On July 4th, Dan Uggla went 0-for-3. It was a metaphor. His hitting this season had been a sparkler that the dog tinkled on. The Braves were expecting a bottle rocket, if not a Roman candle. The performance dropped Uggla's batting average to .173. Now that Uggla's career was over, all the Braves had to do was wait another four years for his contract to expire, and this whole mess would be behind them.
Except since then, Uggla hasn't stopped hitting. In the 29 games since Independence Day, Uggla has hit .354 with 12 home runs in 113 at-bats. He's raised his batting average by almost .50 points this month -- it's still a miserable .220, but it sure as heck isn't a once-in-a-generation low. Whatever was wrong with Uggla in the first half of the season isn't bothering him in the second. If he keeps this hot streak going for a little bit longer, he'll finish with close to his career numbers. Just a month ago, this was unthinkable.
What's even more unusual than the hot streak: it's come with a hitting streak that will reach 30 games if he gets a hit Tuesday night. A 30-game hitting streak doesn't seem like a big deal, but it's twice as rare as a no-hitter. There have been only 54 hitting streaks of 30 games or more in baseball history. Rod Carew never had a 30-game hitting streak. Tony Gwynn never had a 30-game hitting streak. There are Hall-of-Famers who have done it -- George Brett, Stan Musial, Rogers Hornsby. There are ... not-Hall-of-Famers who have done it -- Luis Castillo, Hal Morris,. But it's exceptionally rare.
If Uggla gets a hit on Tuesday night, he'll almost certainly be the unlikeliest player to ever have a 30-game hitting streak. That isn't just because he was in a horrific slump -- though without checking, I'd wager that unless any of the 54 streaks started in the first week of a season, none of the hitters were under .200 when the streak started. No, Uggla would be the unlikeliest player with a 30-game hitting streak because his career batting average is .258. Here's the distribution of career batting averages for every player who had a 30+ game hitting streak:
The lowest career batting average by a player with a 30+ game hitting streak is Benito Santiago's .263. Of course, when he started the streak, he was a rookie with a career batting average over .280. Pitchers hadn't figured out how to pitch to him quite yet (pro tip: don't throw the ball within six feet of the plate). His career .263 average includes everything after he turned 30, which dragged his numbers down just a bit.
Maybe Uggla's career batting average will go up as he ages, eventually pushing him above the .260 mark. That doesn't seem especially likely, though, considering that he's 31 and plays a position where players tend to age like vinegar instead of wine.
So if he gets a hit on Tuesday, don't overlook just how unlikely it is. It's rare for the greatest contact hitters of all-time to hit safely in 30 games. Ichiro's never done it. You could spend the rest of the day listing the good players who haven't done it. Yet, here comes Dan Uggla.
Dan Uggla, who crawled through a slump of awfulness and came out clean on the other side. Dan Uggla, headed for a 30-game hitting streak. Those of us who knew him best talk about him often. I swear, the stuff he pulled weakly to the left side ...