Will Dan Uggla be worth arbitration?


Recently, I saw two separate pieces on the future of Dan Uggla, whether it be with the Marlins or elsewhere. Of course, I wanted to reference this in part because it may be the most important offseason issue the Marlins face and in part because these pieces mentioned me! Here’s friend of the Maniac Juan C. Rodriguez on the issue:

"What impresses me most about Uggla this season is the .356 on-base percentage. That’s 15 points higher than his career mark through 2008. He’s matured into a nice hitter.We’re all working under the assumption the Marlins will trade Uggla this offseason because his salary through arbitration will approach $7 million if not exceed it."

Here’s MLB Daily Dish’s Eli Greenspan on the topic:

"Uggla is hitting .339 in the month of August, with a .292 average and 6 home runs since the All-Star break. With no legitimate options a on the free agent market at second base, the likelihood they hold onto Uggla for the 2010 season increases. However, a large handful of Marlins are arbitration-eligible this offseason, and some could be moved to keep payroll down."

The figure that’s been thrown around is $7M for arbitration. Taking the Marlins’ unwillingness to spend market value aside, in order to make up $7M in value given the current $4.5M per win rate, Uggla would have to be 1.6 WAR player, which he’s more than proven capable of. However, arbitration generally comes as a discount from the free market value of a player. You would expect the team to get more than $7M of value from a player in his second year in arbitration.

Traditionally, when we evaluate arbitration players, we use a 40%/60%/80% scale for the three arbitration years. What that means is that in a player’s first arbitration eligible season, he’s expected to make 40% of his market value. In his second season, he would be expected to make 60%, and in his third 80%. Thus, we need to expect a higher level of production from Uggla than the listed 1.6 WAR. Using the current free market rate, a second-year arbitration eligible player who makes $7M would be expected to have free market value of $11.67M, which would equate to a 2.6 WAR player.

In order to evaluate this, let’s do a projection for Uggla’s next season. Using his ZiPS updated end-of-season projection, you get a wOBA of .349 to end the season. My own wOBA calculator has a value of .347 for the year, so my projections are slightly undercutting Uggla. Using a standard 8/4/2/1 four-season weighted projection, weighting his most recent seasons higher than his initial years, you get a projected wOBA of .352. We then regress that to the mean. I used 350 plate appearances of the mean, taken to be .329. That regresses Uggla’s projection to a wOBA of .350.

For Uggla’s defense, I took a generous estimate of his UZR/150 this season, putting him at -10 runs per 150 defensive games this year. That is somewhat rough on him, but given my dislike for Uggla’s defense at second base, I find it fitting. Weighting these three seasons with a 5/4/3 system (because defense via UZR is more volatile) and giving him 100 defensive games of the league average, which of course is 0 runs, we get a UZR/150 of -5.2 runs. Given that this season I handed him a -10 and last year he was 1.6 runs better than average, that seems to a decent middle ground using UZR. If you’re so inclined, you could also use other available data in the regression, such as Total Zone Rating numbers available either over at Rally’s site or at Baseball-Reference. I quickly added these numbers into the equation and got -5.6 runs instead, not much of a difference.

I assumed Uggla would receive 155 games worth of play. Keeping Uggla at second base and adding in all of the appropriate adjustments and you get the following calculation:

12.0 wRAA – 5.4 UZR + 2.4 positional adj. (2B) + 21.9 replacement level adj. = 30.9 Runs above Replacement = 3.1 WAR

This value is unadjusted for home park, which may add another run to his offensive total. Those 3.1 WAR would be worth $14M on the open market. Even if you expect Uggla to perform such that $7M is 60% of his market value, he still beats his supposed value by $2.3M, more than half a win.

Of course, that half a win could come from his bad defense, as he could just as easily be a -9 defender, or it could come from aging, as Uggla will be hitting 30 next season. Still, it may be beneficial to keep him as the Marlins’ highest paid player for another season or so before dealing him for value. I’ll admit that Uggla is exactly the type of player that teams should not buy out arbitration years for, because of the potential risk of a career downturn because of his age. Still, if we just use projections and regress his work to the mean, you still get a player who outperforms his value. Is he worth it? The short answer is “Yes!”