Uggla’s odd power season

michaeljong
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Dan Uggla is having a fine season for the Marlins this year, as we all know. Since I just discussed his season a bit on last Wednesday, I won’t describe it once again today in a general sense. Instead, I wanted to point out an interesting factor that has brought about this season’s success, a factor that may not bode so well for future seasons.

Despite a .224 ISO that stands as the third-best mark of his career and even with his career totals, Uggla’s power in terms of extra bases is actually down this season by a wide margin. I thought it a bit confusing for that to be the case; how can his ISO be so close to his career number while his POWH (extra bases / hit) be well off his pace. A look at the numbers involved should give you the answer to that question.

Take a look at those POWH and ISO numbers over the course of his career.

YearISOPOWHwOBA
2006.198.703.347
2007.234.954.345
2008.254.978.372
2009.216.891.354
2010.224.795.380
Career.225.858.359

This season looks completely odd compared to the previous years. In each of Uggla’s previous seasons,  his ISO and POWH marks have been right on cue; each POWH year rank corresponds to the ISO rank except the 2010 season line. Despite a .224 ISO that is almost exactly his career total, this season’s POWH mark is the second lowest of his career. Ever since Uggla developed a power-focused swing and tailored his game more towards power and patience at the expense of contact, his power numbers have hovered at or above .900. This season, despite a comparable ISO, those numbers have fallen down to around 0.8, a full 0.1 fewer extra bases per hit.

What gives? Well, as evidenced by the equaton referenced above, POWH is measured as extra bases per hit, and Uggla has collected more than his fair share of hits this season. His BABIP is up to .323, a mark that would stand as the highest of his career by a small margin (his 2008 mark of .320 is the current high), which quite simply means that Uggla is collecting more hits on balls in play than he usually does. You don’t need me to tell you that that is not necessarily a bad thing.

If he has played this way before in 2008, how come the numbers aren’t similar this season. Conveniently, Uggla has almost the same number of PA this season as compared to 2006. Let’s break down how his individual counting stats stack up between those two seasons.

YearPABIP1B2B+3BHR
2008619331683832
2010616371932731

These results are pretty interesting. The one huge difference that immediately stands out is the drastic increase in balls in play by Uggla. This is almost directly related to his massive cutdown on strikeouts; Uggla has struck out 32 fewer times this season, accounting for 80% of the increase of 40 BIP. Indeed, this effect has been around since 2009, as Uggla has struck out in just 22.5% of PA in the past two seasons, compared to 25.1% between 2007 and 2008. It should be noted, however, that Uggla’s overall mark between 2006 and 2008 match his current strikeout rate almost perfectly (22.7%).

So yes, Uggla has cut down dramatically in his strikeouts since 2008. What have those strikeouts turned into? The other line that has spiked is the singles total, with a difference of 25 base hits between the two seasons. But we already know that Uggla’s BABIP in 2008 and 2010 are essentially the same, so he has not added any extra hits out of the balls in play; rather, he has picked up more hits at the same rate as in 2008. Based on a .320 BABIP, we’d expect Uggla to pick up about 13 more hits in those 40 extra balls in play.

But there is one other major difference in that line, and that is in the doubles/triples total. Last season, Uggla hit only 27 doubles, the lowest number since his rookie year, and it was an alarming sign for some of us Marlins fans. The doubles haven’t come in bunches this season either, and that has definitely had something to do with Uggla’s declining POWH. Essentially, he has been turning a few doubles into singles the last few seasons, on the order of maybe 10-12.

What does this mean?

Is it all bad? What can this possibly mean for the Fish as they head into an offseason in which they are expected to hammer down a contract extension for Uggla? I think what we have seen the past two seasons has to be regressed a bit, but is most likely true. While Uggla’s home run power remains as prolific as ever, his ability to get extra bases on balls in the park has fallen. Instead of lining shots into the gaps, perhaps he’s hitting the ball more towards fielders and settling for one base. A change in approach could be the reason, as his strikeout decline corresponds well with his doubles decline, but a quick look at his splits in terms of hitting to each field do not show any differences between 2008 and 2010. A look at his spray charts in those two seasons don’t show much either:

2008

2010

Not much difference between the two for the powerful, pull-happy Uggla. Projecting his future doubles rate looks difficult, but if he can stay close to the 30’s, he can still put up .350-.360 wOBA that would be worth the Marlins’ money for the next few seasons. On the other hand, if this is a sign of future declining power arriving soon, the Marlins may be walking into a huge mistake in extending Uggla for a few more years.

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