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June 8, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Bringing Them Home

by Craig Brown

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Last week, I took a look at hitters who were driving in the highest percentage of base runners. This week, it seems natural to turn the tables and look at the two worst at bringing home runners.
 

Jamey Carroll - 105 baserunners, 5 baserunners scored 5% BRS%

Well this is kind of embarrassing.  Entering Tuesday’s games, Carroll had accumulated 238 plate appearances.  The average major leaguer with that many PAs had driven home 24 runners. Carroll has scored just five. 

Carroll isn’t an RBI guy - he’s driven in 12 percent of all baserunners over his 10 year career and he’s never collected more than 36 in a single season.  I hesitate to even include him here, but he can be used as a cautionary tale that in fantasy (as in real life) a player’s actual team matters.  Collectively, the Dodgers are scoring 3.67 runs per game, third from the bottom in the National League.  That’s because, for the most part, they’re getting production from only three spots in their lineup. 

Lineup

Avg

OBP

SLG

sOPS+

Batting 1st

.252

.306

.298

71

Batting 2nd

.302

.361

.404

117

Batting 3rd

.306

.383

.431

112

Batting 4th

.314

.395

.572

146

Batting 5th

.227

.283

.336

68

Batting 6th

.229

.282

.299

58

Batting 7th

.201

.270

.342

81

Batting 8th

.257

.319

.339

94

Batting 9th

.159

.221

.254

71

Once you get past the fourth spot in the order, production simply disappears. With a .280 TAv, fourth best rate in the Dodger lineup, Carroll for some reason has bounced around in the batting order.  He’s hit leadoff, second and eighth for Don Mattingly this season. (Look back at the above table… the production from the eighth spot is almost solely Carroll’s performance.  Same with the leadoff spot. He’s hit wherever he’s been slotted by the manager.) It’s no surprise that both Andre Ethier (batting third) and Matt Kemp (batting fourth) have brought home Carroll more than any other teammate this season.  That’s because Carroll is the only guy besides those two (and Casey Blake when he’s healthy) who possesses the actual ability to reach base and move base runners. 

That means that while Carroll has the dubious distinction of driving in the lowest percentage of baserunners among all qualified hitters, there are some other ways he can boost your team… but only if his teammates help him.  Carroll has scored 32 runs this season, which ranks him 23rd in the National League.  He has crossed the plate 36 percent of the time when he’s reached base, which is well above the league average of 29 percent.  Carroll is also perfect in stolen base opportunities, swiping five bags.  Here again, this is where his team is letting him down.  Last year, under Joe Torre, Carroll was running in just over seven percent of all steal opportunities.  Not a huge percentage, but it was enough to allow him to set a career high with 12 steals.  This year with the new manager, he’s running just four percent of the time. Overall, the Dodgers have attempted 44 steals, 12th most in the league.

He’s doing his job, as are Ethier and Kemp, but with the rest of the Dodger lineup lacking, Carroll could be creating so much more value. To accomplish this, the Dodgers have to keep Carroll at the number one or two spot in the lineup and allow Ethier and Kemp to have the opportunity to drive him home.  Carroll is a decent pickup for middle infield help in deep leagues, but ultimately, his real life team will continue to depress his fantasy value, as will the crowded (albeit oft-injured) Dodgers infield of Blake, Rafael Furcal, Juan Uribe, and now Dee Gordon.

(Fun random Carroll fact: He’s swung at the first pitch in just three percent of his plate appearances. Three percent! Obviously, that’s the lowest rate in baseball. The next lowest is Martin Prado at nine percent.)
 

Dan Uggla - 155 baserunners, 10 baserunners scored, 6% BRS%

While Carroll isn’t expected to tally an abundance of RBI, the same can’t be said for the Atlanta second baseman Uggla.  Yet here he is.

Honestly, at this point it just feels like we’re piling on. With a .213 TAv and a line of .172/.240/.312, Uggla is having the kind of season that has fantasy owners lying awake at night wondering why they didn’t draft Yuniesky Betancourt.  Yes, it’s been that bad.

For the season, Uggla’s contact rate is at 76 percent.  That’s still below the league average, but it’s a few ticks above his career rate of 73.5 percent.  While contact may not be the issue, Uggla isn’t working himself into as many favorable hitter counts as he has in the past. This season, he’s offering at the first pitch in 30 percent of his plate appearances, which is a bit on the high side, and is seeing a first-pitch strike 62 percent of the time. 

The following table illustrates how he’s seeing far fewer favorable counts than ever before. 

Year

2-0%

3-1%

P/PA

2007

13%

10%

3.92

2008

17%

13%

4.20

2009

17%

14%

4.15

2010

18%

15%

4.19

2011

13%

11%

3.74

The 2-0% is the percentage of plate appearances where Uggla holds the advantage with a 2-0 count.  The 3-1% is the same for the 3-1 count.  Since he’s not working the count to his favor as often, it would follow he’s seeing far fewer pitches than before and the data backs this up.  He’s resolving his plate appearance far earlier this year he’s ever done in his career.

As bad as Uggla’s overall slash line is, he’s been even worse this year with runners in scoring position, hitting an abysmal .111/.197/.259.  It gets even more depressing.  Ten times this year, Uggla has hit with a runner on third and less than two outs.  The average major league hitter will bring that runner home half the time.  Not Uggla. Not this season.  He’s driven home only one of those ten runners. 

To be sure, some of the issue with Uggla stems from a .183 BABIP.  Plus, he’s only hitting line drives at a 13 percent clip.  Last season, Uggla posted a .330 BABIP on the back of an 18 percent line drive rate.  Uggla’s spray chart from his first 243 plate appearances last year cast a light on a pull hitter who was hitting balls on the ground at a 40 percent rate. 

His three most common outcomes last year through those early plate appearances ranked like this:

Strikeout - 22.6%

Groundout - 16.9%

Flyout - 13.6%
 

Compare last season’s spray chart to his spray from his first 242 plate appearances in 2011:

He’s still the same pull hitter, but there is certainly a larger cluster of points that remain on the infield.  We can see that reflected in his three most common outcomes so far:

Ground out - 19.3%

Strikeout - 18.9%

Flyout - 18.4%
 

This is another piece of the Uggla puzzle: his ground ball rate has exploded to what would be a career-high 46 percent.  The increase in ground balls mirrors a decrease in power.  While he’s seeing fewer pitches per plate appearance and failing to position himself in favorable counts, Uggla has run into a bit of bad luck with an extremely low BABIP.  We can’t pin everything on luck, though, as he’s not doing himself any favors by keeping balls on the ground.

If you’re shopping for a buy low opportunity, Uggla may provide an option.  That’s only because there’s really no where for him to go but up.  if you’re looking for a summer surge from the Atlanta second baseman, however, you may want to shop elsewhere.  The change in his approach at the plate means he will have difficult time hitting PECOTA’s 10th percentile projection of a .229 BA with 23 HR and 69 RBI

This will be remembered as Uggla’s lost season.

Craig Brown is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Craig's other articles. You can contact Craig by clicking here

Related Content:  Batting Fourth,  Jamey Carroll,  Dan Uggla,  Batting

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