For most baseball players, having Juan Uribe’s recent track record after the 2008 season meant you had a nice little career and could either retire or play independent league ball somewhere. Uribe, who also got into trouble when he was alleged to have been involved in a 2006 shooting in the Dominican Republic (his name was cleared in 2007), simply was not producing on the field. Here are Uribe’s respective AVG/OBP/SLG lines and WAR from 2006-2008, which were his Age 27-29 years (when hitters normally peak):
2006: .235/.257/.441, 1.2
2007: .234/.284/.394, 0.3
2008: .247/.296/.386, 0.2
Not pretty. Uribe was simply refusing to take a base on balls during that timespan, with a BB% of 2.6% in 2006 and 6.0% and 6.2% from 2007-08. With the drop in power, Uribe’s lack of patience was frustrating to say the least. His five-year career with the White Sox, which included a World Series Championship in 2005, ended after the 2008 season; he latched on with the Giants for 2009.
Despite his pathetic walk totals, there were some reasons to think that Uribe may be able to be a useful bench player. He could play shortstop, second base, and third base, and was solid defensively according to UZR. His BABIPs were brutally low during those years, and he had a HR/FB% in 2008 that was less than half of what it was in 2006. Brian Sabean knew the Giants’ offense wasn’t guaranteed for anything last year, and gave Uribe a chance. Uribe signed a Minor League contract, but made the team’s final roster out of Spring Training.
Since his arrival in San Francisco, Uribe has been an important part of the lineup, contributing 4.6 WAR in 215 games. Last season, his wOBA was .351 thanks in part to a rejuvinated .325 BABIP. The power also came back, as Uribe slugged .495, the best mark of his career since 2004. His walk rate decreased to 5.8%, but with the extra bases coming, nobody complained.
This season, Uribe’s BABIP has turned Mr. Hyde to 2009’s Dr. Jekyll. Aat .268, one would think a drop that dramatic would cripple Uribe like it did from ’06-’08. However, the infielder currently has a .328 wOBA, solid stuff from a guy playing premium positions. But how has he been able to relatively maintain his offensive value? He’s walking more. A lot more. He’s walking in 8.4% of his plate appearances in 2010, the single highest rate of his career. He does have three intentional walks this season to last year’s two, but that hardly makes up a significant chunk of his newfound patience. ZiPS thinks he’s good for a .330 wOBA for the rest of the year. Simply put, Uribe has adjusted his game this season in light of a depressed BABIP. As has been said before, staying afloat in Major League Baseball requires Darwinian-like adaptation. Juan Uribe has learned how to survive.
Pat Andriola is an Analyst at Bloomberg Sports who formerly worked in Major League Baseball's Labor Relations Department. You can contact him at Patrick.Andriola@tufts.edu or follow him on Twitter @tuftspat