2013 in brief: Uribear!!
2014 status: Free agent, and I cannot believe we’re actually kind of hoping he’ll return.
Last year in FanGraphs+, I summed up Juan Uribe by saying, “What can be said about Juan Uribe at this point that hasn’t been already been said about other great disasters in world history? At least the Titanic had a band providing entertainment until the very end.” In his first two years in this review series, I’d used the Emo Juan Uribe pose and a picture of him barely beginning a swing at a ball that was basically past him for his cards. His 2012 grade was, quite simply, “booooooo!”
I regret none of it. He’d earned all of it, and more.
As last winter continued on and it became clear that he was somehow hanging on to his roster spot, we resorted to simply poking fun at him. In November, we pointed out that he’d been involved in the worst bunt of 2012. In January, I embedded by favorite GIF of all time, and tried to figure out just why he was still existing, though I admitted it didn’t make sense to cut him at that point. In February, it was pointing out that MLB.com had ranked him 795th of 843 players, then devoting too much time into investigating just how bad you had to be in order to be worse than him. February also had our shock at the prospect of Uribe being the backup first baseman, then later laughing at him making all three outs in one inning of a spring game.
I regret none of that either. Sure, he’s reportedly a nice guy. He still deserved our scorn.
Then the season started, and Uribe was mostly on the bench as the team gave Luis Cruz a shot, though Hanley Ramirez‘ thumb injury and the ensuing shuffle opened up some time. He started only 11 games in April, but homered on April 9 — as I called it, “The End of All Existence” — and again on April 11, and though they were his only two hits on the season to that point, it was still fun to run a list of every other player in baseball who didn’t have as many homers as he did. On the 25th, I skipped work to see Hyun-jin Ryu in person in New York. Uribe got on base four times. Of course he did.
By early May, Cruz had been pushed aside, and Uribe was starting more often than not. Needless to say, we were floored by the fact that he’d suddenly developed plate discipline:
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.
That walk rate didn’t keep up, because it simply couldn’t, and it actually ended up being slightly lower than 2012′s was. Like most of the rest of the Dodgers, he slumped badly in June (.234/.275/.344), and while he picked it up a bit in July & August, he still hit only .265/.300/.390 over that three-month span. That’s not great, really, over a span of half the season. But he paired it with such good defense — not good range, really, but a reliable glove and a strong, accurate throwing arm — that it still made him a valuable player.
That was especially so when he caught fire in September, hitting .308/.341/.603 with five homers — remember he’d had only six in his first two years — and we had to stop and recognize his greatness on September 10 when he crushed three dingers against Arizona, completing, as I said, “his character arc from “evil super-villain” to “cuddly Uribear of the people.” If you read that full post, you’ll see that I noted that his peripherals hadn’t really changed, despite the early season burst of patience… he had. That is, he was clearly in better shape than he’d been in previous years, and the results showed. He was quicker on defense. His hits did more damage. It’s what should have happened in 2011-12, and I still can’t entirely forgive him for that.
But that didn’t stop me from this near the end of the month:
Nope. It’s true. And it’s every single Astro who has played this year. Or, put another way:
A late-season burst pushed him up to 5.1 WAR, making him a top-seven 3B option. No, I can’t believe it either.
It didn’t stop there, either, as you certainly remember. When I went to the park for Game 3 of the NLDS, he was a big part of the 13-6 win with a two-run homer. The next night, in Game 4, Don Mattingly foolishly tried to have Uribe put a bunt down. He failed, twice, as you’d expect from a man who had the worst bunt of 2012. Then he crushed a ball into the left field bullpen, more or less ending Atlanta’s season, and causing the stadium to simply explode, probably louder than I’ve ever heard.
As a great man — let’s call him “EephusBlue” — once said:
Damn straight. Love you, Uribear. And our very own VND chimes in too!
Uribe is at once a superhero, born from the fires at the end of the 2012 bench, and an incredible waste of money – a reminder of what could have been instead of a lucrative three-year contract that saw him earn more in millions than he would hit in home runs.
It didn’t matter that he won the clubhouse award in 2012; in fact, the award almost felt like an elementary school “every-gets-award” award. The fact was he was terrible at baseball, the game had humbled him as it does so many. At the end of the second year of his contract, Uribe was himself a lonely man on an isolated planet.
But that’s why we watch. It’s why we hear stories of players that have left the game, players that were in essence left for dead overseas, only to return in meteoric character arcs that are a fan base’s beloved story line – even if incredibly short lived. Uribe’s 2013 season is why baseball is the game we love to watch.
Next! Sigh. Michael Young existed.