starting at a projected 3.0 WAR next season, he will end his Marlins career with about 21 WAR, being the fourth Marlin to surpass the 20-WAR mark. His skillset is less likely to age as well as Lowell’s, but the lack of injury compared to Lowell may be on our side if an extension does come. It remains to be seen, but Uggla’s work will likely leave him some legacy among the best Marlins in the team’s brief history.

Tags: Dan Uggla Luis Castillo Miami Marlins Mike Lowell

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