Dan Uggla caught fire starting around late June/early July after a horrible start to the season. Before the hot months, it looked as though Uggla was in deep decline. He was a short, stocky 31-year-old second baseman without great plate discipline and a propensity to strikeout well over 100 times a season—the type player that tends not to age well. The Braves and their fans saw all this with Marcus Giles.
But Uggla was also with a new team—a team expected to contend. He had just signed a five-year, $62 million extension with that new team. He was expected to be the big-time, right-handed power bat in the lineup. Uggla seemed to suggest that the pressure contributed to his early-season struggles.
In late June, Uggla started to show sign of life. Then, on July 5th, he began a 32-game hitting streak. Uggla looked more like an elite player than a noticeably above average one. Surely Uggla isn't this good.
What should we expect from Uggla going forward?
Well, we shouldn't assume a scorching two months means Uggla will have career seasons with the Braves. All of the red flags from the first paragraph still apply. But he also performed at an elite level for two months after his slow start, so he's probably not nearly as bad as he was in the first nearly three months of the season.
Uggla's offensive value is mostly about overwhelming power from the second base position and drawing just enough walks and hitting the ball with enough authority to avoid outs at a respectable rate. When his bat starts to slow, he is not going to walk enough to avoid outs at a high rate. But this is a player that consistently showed big-time power throughout his career, so the decline in bat speed will likely be slow and steady. If he can remain serviceable defensively at second base, he should produce enough offensively at that position for another three years or so.
Of course, it's impossible to know if the performance over the second half of the 2011 season is a sign that he's headed for a career season next year or if it's just a bit of a fluke. That's not to say he's no longer a good player, just that the hot spell is probably not that close to his true talent level going forward. It's a good bet that at his age, with his skill set and given his early-season performance, Uggla's days as a .360-or-better on-base player are over. But he should remain a .460-plus slugger for a few more seasons.
Then the question becomes defense.
He's never been a very good defender, but as long as he's serviceable, his offense—even with the likely decline that is coming and what we likely saw flashes of early this season—should make him somewhere around an average second baseman or slightly worse perhaps throughout the length of his contract. Even if he has to move to third base, it's hard to imagine he'll dip much below replacement level. But towards the end of his contract, the Braves may have to deal with some Brandon Phillips-type seasons of rather low on-base combined with solid slugging.