For a slump like Uggla’s, waiting (and hoping) is the only cure

The most recent of Dan Uggla's 15 RBIs. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

The most recent of Dan Uggla's 15 RBIs. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

On May 25, 2004, Derek Jeter was hitting .189. He would finish the season at .292. He would hit .300 or better in each of the next five seasons. Today he’s 25 hits from No. 3,000.

On May 23, 2011, Dan Uggla is hitting .185. Braves fans have been in a dither over Uggla, who was imported from Florida and then re-upped for $62 million over five years, since April, but Aprils can deceive. Besides, Uggla never hits in April.

Now, however, we’re a week from Memorial Day, the first checkpoint of the baseball season, and Uggla was actually better in April, when he hit .194, than he has been in May. On Friday, Uggla was bumped up to second in the Braves’ batting order for the first time this season. (Manager Fredi Gonzalez justified by the change by quoting the loose definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”)

Uggla went 0-for-3 that night. On Saturday he batted sixth, also for the first time this season, and went 1-for-6. On Sunday he batted fifth and went 0-for-4.

He’s 2-for-28 since his game-winning home run off Roy Halladay on May 15. Esteemed colleague Dave O’Brien reported from Anaheim that Uggla “toss[ed] equipment after a couple of at-bats” Sunday and afterward sat alone at his locker for a half-hour.

A month ago, Uggla was a man off to a slow start. Today he’s 30 percent of his way into a season, and he has 15 RBIs, 11 of which have come from home runs. Of his seven homers, five have come with the bases empty. He’s 6-for-47 (.128) with runners in scoring position.

The Braves knew, or at least thought they knew, what they were getting in Uggla: A second baseman of uncertain glove but consistent power. He’d averaged 30 homers and 93 RBIs over the previous five seasons, and a man who hits that well for that long doesn’t just forget how to hit. (Does he?)

But now a man expected to do much is doing little, and the cruel truth is that there’s little the Braves can do. They could bench Uggla for two or three games, but with Jason Heyward on the disabled list and Nate McLouth hurting this team is running short on bodies. And it’s not clear that benching an established hitter, or even moving him in the batting order, does much good: Phillies manager Charlie Manuel tried both tacks with Jimmy Rollins in 2009, and the former MVP still wound up hitting .250.

Regarding Uggla, the good news is that a good hitter invariably starts to hit. (Rollins has never been quite himself again, but he has been injured.) And it isn’t as if Uggla is the only proven hitter underperforming: Albert Pujols, the best in the business, is batting .269 and has gone 103 at-bats without a homer.

In sum, it happens. Trouble is, it has happened to Uggla at a particularly bad time. With a new team and a new contract, this season was to be his moment of true arrival. (”Nobody had ever seen me play,” he told USA Today last week. “I was in Florida.”) Instead it has been a period of reinvention, and not in a good way. He has fielded better than he has hit, but the Braves aren’t paying him to be Jose Lind.

As Uggla told O’Brien: “You can only take the playing-good-defense thing so far before you’ve got to get some hits and score some runs and drive in some runs. It’s a trying time right now.”

It is, and Uggla is doing what men in slumps invariably do: He’s swinging too hard, trying to compensate for two bad months in one at-bat. Baseball doesn’t work that way. According to ESPN’s Inside Edge, anything off-speed will get him out. He’s hitting .306 on fastballs, .210 on curves, .204 on sliders, .183 on changeups. (He’s also hitting .118 against lefthanders, which makes no sense; he hit .306 against them last season.)

It’s a trying time, but times can and do change. Jeter’s great slump of 2004 was broken by a couple of bloop doubles. That’s the time-honored ticket. After a protracted period of lineouts and frustration, a guy hits a few where they ain’t and the world looks different. Surely it will happen that way for Dan Uggla. Surely, I say.

By Mark Bradley

180 comments Add your comment

Matt from MN

May 23rd, 2011
10:53 am

Robert 08

May 23rd, 2011
10:54 am

Maybe he should move more into the batters box … maybe he can reach those breaking balls on the outside of the plate.

