07 August 2013

Why Is Brian Roberts Playing Every Day?

Photo: Keith Allison
For the past few years, the general consensus among fans has been that if Brian Roberts could just stay on the field, he could rectify the Orioles' deficiencies at second base. Maybe in 2010 that was the case. In 2009, Roberts hit .283/.356/.451 in 159 games -- but that was also the last season he was truly productive. The next year, his power numbers went down but he still got on base (.278/.354/.391), but he only played in 59 games. Then he played in just 39 in 2011, and 17 the next. Roberts, though, kept battling back from various injuries, and he was healthy to start the season in April. But he injured his hamstring in the third game of the season in Tampa Bay, and although it was disappointing, no O's fan could truly have been surprised.

Still, on June 30 Roberts made his way back yet again, and he appears to currently be fully (or at least mostly) healthy. That is fantastic news considering what Roberts has gone through health-wise these past few years. Unfortunately, he hasn't been very good.

Roberts hasn't batted more than 261 times in a season since 2009, so we're dealing with portions of seasons in that time frame. But at least partly because of his age (35) and injury history, he's lost much of his power at the plate. In 107 plate appearances, he has only five doubles and two home runs. His .357 slugging percentage is bad, but the O's could probably live with that number out of their ninth-place hitter -- after all, Nick Markakis isn't hitting for power either. But Markakis still gets on base at a decent clip; Roberts does not.

Overall, Orioles' second basemen have been disastrous at the plate. This season, MLB second basemen have averaged the following batting line:

.251/.311/.372 (.300 wOBA)

And here's what O's second basemen have done (small sample size qualifier):

Ryan Flaherty: .220/.277/.366 (.281 wOBA)
Brian Roberts: .245/.283/.357 (.280 wOBA)
Alexi Casilla: .221/.262/.316 (.254 wOBA)

Yikes. Those are Billy Ripken-like numbers.

Compared to the other 29 teams at second, the O's rank pretty low. They're tied for 23rd in wOBA (.277) and are third to last in OBP (.279). They have also hit for a below average amount of power (.352 SLG, ranked 20th).

All right, so none of them can really hit. And if Roberts isn't hitting, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to keep playing him -- especially every day. He's no longer good defensively (he hasn't been for years), and he does not steal bases anymore. Casilla probably has the better glove of the three, and he's also the better baserunner (well, normally). I'm not sure I buy Flaherty's jump in defensive value (5.5 UZR on FanGraphs), but he's certainly no worse than Roberts, whose range is still pretty bad. At best, Casilla and Flaherty are both bench guys, and I'm not really sure what Roberts is at the moment. That sounds harsh, but much of the talk surrounding the team suggests they're in win-now mode (read Dan Duquette's comments). The team's recent trades reflect that philosophy as well. And although the team doesn't have any good options, running Roberts out to second every game is not a win-now move.

Maybe instead of trading for two average starters and a relief pitcher (who has allowed four hits, all home runs, in four innings pitched with the O's), the team could have focused on upgrading the rotation slightly less and second base more. Again, the O's are tied for 23rd in wOBA among MLB second basemen. Here are their ranks at other positions:

C: t-19th (.290 wOBA)
1B: 1st (.423)
SS: 9th (.310)
3B: 8th (.340)
LF: 18th (.313)
CF: 6th (.354)
RF: 18th (.318)
DH: 14th (out of 15) (.286)

The Matt Wieters topic has been discussed ad nauseum, but the Orioles cannot replace his defensive value. Nate McLouth has been very good in left field, but none of the team's other options at that position have done well. Markakis isn't the same hitter anymore, but he's not going anywhere just yet. And the O's apparently did their best to upgrade the DH slot but came up empty. But other than a few message board rumors and fans' hopeful thoughts, I did not read much about the O's pursuing a better second base option, and I'm not really sure why. Maybe a realistic trade option at the position simply never materialized, though I find it hard to believe that there wasn't at least some second baseman with a decent bat who wasn't available.

Shipping away Nick Delmonico and some of the organization's other trade pieces may have made more sense for a second baseman instead of a rental relief pitcher and a back-end starter who may eventually end up in the bullpen.


Triple R said...

Dot be too sure about that indispensable Wieters D. His DRS has disturbingly declined from 17 in 2011 to 5 in 2012 to -10 this year--with more than a month to go. I'd appreciate it if you--or anyone, really--could tell me why this has happened, 'cuz I'm stumped.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

He's ranked 4th on FanGraphs in catcher UZR (among qualified catchers), which seems more accurate than what's on Baseball-Reference. But I've read articles suggesting his pitch calling and framing skills aren't superb, so I honestly don't know. He seems pretty good to me, but then again some people say the same thing about Nick Markakis/Adam Jones.

Jon Shepherd said...

DRS is rating Matt Wieters' pitch calling as atrocious. All other aspects of his game are in line with career marks.

I do not know how many samples you need to make pitching calling reliable as a measurement of skill.

Jon Shepherd said...

One thing to also remember is that the DRS number does not include Wieters' ability to kill baserunners.