I thought for sure that Giancarlo Stanton would be the first to drill the centerfield sculpture at Marlins Park, and had he not overshot the behemoth with a home run three weeks ago, he would have won my contest. But Dan Uggla beat Stanton to it by drilling the feature straight up on June 5th for his 200th career home run. And I am ecstatic that I get to write this blog post (over 1300 words) analyzing the strange stance and swing, among other things, of Dan Uggla.
Uggla was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 11th round of the 2001 draft, but never progressed in the Arizona organization and was never regarded as a high prospect. In 2005, he qualified for the rule 5 draft after not making Arizona’s 40-man roster, and was picked up by the Flordia Marlins. And the rest, as they say, is history.
In 2006, Uggla finished third in the NL rookie of the year voting, and set a Major League record for home runs by a rookie second baseman, blasting 27 that year. He was part of a core group of Marlins rookies in 2006, who, with his exception, still play together this day in Marlins Park. The obscure name, Uggla, was mispronounced many a time in his rookie season as the slugger was making headlines. Due to this, and the fact that he was in strong contention for making the All-Star roster, play-by-play announcer Rich Waltz and color guy Tommy Hutton began announcing “His name is Dan Uggla!!!!” after every home run he hit. That tradition continued throughout Uggla’s career in Florida, and even after he was traded to Atlanta, the two broadcasters have announced it during games against the Marlins.
Dan made history with Florida when in 2008 the Marlins infield (comprised of Mike Jacobs, Dan Uggla, Hanley Ramirez, and Jorge Cantú) became the first ever Major League infield to have each of its members hit 25 or more home runs in a single season (the foursome would have had thirty each, but Cantú finished the year with just 29). Uggla made two All-Star appearances representing the Fish in 2006 and 2008, and appeared in the home run derby in the latter year. His success on the field, and friendliness off it, made him a fan favorite in Florida for the years he was there.
When Uggla broke through with the Marlins in 2006, his batting stance had nothing special to speak of. His 27 home runs as a rookie was certainly impressive, but he didn’t look unique doing it. Uggla stands at just 5’11”, but he is 205 pounds of pure muscle. In his first two years with Florida, his stance was perfect for utilizing that muscle. Unfortunately, all of MLB.com’s videos prior to 2008 are unavailable, so I have no way of showing his stance. But as I said, it was nothing special. He stood closed, or barely open before the pitch came in and cocked his hands just slightly. And his swing was level and compact, so much so that he could make contact consistently while driving 27 and 31 home runs respectively over his first two seasons.
In 2006, the Marlins batted Uggla in the 2-hole. The second hitter in a lineup is normally one that strikes out minimally. That year, Uggla struck out just 123 times, a career best that stands today. Over his seasons with Florida, he was the most consistent hitter on the team, hovering around .250 for his first four seasons and hitting over 30 home runs each year but his rookie season, while driving in around 90 runs. Dan had his best year in 2010 when he drove in 105 runs, smacked 33 homers, and hit .287.
His short-compact swing, which enabled him to make contact well, changed slightly before the 2008 season. Actually, it might not have been so much the swing that changed as the setup. In 2008, Uggla began to showcase a trigger before the pitch was delivered. He would cock his hands and lift his foot multiple times prior to the delivery. After wagging his hands a second or two, he would thrust the bat head away from him while picking up his heel. When he first started doing it, it was a crazy movement he would appear to do at random times prior to the pitch, but it has evolved over the past 5 seasons, and now it appears that he has figured out a rhythm, and the routine looks uniform in every one of his at bats. It is this trigger that gives him extra power. The next two videos show home runs from 2010 and 2012 respectively. Note the difference between the two triggers, more floppy in the earlier video, and more controlled in the recent clip.
What gives Uggla the power that most guys his size do not have is that quick and confident triggering of the hands, which enables him to be ready to explode a swing upon every pitch delivered. He thrives on the inside pitches with his quick swing, and finishes strong with one hand. Since I am unable to put together a decent video breaking down the swing, I’ll show this one from MLB Network, which exhibits everything there is to see regarding Uggla’s ferocious bat.
Primarily, Uggla is a pull hitter. However, his swing is quick enough that if he decides to be patient on an outside pitch, he can punch a line drive the other way. Many people complain that today’s power hitters in baseball are home run-or-bust-typed swingers, but with Uggla that is not the case. Despite his stance, and the fact that the majority of his hits are to left field, he stays through on outside-middle pitches, and he in fact settles for singles and doubles to right field rather than trying to pull outside pitches for home runs. But because of his pull power, most of his success comes from pulling inside pitches.
While I’m working at analyzing his swing, I might as well do the same to his signature. The first time I ever got an autograph from Dan Uggla was in 2008, September 24 to be exact, at Nationals Park. I had for some reason assumed previously that Uggla was not a fan-friendly autograph signer due to his popularity and such. But I was able to flag him down to sign for me as he was talking to some friends in the stands over the dugout. Uggla is the only baseball player whose signature has influenced my penmanship. If you notice, the “D” is not a normal cursive “D.” And I have realized now that it is actually easier and quicker to form when writing cursive than a regular “D.”
I really like Dan’s signature because it stays constant among all the items he signs, it is quick for him to scribble, thus he can sign more items, yet it features two full letters along with an occasional number inscription. Even though the autograph is mostly shorthand, it is large enough to look decent on a baseball.
Wrapping up, Rich Waltz and Tommy Hutton took their home run call for Uggla overseas for a three-game set with the Mets in Puerto Rico in June of 2010. The result was the single best, and most amusing, home run call in the history of baseball. (That last statement was subjective to me.) Anyway, enjoy!
Dan Uggla had a long, and quite unorthodox road to the big leagues, but he flourished when he got the chance to start with the Marlins. And from his exciting years in Florida to his current residence with the Braves, his name is Dan Uggla!