There are only two major league hitters right now with a WPA of 2.00 or above that have single-digit home run marks: Joe Mauer (8) and Brian Roberts (9). Mauer gets plenty of pub regardless of his power outages but it seems that Roberts is still considered a “fluke” due to his great 2005 season that is yet to be matched. Following that tremendous campaign he had a disappointing 2006, which saw his OPS drop almost 200 points, and I’m not sure he has regained any of his reputation since that disappointment.
Last year he improved upon that 2006 season, and this year, has seemingly improved even moreso, as his OPS is the highest it has been since that all-star year. Oddly enough, his strikeout rate is the highest it has ever been, and he is walking at a rate less than last year. The increase in his percentage of hits per at-bat—a “technical” way of saying batting average—has kept his OBP virtually idential to last year.
While he has only hit 9 home runs, he still hits the ball hard, evidenced by his league-leading 46 doubles and 8 triples. The Orioles must possess a doubles-mindset, as teammates Aubrey Huff and Nick Markakis find themselves #2 and #5 in the two-bagger category. Roberts is also fifth in the AL in stolen bases, a skill at which he has been adept even whilst others were digressing.
His defense is a different story. The plus/minus system has numbers for him from 2006 until now, and he appears to be in full-decline mode. In 2006, he was a +7 defender; last year, at 0, he was the average second baseman; and this year he is -6, so below average. While someone like Chase Utley puts up great offensive numbers and leads the league defensively, Roberts’ true value is likely going to be masked because many fantasy leagues do not count defense, and the vast majority of fans use offense as their sole evaluative factor anyway. Though his WPA is a nice 2.36, and he has been 1.58 wins above average from a context-neutral perspective, these are offensive measures; his defense would drag them down.
Lastly, curious to see how Roberts fared in comparison to fellow second basemen and the rest of the league, I looked at the skills assessment page on Bill James Online, and found the following:
Skill MLB 2B Running 95th 93rd Discipline 88th 96th Average 86th 87th Power 36th 63rd Fielding N/A 59th
His baserunning, plate discipline, and ability to hit for average appear to be exemplary, but he is not a power hitting keystone cornerman in the general sense of the term, and his fielding has been bad enough to not even earn him a percentile in the all-players category. Roberts is a fine player, and he has helped the Orioles not be dreadful this year, but their desire to trade him should make a bit more sense now.
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