This not just in: Dan Uggla had a weird 2011 season. His batting average was .173 on the Fourth of July, whereupon he embarked on a 33-game hitting streak, the longest in Atlanta Braves annals and probably the strangest in the history of baseball.
So it shouldn’t come as a total shock that, in 2012, the same Uggla could join a select group of players, one of whom is the sainted Dale Murphy and another of whom is the rather famous George Herman Ruth, in another statistical oddity. At this moment, Uggla is tied for the National League lead in strikeouts (118) and walks (66).
According to Baseball-Reference.com, only nine big-leaguers have ever done that double over a full season: Babe Ruth (four times), Hack Wilson, Dolph Camilli, Mickey Mantle, Mike Schmidt, the aforementioned Murphy (in 1985), Jason Giambi, Jim Thome and the immortal Jack Cust. (Though it’s all but a given that Adam Dunn of the White Sox will lead the American League in walks and K’s this season. He’s way ahead in both categories. He also leads the majors in home runs.)
When the Braves traded for Uggla in November 2010 and signed him to a $60 million contract extension through 2015, they believed they’d invested in a proven run-producer. Over his first five big-league seasons he’d driven in at least 88 runs, and even last season, when he hit only .233, he had 82 RBI’s. Through 104 games this season, he has 50. Last season he hit a career-best 36 home runs; to date he has 12.
His batting average is .209, which is lower than it was a calendar year ago. (He was at .212 on Aug. 1, 2011, the day his hitting streak reached 23 games.) But get this: Owing to those walks, his on-base percentage is .346, only one point lower than Michael Bourn (who’s hitting .292) and Jason Heyward (.270).
The league-leading strikeout total might suggest that Uggla will swing at anything, but that doesn’t account for his league lead in walks. He has actually gotten better at not swinging. At least in that regard, the change in hitting coaches from Larry Parrish to Greg Walker/Scott Fletcher appears to have helped Uggla, who has already walked four more times than he did last season.
According to ESPN’s stats, Uggla is third among NL batters in pitches seen per plate appearance — 4.2o, up from 3.89 last season — and, per Baseball-Reference, his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is a not-wretched .276, up from .253 last season. Trouble is, he isn’t putting many balls in play.
He’s waiting for his pitch, which is supposed to be a good thing, but either he doesn’t do much with it or his pitch never arrives. I say again: Weird.
By Mark Bradley