Uggla remains stubborn about his defense


Dan Uggla is a good player. On the back of a .279/.360/.501 slash line and .374 wOBA (a career high), he is on his way to his second 4+ WAR season. He and the Marlins are working on an extension that is likely to keep him locked into second base for us for another three seasons.

At least, that’s what Uggla hopes happens to him. He certainly is insisting he is good enough defensively to stay at the position.

“The only reason those rumors are out there are because of the All-Star Game in 2008,” Uggla said. “That’s the only reason why people think I’m a bad second baseman. The people who actually watch me play second base, and the people who follow the game, they know I can play second base. My range hasn’t gotten any worse than when I broke into the league and I was getting Gold Glove votes.”

During his forgetful 2008 All-Star Game, he committed three errors and went 0-for-4 at the plate.

Subtract that night, and Uggla’s been remarkably consistent — at the plate and in the field. He’s also respected by his peers and teammates for his all-out hustle.

Uggla is an excellent player, but what he says here cannot possibly be correct. Uggla’s defense is not known as “bad” because of the All-Star Game, but rather because it isn’t very good.

Before the All-Star Game

Uggla is right in that people only recognized him as a bad second baseman because of the All-Star Game. Of course, that’s mostly because most people weren’t really aware of Uggla before that, at least in terms of the media. As a Florida Marlin, Uggla stayed mostly under the radar until that appearance in the All-Star Game. However, it does not mean that Uggla was a good defensive player before that appearance.

Let’s ignore the defensive stats for now and go strictly into scouting. In order to get a sense of how Uggla’s defense was judged by the media, I searched “Dan Uggla defense” on Google and looked at only search results between 2006 and 2007. Of the actual relevant results I received, only two held reviews that could be construed as positive. Indeed, none were negative, as the majority of them were from the official Marlins website on MLB.com. The majority of the results yielded articles that said that Uggla’s defense at second was “improving.” There were no articles from sources outside of either local papers or the official Marlins website.

Since there were few media articles regarding Uggla, it was very difficult to find some scouting consensus on his defense. Here’s what Baseball Prospectus’ 2008 Annual (before the 2008 season) mentioned about him.

As with [Miguel Cabrera], our defensive system may be overly generous to him, as the consensus has him being below average and a candidate to move to third base.

I’ll trust the writers of the BP annual to have good sources for scouts. If their sources say the “consensus” is that he was a poor second baseman even before the atrocious All-Star Game. The only other source of information in terms of defensive scouting that I have available to me is the always excellent Fans Scouting Report. This is a sort of crowdsourcing of defensive scouting reports, with multiple fans putting in ballots ranking a player’s defense regardless of position. Let’s look at Uggla’s ratings from 2006-2009, with the seasons before the All-Star Game in bold.

Year Rating 2B Rank (Total 2B)
2006 59 16th (53)
2007 45 42nd (51)
2008 44 36th (51)
2009 2.83 49th (57)

Even before that 2008 season, Marlins fans who carefully watched the team all season voted Dan Uggla as one of the worst second basemen starting at the position in baseball. They rated him worse in 2008, though he ranked better overall compared to the league, and still worse in 2009. If the fans, ever the optimistic crew, still ranked Uggla poorly, and that agreed with the consensus of scouts with whom that Baseball Prospectus spoke, I am inclined to believe that Uggla was generally considered a poor second baseman before that game. The All-Star Game only highlighted for all of the mainstream media to see.

Does it matter?

Indeed, the Marlins could move Uggla to either third base or the outfield. Generally, I would suspect that third base is not preferable, as Uggla probably does not have the arm for the position. Would moving him to left field be a good idea? Uggla doesn’t think so.

“If people think I’m so bad at second base, why would they want to move me to a tougher position on the infield? I don’t get it,” [Uggla] said. “Or even to left field. I can play outfield, but I’m not an outfielder. I’d do fine out there. But I’m an infielder. I’m a second baseman. I’m not a third baseman. I can play third, and I can play short. But I’m not a third baseman and I’m not a shortstop. Bottom line is I’m a second baseman.”

The reasoning itself has no real logic to it. Uggla is saying that, even though he would do OK at these positions, he should remain a second baseman because, in his heart of hearts, he is a second baseman. However, he does have a point. If he feels that third base is more difficult, it would behoove the team to not move him there. And moving him to the outfield would only be beneficial if his defense could overcome the positional scarcity difference between second base and left field.

According to various calculations, the difference in scarcity between second base and left field is anywhere between 10 and 15 runs. Consider Uggla as a true talent -8 run defender at second. In order to be as valuable in left field, he would have to be somewhere between a +2 to +7 defender in left field. My estimates from last offseason had him at about -5.5 runs per 150 games, which would make the move not worth it.

While Uggla’s stubborn attitude about his defense and his delusional thought of having Gold Glove support early in his career are both wrong and not helpful for an eventual position move in the future, the Marlins may not have much of a choice in where they put Uggla. Moving him to left field may indeed not be worth it anyway, meaning the team will have the most value keeping him at second despite his poor defense. Remember, even though his defense has not been good for most of his career, he has still been an above average second baseman throughout his career, meaning his bat is more than making up for his glove deficiencies. As bad as he is, he still is providing value at the keystone.

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