Matt from MN

May 23rd, 2011
10:55 am

Atlanta Braves where free agents (or potential free agents) come to die? Haven’t had much luck with pick ups from other teams lately, see Dan Kolb, Nate McLouth, etc.

Paul

May 23rd, 2011
10:55 am

Without Prado and McCann, we would have the worst record in the league. Why haven’t the Braves been able to put it all together on offense since 05?

Mark Bradley

May 23rd, 2011
10:55 am

MT

May 23rd, 2011
10:56 am

Would love to seem him go with the pitch a couple of times. Maybe a flare to right will get him going.

Mark Bradley

May 23rd, 2011
10:59 am

I seem to remember one free agent doing OK here. Maddux was the name, if I recall correctly.

Terry Pendleton, JR

May 23rd, 2011
11:03 am

Getting Uggla a new & more competent batting coach would be an even better cure.

( Hint, Hint )

bucket

May 23rd, 2011
11:04 am

I am no expert hitting coach, but it seems to me that Uggla swings at way too many first pitches! It would appear to me that when a guy is stuggling the way Uggla is he would want to take a few pitches.

Mark Bradley

May 23rd, 2011
11:04 am

I’m not going to lie: The on-base percentage is troubling, especially since the Braves led the league in that category in 2010.

Herschel Talker

May 23rd, 2011
11:05 am

MB:

I want your serious thoughts on this team. Their OBP is a disaster, they don’t get any guys on base, they don’t score early, the lineup is insanely inconsistent. As you say, we are 1/3 of the way through the season, and it’s obvious that they are who they are, and that is not a good thing. Do you really think this schizo lineup, as constructed, can really win anything? I sure don’t.

HT

bucket

May 23rd, 2011
11:07 am

Ok, those two sentences were a little redundent, but the greater point stands! When Uggla comes to the plate with runners on base he needs to remember what the announcers are always saying, “The hitter is not the guy in trouble, the pitcher is.” That pitcher should have to make at least 3 good pitches to get him out. Uggla is making it easier for the pitcher by swinging at the first pitch alot.

Ticked with this Team

May 23rd, 2011
11:08 am

Maybe, just maybe it is time to start looking for a new hitting coach and possibly a new manager – neither one seem to be doing worth a crap with this team……..maybe it is time to jack up the players – trade somebody to get their attention and help them understand pay is for performance and we ain’t seen none yet – just a bunch of lazy injury prone prima donnas

Bill

May 23rd, 2011
11:08 am

Agree on Maddux. He was the best. Uggla will be alright, the best like you said go through crap like this. It takes time and everyone hurts waiting for it to happen. Never give up!

Larry

May 23rd, 2011
11:08 am

Uggla epitomizes the standard offensive player for a Bobby and Fredi Cox team…a hard swinging hack that is hot or cold, unpredictable and inconsistent. Will they EVER learn?

Here’s the first clue…when it takes someone three months (February – April) and hundreds of at bats to starting hitting this is exactly the type of player we do not need! Our lineup is and has been dominated by this type of hitter for many, many years and these are the type of hitters that the great pitchers just love to face–especially in the postseason.

Terry Pendleton, JR

May 23rd, 2011
11:09 am

Oh, By the Way:

FIRE FREDI GONZALEZ !

Brandon

May 23rd, 2011
11:13 am

It’s refreshing to hear him say at some point he has to hit and push across runs. I get that the team is struggling and I’m willing to be patient…but I’m tired of the cap tipping, hitting it hard, we just got to keep plugging lines. We are playing lousy right now and it’s nice to hear some accountability from a player. Go Bravos!

Joycee Banicheck

May 23rd, 2011
11:16 am

Guy needs to get the fence out of his eyes when he swings the bat. Reminds me of Andruw Jones his last season or two here in Atl.

JUST HIT THE DAMN BALL

Not Don Waddell

May 23rd, 2011
11:17 am

Never would have thought I would be clamoring for Terry Pendleton to return as hitting coach, but I have never seen a lineup as bad as the one that the Braves keep trotting out. They swing at everything and hit nothing. Very, very difficult team to watch.

Bill

May 23rd, 2011
11:19 am

TPJ your dad, TP, would get mad if they fired his boss. lol

The chosen one would have a time fixing this group…..but it can be done.

