02/27/12 4:11 PM EST
Uggla proved his mettle in up-and-down 2011
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
Future historians will not truly understand Uggla's first season in Atlanta if they simply look at his batting average of .233 with 36 homers, a .311 on-base percentage and a .453 slugging percentage. They might be intrigued that he produced a career-high home run total while posting career lows in each of the other aforementioned categories.
But to truly understand the unique composition of Uggla's season, one must look at just how vastly different he performed before and after July 5.
"If what happened to him happened to 98 percent of the players, we'd have a massive amount of players quitting the game," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He did not allow it to get him down. He was the same guy every day."
Those who were around Uggla on a daily basis were impressed when he continued to bring his lay-it-all-on-the line, blue-collar approach to the ballpark when he spent the season's first three months fighting to get his batting average back above .200.
Many of these same players, coaches and media members became even more impressed when Uggla proved to be essentially the same guy after he dramatically turned things around with the Atlanta-record 33-game hitting streak that began on July 5, when his batting average sat at .173.
"He earned all the respect in the world from everybody, because when he was hitting .170, he was still running everything out and going out there and belly-flopping and diving for every ground ball," Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said. "I dare say there are a lot of guys in here if they looked themselves in the mirror and put themselves in the same situation, they probably wouldn't have handled it as well."
Uggla never shied away from the questions that surrounded him during his struggles, and he proved more than willing to talk as he constructed a hitting streak that nobody could have predicted. The veteran second baseman was hitting just .197 through the first 15 games of the streak, making him the first Major Leaguer in the modern era to be hitting below .200 in the process of constructing a hitting streak of at least 15 games.
"It was some of the most fun I've had in baseball," Uggla said. "I always can't wait to get to the ballpark. But while that was going on, I really couldn't wait to get to the ballpark, because I knew something cool was going to happen that night. I knew I was going to get a hit or help our team win in some way, because I had that kind of confidence going. I was feeling so good. I was just having a ball with it."
Uggla batted .173 with 12 homers, a .241 on-base percentage and .327 slugging percentage during the 86 games he played prior to July 5. He then managed to hit .301 with 24 home runs, a .386 on-base percentage and .596 slugging percentage in his last 75 games of the season.
"He got upset in the dugout maybe a couple of times, but nothing crazy," Braves catcher David Ross said. "He just stayed real calm and cool. He knew what kind of player he was, and he expected better. We felt worse for him after he came in with all the expectations. Then for him to carry us for two months, it was the best."
While hitting .371 during the hitting streak, Uggla raised his batting average from .173 to .232. He then cooled down hitting, .237 with nine homers and a .343 on-base percentage and .454 slugging percentage in his final 42 games of the season. But his demeanor never really changed.
As he prepares for his second season with the Braves, Uggla feels a little more comfortable than he did last year, when he was attempting to live up to the expectations created after the Braves gave him a five-year, $62 million contract. He certainly has the support of his teammates who saw him prove last year he can truly deal with adversity and prosperity in the same manner.
"He's a constant pro," Jones said. "I liken him to Andres Galarraga. You can't tell after the game if they've gone 1-for-4 or 0-for-4. They're the same guy every day."
Uggla may never again flirt with the .287 batting average he produced on the way to winning his first Silver Slugger in 2010. But the Braves are more concerned about seeing him provide the kind of power that has allowed him to hit at least 30 homers each of the past five seasons. No other Major League second baseman has recorded more than three 30-homer seasons in a career.
But having gone through the first six seasons of his Major League career without a playoff appearance, Uggla is simply hoping to provide the production necessary to allow the Braves to secure what they squandered when they blew the 8 1/2-game Wild Card lead they carried into September.
"We went into the offseason with a very bitter taste in our mouth," Uggla said. "Everybody has been doing everything they can to make sure they are prepared for this upcoming season. That's not to say everybody didn't prepare for last season. But we've got a little added motivation this year."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.