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Colby Wilson’s Atlanta Braves Report: The Ballad of Uggla
The Dan Uggla Era at second base is swiftly reaching its logical conclusion. By my estimation, the end is nigh – maybe as early as this weekend.
Around my house, he’s known as ‘Smushy Face’, my wife’s moniker for him since the perma-chaw stuck in his jaw gives his face a bit of a pinched look at all times. Unfortunately, she knows him more for that than for anything he’s done involving baseball.
Buyer’s remorse set in almost as soon as the ink was dry on the contract, when it was discovered that $60 million worth of entering-his-30s Dan Uggla bought you little to no range in the field, a high strikeout rate at the plate and not enough power to make the first two issues worthwhile. Aside from one shining, glorious, 32-game stretch in 2011, there’s been little to get excited about.
Here’s how bad Uggla’s been for the Braves. During his 32-game hitting streak, he hit .377 with 15 homers and 32 RBI. In 447 other games in a Braves uniform he’s… not so great, with a .198 average, 64 homers and 193 RBI TOTAL. Oh, and after striking out just 27 times during that streak, he’s struck out 499 times in an Atlanta uniform outside of the time from July 5-August 13, 2011.
The sad thing is that everyone really, REALLY wants it to go well for Uggla. I like the guy, like the way he plays. He seems nice, he plays hard, his teammates respect the hell out of him. He’s worked hard to bust out of this – correcting his vision, hitting work, the whole nine. It’s just not working. He’s 34 years old. Time is coming to call a spade a spade.
Remember the movie ‘Little Big League’, when Billy the child manager has to trade away his favorite player because poor Jerry’s gotten old and kind of started to suck? There’s a scene where Jerry hits a nine-hopper single between two guys and Billy reacts like he just smacked a 450-foot blast. Mac, the grizzled baseball man serving as Billy’s pitching coach, points out that getting excited about that hit says everything you need to know about what kind of player Jerry is at that point. I’d say we’ve been past that stage for a while now with Dan Uggla – Joe Simpson has trumpeted every seeing-eye single Uggla’s hit for the last two season’s like he’s been roping balls into the gap. People have drunk the Kool-Aid – Uggla’s hitting the ball harder this year! Uggla’s vision has improved! – and then had to pretend they were fooled or that larger forces are suddenly at work. He’s gotten old. His bat speed has slowed. He can’t react as quickly anymore. It happens. And believe me, I’ve drankthat Kool-Aidbefore. Repeatedly. Sigh.
I don’t want to pile on the guy, because he’s made zero excuses during all of this. He’s a true professional, even when Fredi’s jerking him around the lineup (at least 300 plate appearances in each of the 4-7 spots in the lineup) or leaving him off the playoff roster for Elliot Flipping Johnson and some athletes would’ve pooped in the manager’s office and let it fester during the winter for that stunt. He’s not glue-factory bound yet – a second life as pinch-hitting extraordinaire isn’t too far out of the question, although how the man only has nine pinch-hit at-bats in a nine-year career to this point is almost amazing.
I want him to succeed in some aspect, and I want it to be in an Atlanta uniform. I well remember how he used to beat up the Braves (.287 average, 23 homers in 89 games against Atlanta) and that he was a borderline All-Star every year as a Marlin. He’s been good before, and it’s not completely outside the realm of possibility that he’ll be productive again.
Alas, giving Uggla a consistent spot in the starting nine is no longer a luxury the Braves can afford. The flashes of brilliance that keep people coming back for BJ Upton don’t appear often enough on Uggla’s behalf anymore. It’s time for Ramiro Pena. It’s time for Tommy La Stella. It will never be time for Tyler Pastornicky. But the time has passed for Dan Uggla. Pour a little out for Smushy Face.
What to Read
Really interesting read here on CBS’ local Washington, D.C. website on Leo Mazzone’s philosophy on arm injuries and building pitcher stamina. Leo, he of the rocking back and forth dugout mannerisms, was Braves pitching coach back when the bullpen could plug in the coffee pot without two guys blowing out their arms, so what he has to say seems pertinent.
Stat o’ the Week
Julio Teheran is one of four starting pitchers in the bigs – Johnny Cueto, Jon Niese and Jeff Samardzija – with a top-20 earned run average against both left-handers and right-handers (2.05 vs. R, 1.52 vs. L). In the advanced-stats era, ERA is not the end-all, be-all it once was – seriously, those three names alongside Teheran don’t exactly strike fear in the heart – but still… impressive.
If you’re busy watching the NFL Draft and can only catch one game of the Cubs series, make it…
Poor, poor Samardzija. The former Notre Dame receiver probably pines for the days that Brady Quinn was overthrowing him across the middle, having lost 13 straight dating back to last season. His 1.62 ERA can only go so far, and his punch-less lineup will face a healing Ervin Santana (thumb) at the Ted (6:10 p.m., Saturday).
Complimentary Old-Timey Baseball Quote
I want to thank all the pitchers who couldn’t go nine innings, and (manager) Dick Howser, who wouldn’t let them. – Dan Quisenberry, Royals reliever, on his 1982 AL Fireman of the Year Award.
Craig Kimbrel Fact No. 27
Craig Kimbrel once tamed a grizzly bear by winking. The bear now serves as his personal butler.