Maybe, Uggla muscled up to much in off season..?

Ron E.

May 23rd, 2011
11:20 am

Mostly Uggla has had a combination of bad luck and small sample size (there are a lot more ABs to come in the 70% of the season left to play than the 30% already done). His stats should fix themselves (hopefully sooner rather than later). What he doesn’t need is to turn into Jeff Francoeur and start trying trying all sorts of random changes that completely mess up his head. Just stick with what made him a hitter the Braves wanted to trade for and things will work themselves out.

44ty

May 23rd, 2011
11:21 am

I am soooo tired of the NO HITTING Braves… Been a fan since 66….but I gotta tell ya…the hitting the past several yrs is so bad, I am bored with the Braves! Not watching them..I mean, I know what to pitch ea hitter, I know what the coach is NOT gonna do at the right moment…WHO EVER MAKES MAJOR DECISIONS REGARDING THIS TEAM…DO SOMETING!

Matt from MN

May 23rd, 2011
11:21 am

Geez, Mark… Greg Maddux?? How many years back do we have to go for that one? 18 years, to be exact. What about recent acquisitions that have done as well or better than expected? I’m drawing a blank.

joe

May 23rd, 2011
11:27 am

Who is the braves hitting coach? Even a benchwarmer like me can see every pitcher is hitting the lower outside corner with fast balls, curves and sliders that he cannot touch. His stance is so open, he’s lucky to get wood on those outside balls. The hitting coach needs to teach him to close his stance and move closer to the plate and hit those pitches to right field. It’s not rocket science…and he’s doing nothing to adjust his stance or swing.

Wink

May 23rd, 2011
11:31 am

Mark B

You throw enough against the wall and some will stick! Maddux yes especially during regular season. The only other acquisition that sticks out is Crime Dog, McGriff. But if you check history, they usually die here.

To name a few… Willie Martinez, Gene Garber, Mike Hampston (all MLB injury team, The Big Cat, Galaraga, Ken Griffey Jr.,Troy Glaus, Gary Sheffield….admittedly some of them had their moments!

hank

May 23rd, 2011
11:32 am

Maybe he needs to follow the example of the old timers. Go out get tore down drunk and play with a hangover. At least he could forget that he is swinging like, as we used to say in little league, an old wash woman.

PMC

May 23rd, 2011
11:32 am

So we traded one of our best field position players in Omar Infante and Mike Dunn a pretty good relief pitcher for 62 million dollars of Jeff Francouer…..awesome.

(patience grashopper)

Bill

May 23rd, 2011
11:33 am

Matt from MN..to answer your ?
Good free agent signing…..Ross & Heniske both doing just great!

PMC

May 23rd, 2011
11:34 am

Bring back the blood doping and the roids.

Brett Favre was once a Falcon

May 23rd, 2011
11:35 am

Back when I was a kid growing up in Mississippi, I had a lot of baseball cards. The great players looked like normal human beings. I don’t remember any of them with biceps the size of Uggla’s. The man is too muscular. It doesn’t allow him to hit the ball. I’m serious.

Dawgfan0711

May 23rd, 2011
11:37 am

Mark, can you give the braves front office all of these hitting instructors email addresses? Everyone seems to be an expert. Come on guys, he will start hitting! RELAX braves fans, DU will be fine.

Hankie Aron

May 23rd, 2011
11:39 am

MB- I love the Jose Lind reference! Remember how tiny his glove was? Great fielder

schmeckdawg

May 23rd, 2011
11:39 am

.185 BA, I’d say that is well worth $62M.

Matt from MN

May 23rd, 2011
11:43 am

@Bill-Ross and Hinskie are back-up players at best. I’m talking about every day players. The only ones that I think you can make an argument for are pitchers, at this point, and not position players. For example, Hudson and Lowe (even though the Braves were looking to deal D-Lowe almost immediately after signing him to extension) have done OK.

Dawgfan0711

May 23rd, 2011
11:44 am

Sign Barry bonds, he could out hit most of the current line up! OBP would go up 50 points.

