20 December 2013

Looking Back on the Brian Roberts Era

On Tuesday, longtime Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts signed a one-year deal worth $2 million (plus incentives) with the New York Yankees, ending his 15-year tenure in the Baltimore organization.  During his time with the Orioles, he was basically a league average hitter (102 wRC+) who added value with above average defense and baserunning (all-around, an above average second baseman).  Some of his more relevant statistics are shown below.

Roberts was drafted by the Orioles out of the University of South Carolina with the 50th overall pick in the 1999 draft.  He showed up on Baseball America’s Top 10 Orioles prospect lists in 2000 and 2001, at numbers 7 and 10 respectively.  In retrospect, the Baseball America staff paints a fairly accurate picture of what Roberts would become during his time in Baltimore.  He was considered by scouts to possess great baseball instincts and above average tools all around, though none of those tools were considered outstanding.  After limited time in the majors during the 2001 and 2002 season, Roberts was up with the big club for good in 2003.

With his last four years being our most recent memory of him as a player, it’s easy to forget just how good Roberts was from 2003 to 2009.  Over the course of that time, he average approximately 4.0 fWAR per season, including a 2005 that saw him produce a .314/.387/.515 (AVG/OBP/SLG) line, with 70 extra base hits, 92 runs scored, a 10.6 UZR/150, and 6.6 fWAR, which was good for 6th best in the entire league.  In fact, among second basemen from 2003 to 2009, Roberts produced a total of 27.8 fWAR, trailing only Chase Utley’s mark of 39.3.  Following that stretch of production, the Orioles signed him to a 4-year extension worth $40 million…

…And then, things started to go downhill.  The problems started in April 2010 during the first month of his brand new extension when a strained abdomen that landed him on the 60-day disabled list.  It was a stay that ultimately ended up costing him a total of 91 games.   Despite missing over half the season, the time he spent on the field in 2010 wasn’t unproductive, and his fWAR/600 PA’s in 2010 was actually higher than that of 2009.  His year ended with a self-inflicted concussion, causing him to miss the final 6 games.  Despite an entire offseason of rest, Roberts struggled with concussion symptoms, struggling to perform regular day to day activities such as walking the dog or driving.  After a lengthy recovery, Roberts was cleared to play in spring training the following year.

Then on May 16, 2011, his concussion symptoms returned following this seemingly innocuous play.

As a result, he was again placed on the 60-day disabled list, not only missing the rest of the 2011 season (122 games), but also the first 60 games of the 2012 season.  The effects a concussion can have been in the headlines lately, and it’s been a topic of a couple of recent posts on the Depot recently as well (here and here).  There is still a lot of unknowns when it comes to concussions, and the fact that Roberts needed as much time as he did to return from what appeared to be a harmless play reinforces the fact that there is a long way to go in understanding how the brain functions.

Roberts began playing again in mid-June 2012 for about a month, before returning to the disabled list after tearing the labrum in his right hip, putting him out for the season once again.  Going into the last year of his contract, with his hip healed and his concussion(s) further behind him, there was a cautious optimism entering the 2013 season.  Unfortunately, he strained his right hamstring in the third game, eventually opting for surgery, which kept him out of the lineup for another 79 games.  Once he returned, he was somewhat productive, accumulating 0.9 fWAR in just under 300 PA’s.  Still, you can’t produce if you’re not on the field, and unfortunately that pretty much defines up the last 4 years of Roberts’ tenure in Baltimore.  All in all, he produced a total of 1.0 fWAR during that time.

By all accounts, 2010-2013 was frustrating not only for fans and the organization, but for Roberts as well.  Despite his long (and overall productive) tenure with the team, based on reports, it seemed like both sides were ready to move on.

And while it may be emotionally difficult for some Orioles fans to see Brian Roberts playing baseball in a different uniform next year, our own Matt Kremnitzer pointed out that the on-field performance probably won’t be any different.

Overall, Brian Roberts was one of the most productive players in Baltimore over the last decade, and he should be remembered as one.  Due to several reasons, it’s rare for a player to spend as much time with one team as Roberts has with the Orioles.  Even the ones that do, it’s not uncommon for them to move on as they attempt to extend their careers with other franchises promising more playing time.  At age 36, Brian Roberts has reached that point in his career, and it’s hard to blame him for wanting to extend it, even if that happens to be in New York City.

And with that, we’ll wrap this up with Gary Thorne’s call on what was likely Brian Roberts’ final home run as a Baltimore Oriole…


Chito Martinez said...

I can't help but feel ambivalent about the departure of the most memorable O's player from the team's least memorable era. Seeing him as a Yankee will be weird.

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

Roberts went to UNC not USC

Unknown said...

Baseball Reference has him drafted out of University of South Carolina


Jon Shepherd said...

Roberts transferred to USC after UNC fired his dad as coach.

Ed Moschler said...

He played for 2 great coaches in college: his dad (Mike Roberts) at UNC, and then he transferred to South Carolina and played for the great Ray Tanner. Brian was an exceptional college player - and brought those skills to the pro level.