MLB Predictions: 10 Reasons Dan Uggla Could be Dark Horse of 2011 NL MVP Race
The addition of Dan Uggla was the biggest move for the Atlanta Braves this offseason. Uggla has shown great power during his time in the majors, as he has hit 154 homers in five seasons, which comes out to an average of 30.8 homers per year. He has also racked up 465 RBI during his career at an average of 93 a season.
The Braves may have picked Uggla up at the height of his career, as he had his best year to date in 2010, hitting career highs in average (.287), homers(33), and RBI (105) among others, and he will be just 31 when the season starts.
Uggla may be the key to the Braves’ season, as he is hoping to provide them the power they have so desperately needed, especially from the right side. Here are 10 reasons why Uggla could go from the Braves’ MVP to the National League’s MVP.
10. Fredi González
González was Uggla’s manager while he was with the Marlins from 2007 up until he was fired this past season. Every player loved González during his time there, including Uggla.
Having a guy who he knows he can talk to and will have faith in him during struggles will only help Uggla in his first year in Atlanta.
His lack of familiarity will be lessened greatly by González’s presence in Atlanta, and this will only help González as well since we he will have a player who is very used to his approach to managing.
9. Coming off of his Best Year
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As stated in the introduction, Uggla is coming off of a year where he set many career highs. This can be seen as either the peak of his career or just another upturn in his career path. Let’s take a look at what the latter could mean.
Uggla increased his average by 44 points, which is an extremely dramatic jump. Even if you take the in-between (.265) it would be Uggla’s third highest career average, and would still mean great production in other statistics in Atlanta.
I could see him ending up in the .270-.285 realm for various reasons that will be brought up in later slides.
Even if Uggla goes back to his previous averages, in the .250 range, you still have a guy that has hit at least 30 homers in four straight years. That’s something the Braves’ haven’t had from a player since Andruw Jones launched 41 bombs way back in 2006. That makes his power alone makes him invaluable for the Braves.
8. Great Work Ethic
Dan Uggla's workout routine
Dan Uggla has always been a guy who has been applauded for his work ethic, and that should continue during his time with the Braves.
Uggla’s strength and conditioning routine during the offseason will definitely keep him in good shape during the later parts of his contract with the Braves, but that’s not their worries right now.
The routine is also important for this year. He has kept the same basic routine throughout his career, which points to it being a major reason for his power consistency. This should excite Braves fans because, as long as he stays healthy, he is going to produce what we so desperately need: power.
7. Strikeouts Have Gone Down
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In 2008, Uggla struck out on 32.2% of his at bats.
In 2009 the number was 26.6%.
The number went down to 25.3% last year, the lowest number since his rookie year when it was 20.1%.
He should plateau somewhere around his 2010 number, which is very good considering what it was just a few years ago.
Striking out was Uggla’s biggest weakness on the offensive side and it looks like he’s working on it. Being a power hitter has this effect on most sluggers, so even if it goes back up to about 26%, Braves’ fans shouldn’t worry too much.
If he can continue to drop it, his average and overall production will only go up.
6. Winning Team
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Being on a winning team is usually a major factor for the Most Valuable Player award. This isn’t always a fact, but it certainly will help your case.
The Braves were 91-71 last season, and look to be in position to win 90-plus games this year as long as they stay healthy for most of the year.
Uggla will be a major factor if the Braves are to contend for the NL East crown with the Philadelphia Phillies, so that will also help him along in the MVP race.
5. More Exposure
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The Atlanta Braves are among the top teams in the country when it comes to fan support across the nation. This will allow Uggla’s name to get more spread around across the league, since the Florida Marlins’ fan base is much smaller and more enclosed to the state than the Braves'.
His contract will also get him talked about more on ESPN, since ESPN usually spends a good bit of time going over the years that teams’ new acquisitions are having in trying to grade how their offseasons went.
More exposure will only help Uggla stand out against some of the other competition and, if he produces, his chances will greatly increase for the MVP award.
4. In his Prime
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Uggla will be 31 when the season starts, which puts him still in the middle of his prime. This means that he still has a chance for maximum performance and he still has a chance to improve on his career numbers.
At the age of 30, Uggla had his best season, so he can still continue to improve his average while still hitting for similar power. He is also going to into his sixth season, so his increased experience should only help him this year in Atlanta.
Uggla's experience can backfire since most pitchers in the NL East have pitched to him and have their own database of how to pitch against him.
This didn't hurt him last year, though.
3. A Better Home Park
Turner Field has never been thought of as a hitter’s park by any stretch of the imagination, but when you compare it from a right-handed batter’s standpoint to the Marlins’ Sun Life Stadium—which has a scoreboard that is an extension to the wall in left field and a huge 437-foot dimension in a corner in left center—Uggla could have been missing out on five to six homers a year at home, if not more. If you add that to his total from 2010, then you get 39 homers.
Some of those fly balls that Uggla may have lost while playing for Florida may now be balls that cross the fence, or even some of those doubles that bounce off of the aforementioned scoreboard could instead be going over the fence at the Ted.
You can expect more homers from Uggla this year, which is something, since he is one of the best right-handed power hitters in the game.
2. Plenty of RBI Chances
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If Uggla bats fourth, he will likely have Martin Prado (.350 OBP), Jason Heyward (.393), and Chipper Jones (.381) hitting in front of him. Those are three guys that know how to get on base and run the basebaths, as they also scored 230 runs in between them.
The second number is hurt considerably by Chipper’s slow start and season-ending injury in August, just as he seemed to be hitting his stride.
If he hits fifth, then you can also add Brian McCann (.375 OBP, 63 run scored) to those hitting in front of him.
This means that he should consistently be hitting with guys in scoring position throughout the year, which means that Uggla could find himself well over the 100-RBI mark. If he hits for the same type of average that he did last year, he could end up in 120 range.
1. The Key to the Braves’ Season
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The Atlanta Braves haven’t had a significant power hitter since the departure of Andruw Jones. With the acquisition of Uggla, it seems that they may have what they so desperately need.
Uggla gives them a big time bat in the middle of a lineup that has growing stars all around him. Uggla could be holding the key to the Braves playoff engine.
If Uggla can live up to Bill James projection of a .263 average, 31 homers, 94 RBI and 94 runs scored, then most fans will be very happy. It is also a line that most Braves' fans should expect, instead of thinking he'll surpass his numbers from 2010.
With that said, I could see Uggla ending up with a line somewhere along the .280, 35, 110, 100 range to go along with his career OBP of .349. If he can contribute to those numbers or better then he will be in the MVP discussion and the Braves will be all over the Phillies in the NL East.