Hankie Aron

May 23rd, 2011
11:45 am

Wink- Willie Martinez and Ken Griffey Jr never played for the Braves. Willie Martinez did get fired as def coodinator at UGA. DAVE Martinez did have a short veteran “on the way out” stint with the Braves. Ken Griffery SR did play for the Braves. Let’s make sure we know who we are talking about before we talk.

TN Jeff

May 23rd, 2011
11:45 am

Question: Why do guys like Uggla and previously Tex get passes for “slow starts”? As much as they are paid should they not perform for a whole season? Perhaps such players should be required to arrive early & play EVERY inning of EVERY spring training game. Pathetic the pampering these guys get from the media.

chem

May 23rd, 2011
11:47 am

Brad is right. — Nothing seems terribly wrong except that he is taking huge rips on every swing. He needs to try flipping some balls into the outfield to get back in the groove.

Hankie Aron

May 23rd, 2011
11:49 am

Matt- They were looking to deal Lowe after 10 months since signing. not immediately.

Hankie Aron

May 23rd, 2011
11:50 am

To your point though Matt, I do agree signing Lowe was a knee jerk reaction

Hankie Aron

May 23rd, 2011
11:50 am

on Frank Wren’s part

What??

May 23rd, 2011
11:50 am

There is no secret to Uggla’s struggles – he cannot hit anything on the outer third of the plate (FYI – that’s also why he is struggling so mightily against lefties). I agree with all of the posters suggesting that he a) close his stance a bit, and/or b) move closer to the plate. If he doesn’t want to alter his approach, b would seem to be a good option. Over the last few weeks, I have called on numerous occasions when he was in 0-2 or 1-2 counts that he would strike out on an offspeed pitch on the outside corner. He absolutely flails at those – no chance. Where is Larry Parrish? Very unimpressed with his hyper aggressive approach. It has absolutely killed the teams OBS which was the one bright spot to last year’s offense. It enabled us to pressure pitchers and get their pitch counts up without getting a lot of hits (which seems to be totally out of reach for this group).

NickGranite

May 23rd, 2011
11:51 am

Mike Hampton won the lottery in Atlanta. He got a lot for nothing.

Cousin Vicker

May 23rd, 2011
11:52 am

Frenchy is doing pretty well this year too. I find that disturbing.

NickGranite

May 23rd, 2011
11:52 am

Frenchy was doing well Vicker. Though his overall stats still look OK, he’s been dropping like a rock lately.

Howard

May 23rd, 2011
11:54 am

Maybe he’s done. Maybe just a slump. Hope if it is a slump that it doesn’t get to him mentally and he can’t get out of it. But the bigger question is why the Braves are struggling so much. My two sense is that they are still playing Earl Weaver baseball….waiting for the 3 run home run. I wish they would get some guys that have high on base percentage and can steal a base. They need to be able to get those cheap runs. At least last year they walked a lot but not this year. Speed is coming back to baseball and the Braves need to get with it. Someone asked why they haven’t hit since the middle of the last decade. Maybe because isn’t that when Furcal left the Braves. When he would get on he would cause havoc and he made the 2, 3, and 4 hitters better. I like Prado a lot but we lack a real lead off hitter and have for a long time.

gadawgs

May 23rd, 2011
11:56 am

Some guys can play lights out on teams with NO expectations(see McClouth in Pittsburgh and now Dan “noone ever saw me play in Florida” Uggla). When the lights are on you and it matters some guys just nut up.

FIRE WREN

May 23rd, 2011
11:58 am

Hey Mark….. Where is Kenshin Kawakami is he doing ok? I am worried sick we will never see him play for the braves again. Man he was a beast about one inning a game!!!

NickGranite

May 23rd, 2011
11:59 am

The Braves finished 3rd in the majors last year with a 3.57 ERA, now they are 3rd with a 3.07. There are currently 11 teams with an ERA under that same 3.57 with a 12th sitting at 3.59. Hitting is generally down all over but this is ridiculous.

John

May 23rd, 2011
12:00 pm

Mark – what’s troubling is that the entire team is below expectations. See capitolavenueclub.com. To me that says its the coaching. You always expect 1-2 players to slump, but every single player stinks right now. Not good. Is it Parish’s fault? I dunno…