It’s been a bumpy road, but we have arrived at the correct destination. After a few months of anxiety about the third base situation, the Dodgers have reportedly resigned Juan Uribe. While 15 million in two years would have seemed completely unfathomable at this time last year, I think this was the right decision.
If you disagree, just look at this. This is what we woke up to this morning:
The Dodgers are considering signing Michael Young as their everyday third baseman.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) December 14, 2013
In hindsight, this seems like a pretty obvious instance of the team negotiating through the media, attempting to force Uribe’s hand and get him to make a decision. While it gave fans heartburn, it seemed to work.
Despite the fact that Uribe couldn’t hit at all in 2011 and 2012, the reason why I like this is because of how terrible the third base market is right now. Here are the other options that I could immediately think of:
- Omar Infante – required a four year contract and has only played 27 innings at third since 2010.
- Stephen Drew – would cost a draft pick and would require moving Hanley Ramirez to third.
- Will Middlebrooks – only available if Red Sox re-sign Drew. Drew’s a Boras client, and thus it might take longer for him to sign. Would probably require Andre Ethier and eating money. Also had a poor season last year, but this could be attributed to being sent up and down multiple times.
- Aramis Ramirez – May not be available. He’s 35, owed $16 million (plus a $4 million mutual option buyout) in 2014, and he missed half of last season with an injury.
- Chase Headley – Padres seem disinclined to trade him and would require a pretty big prospect package, despite the fact that he’s coming off of a down year and only has one year before free agency.
- Yuniesky Betancourt – managed -2.8 fWAR in the last two years.
- Michael Young – No.
So, while Uribe certainly has his flaws, so does everybody else on the market. And even if Uribe’s offense regresses towards his pre-2013 levels, his stellar defense should remain similar over the next couple of years. Uribe has had excellent UZR/150s of 18.3, 29.8, and 35.3 at third over the past three years, and has been worth a total of 36.4 fielding runs above average (without positional adjustment) during that span.
Of course, the big question is if his offense will be enough to support that great defense. In 2013, Uribe hit .278/.331/.438, good for a wRC+ of 112. This was well above the 56 and 53 wRC+ from 2011 and 2012. His excellent defense was enough to make those woeful offensive seasons into slightly-above-replacement-level years, but his 2013 hitting was enough to make him into a five win player, just as valuable as Hanley Ramirez.
So, what caused the increase in production? While his increased walk rate was a topic of discussion early this year, that didn’t last and he ended the season below his 2012 level. He didn’t quite strike out as much as 2012-2013 (19.0%, compared to 20.3% and 20.7% in the previous two years), but the decrease isn’t particularly significant.
His swing rates didn’t change very much, either:
|Outside of zone swing percentage||Overall swing percentage||Swinging strike percentage||Percentage of pitches in strike zone|
While he swung at slightly fewer pitches outside of the strike zone this year than 2011 and 2012, the difference was minor. He saw slightly more pitches in the strike zone this year, which could be explained by the slight dip in swings outside of the strike zone.
The biggest difference that I can find is that he simply hit the ball harder. The following his Uribe’s line drives per ball in play over the last three seasons (via BrooksBaseball):
While Uribe’s line drive rate remained pretty similar on fastballs over the three years, he did a significantly better job of hitting offspeed pitches this year than any other year as a Dodger, and his line drive rate on breaking pitches (34% of the pitches thrown to him this year) went up significantly as well. This resulted in a line drive percentage of 20.1% in 2013, compared to 17.5% in 2011 and 16.8% in 2012. As a result of hitting the ball harder, Uribe’s home runs per fly ball ratio spiked to 10.5% this year (up from 4.5% over the first two years of his contract), returning his power numbers closer to his career peak.
While these numbers don’t fully explain Uribe’s BABIP of .322 (the second best of his career), they do support numbers well above his 2011 and 2012 seasons. I think it’s fairly reasonable to expect that Uribe’s offense will be somewhere between last season and the seasons before, which would make him a pretty good value for money.
In conclusion, this GIF: