We make fun of Juan Uribe around here a lot. No, seriously. A lot. Just check his category tag if you don’t believe me. We laughed at how he was basically banished to the moon last year, being nailed to the bench for most of the last two months and stuck in limbo between “you’re too bad to play” and “there’s too many injuries and you’re making too much money to simply cut”. We thought for sure he’d be gone over the offseason, but somehow, some way, he kept on surviving.
Now here we are in the early days of May and not only does Uribe exist, he’s starting. Luis Cruz has flopped badly, and Nick Punto has been needed to help cover for Mark Ellis at second. Uribe has started 12 of 27 games at third, more than anyone, but even that’s gone up as time has gone by — in six of the last seven games, it’s been Uribe’s name in the lineup.
And somehow… he hasn’t been awful. I’m not going to say he’s been good, because he’s still hitting just .200, but by the standards of the atrocities he’s provided over the last two seasons, he’s… actually been pretty good. His wRC+ is 119 — 100 is average — and when his solid defense is factored in, he’s been slightly above replacement level this year.
That’s wonderful, but the funny thing is, it’s not that he’s fixed a hitch in his swing that resulted in better performance. It seems to be simply that he now understands how awful he is. For example, here’s a chart:
Uribe is walking an astounding 23.9% of the time. (This includes two intentional passes, which should probably be eliminated for data purposes but remains because the idea of actually giving him a free pass would be laughably dismissed at this time last year.) That’s from a man who had never once in his life walked in more than 7.8% of his plate appearances, and it stands today as the highest walk rate of anyone in baseball with at least 40 plate appearances.
The. Highest. Walk. Rate. In. Baseball. For Juan Uribe. If you wanted to tell me that the magnetic poles of the earth would switch position tomorrow, and that we’d all be flung off into space, I’m not sure I could reasonably refute you at this point.
So how is that happening? Because the man is simply not swinging at as much garbage as he used to. Per FanGraphs, here’s Uribe’s swing rates — Swing% is obviously the total amount of pitches he swings at, while Z- is inside the zone and O- is outside the zone.
And there you have it. Look at that O-Swing%! Juan Uribe isn’t exactly “better”, because he still has just seven hits on the season (granted, two are homers). He’s just doing fewer of the things that make him atrocious. It’s a small difference, but there we are, and it’s just beyond wonderful to me that Uribe’s performance was so bad that simply saying, “hey, dingus, whatever you do, don’t swing when you get up there” seems to be the plan and that’s actually been enough to make him more effective.
I said on Twitter a few weeks ago that the character arc Uribe seems to be taking, from the most hated villain on the team to good-natured redemption story, would be phenomenally interesting. We’re not quite there yet, and I’ll nearly guarantee that he’s not going to remain the starting third baseman all season, but it’s on the right path.
Juan Uribe, doing more by simply doing less.