Ryan Roberts Breaks Out

Ryan Roberts entered 2011 as an unknown commodity. Though he was drafted in 2003, the 30-year-old had only accumulated 453 plate appearances in the majors. With the Diamondbacks having few options at third base, Roberts finally got his opportunity. Thus far, he has exceeded expectations — and is one of the main reasons the Diamondbacks are in the playoff race. While Roberts has been great this season, there are some concerns about whether his performance is sustainable.

Among all third basemen with at least 200 plate appearances, Roberts currently ranks fifth in WAR. At the plate, Roberts is feasting on fastballs and is on his way toward posting a career high in Contact %. What’s most impressive about Roberts’ performance is that he’s contributing in all aspects of the game. Not only has he experienced a breakout at the plate, but his glove appears strong enough to handle the hot corner and he’s even managed to post strong numbers on the bases despite a poor success rate when stealing.

Since Roberts has such a limited amount of major league experience, it’s tough to tell whether his breakout is legitimate. In his small sample at the major league level, Roberts has always displayed some semblance of plate discipline and a little bit of power. During his current “breakout,” most of his peripherals fall in line with his career rates — meaning his current performance isn’t too far out of line from what we should have expected.

If there is an area where Roberts has outperformed this season, it’s been his power surge. As Mike Podhorzer explained in June, Roberts was high on the list of players with “just enough” home runs. Those extra home runs may propel Roberts to 20+ this season, but it’s unlikely he’ll hit for that much power in the future. His ZIPS ROS projection seems to agree, predicting Roberts to hit only four home runs over the remainder of this season.

Even if Roberts never reaches these power numbers again he’s still managed to establish himself as a useful player this season. His breakout has been somewhat similar to that of Casey McGehee — another player who turned himself into a useful cog once given the opportunity to play everyday. While Roberts and McGehee will never be considered among the best third basemen in baseball, both players are capable providing slightly above-average production at their positions until someone better comes along. Credit the Diamondbacks for taking a chance on Roberts; he’s one of the biggest reasons behind their huge turnaround this season.




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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.


13 Responses to “Ryan Roberts Breaks Out”

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  1. Eric Farris says:

    McGehee is a pretty dire comp, as after posting a 3.4WAR season last year, he is on pace for 0.3 this year, and is significantly worse in every measure of hitting effectiveness.

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  2. CircleChange11 says:

    Proactive is good for when players break out.

    Anyway, he is feasting on fastballs, and combined with his reduced out of zone swing %, and his increased in zone contact % … it looks like he may have made an approach change and could be looking fastballs in the zone and not swinging at anything else.

    It’s likely the combination of that and the big jump in HR.FB rate.

    Not likely a breakout season.

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    • J Rich says:

      if this season his new (better) approach at the plate leads to significantly better results than before, isn’t that the definition of a breakout season?

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        If he’s able to do it in 2012 and beyond, then yes … it would be a breakout season.

        My opinion is that it’s “not likely”.

        It’s always possible.

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  3. stumanji says:

    I grabbed Roberts and his neck tattoo off the wire quite early in the season and he has been a very solid roto player all year especially in a very thin position. His multiple position eligibility makes him even more valuable, exemplified by the fact that I just flipped him for Mark Reynolds to a guy hurting at 2B. Thanks, Ryan Roberts!

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  4. Slevin Kelevra says:

    April:
    313/413/594

    since May 1st

    246/336/415

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    • ToddM says:

      True, but a 750+ OPS is significantly above average this season, especially at 3b.

      Outstanding April, solid ever since, although he’s actually been rather streaky, which is useful, because they can sit him some when he’s cold and give him a bunch of starts in a row when he’s hot.

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  5. James M. says:

    He’s been in and out of the lineup because Gibson keeps trying to find veteran leadership at 3rd (first Mora, then Burroughs and Blum). If they just leave him alone, he’ll be fine.
    By his own admission he became complacent last year which led to a return trip to the minors. He’s vowed never to make that mistake again.

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  6. Jaksiel says:

    I’m pretty happy that Roberts has broke out this season. I did minor league scoring for New Hampshire (Toronto’s AA team) in 2005 and Roberts was my favorite player on the team, since he reminded me of one of my favorite MLB players at the time, Mark Bellhorn. He never struck me as a potential successful major leaguer at the time, but I’m certainly no scout!

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  7. Eric Farris says:

    McGehee is a great defender. Sure, he only has solid range, but his plus-plus arm, soft hands, and knack for positioning himself well defensively put him as the 2nd best third basemen defensively in the NL (Zimmerman is 1st).

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