Thursday, September 06, 2012

Dan Uggla and the WAR question

Every time you look at the statistics for Dan Uggla, they look bad. Except he has those eighty walks, which leads the National League. His homers are down and thus his slugging percentage. His batting average is sitting at .208. His OPS+ is 92. His OPS ranks him 121 among 150 qualifying batters and his wRC+ ranks 119 out of 150. For a guy making $13 million this season, he does not, on the face of things, seem like he is earning it. But a lot depends on which stat site you look at. has his WAR computed to 2.3, which compares favorably to last year's 2.4 fWAR even though his wOBA was nineteen points higher last year., however, gives him an rWAR of 1.6 so far this season, the same as last season. 1.6 compared to 2.4 does not seem all that significant until you translate that to dollars. Each "win" in the WAR component is worth a little over $4.5 million. If Uggla's play has been worth 2.3 fWAR as Fangraphs calculates it, then, Uggla's play has been worth $10.4 million., however, would come to a valuation of $7.23 million.

That is a pretty significant difference. If you go by Fangraphs, then Uggla has been a disappointment, but not a huge one. If you go by B-R, Uggla is not going to come close to earning what he is being paid.
The other sticky part of the equation is the fielding component of those valuations. Uggla has had serious negative values placed on his fielding by both stat sites for the last three seasons. Both sites are fairly consistent here that Uggla cost his team about thirty runs in the the three seasons prior to this one. But suddenly, both sites have his fielding in the slightly positive territory this season. Such a turn of his fielding metrics evens out his valuation from last year to this year.

When it comes to Uggla's fielding, he has suddenly found some range. His range factor and range factor per nine innings have been below league average for several years before this one. Suddenly, his range and range per nine are above league average and the highest of his career. He must have done some nice off-season work to improve in that area. To his credit, Uggla has made the fewest errors in his career this season and has gotten a lot of chances with his ground ball inducing pitching staff.

The walks are impressive. They take a terrible batting average and move up his on-base percentage all the way up to .337. But what this observer will never understand is why any pitcher would walk a guy like Uggla? He is in the same category as Dunn of the White Sox and Pena of the Bay Rays. All three have very low batting averages, a ton of strikeouts and a ton of walks. Why walk a guy like that? With Uggla, you have a 28 percent chance of striking him out if you pitch to him. That is far greater than any chance he has to hit a homer. Dunn has three times as many homers as Uggla, but the feeling is the same. Dunn is four times more likely to strikeout than hit one out of the park. Why don't pitchers take those odds?

The WAR question raises a problem. Either Dan Uggla is having a season close to the value the Braves are paying him, or, he is having a bad season and won't come close to earning his salary. That is a large swing in realities. And it is just as improbable that his fielding has made such leaps and bounds that he has gone from well below standard to above league average.

From an objective look at Dan Uggla's season, he is not having a good one. At the age of 32, he is not playing nearly as well as he did just two seasons ago. Unfortunately, how poor a season he is having is a question that differs depending on who you ask.

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