Ryan Roberts and Burden of Proof

I have to admit that I’ve been highly suspicious of Ryan Roberts all season long. Maybe it’s his spotty performance history, perhaps it’s my aversion to one-hit-wonders (I’m looking at you, Fernando Tatis), perhaps it’s the neck tattoos (sarcasm). Whatever the case, Roberts was unintentionally shoved under my radar for much of the season relative to his actual value. I concede that I prefer a larger sample size before I start to recommend a player, and perhaps that’s a shortcoming I need to think about.

Whatever the reason, Ryan Roberts was hard for me to like this season. It wasn’t until I started to come around about June that he made the third tier for my third base rankings and I defended his late season struggles as recent as September. But I concede that I kept waiting for him to turn into a pumpkin, and he just refused to do so, to his credit.

Had he played a full 162 game season, even a few shy – Roberts would have almost certainly been a 20 HR and 20 steal player, which would make him the only 20/20 player at third base since the Mark Reynolds monster in 2009 (no, Roberts wouldn’t likely hit 42 home runs though). But the combination of speed and power at third is a pretty rare commodity, usually reserved for a guy named David Wright although he’s been busy testing the patience of owners, both real and imaginary.

His season wasn’t buoyed on the back of a ton of luck as his BABIP was .275 whereas his xBABIP was fully .319. Now, perhaps it’s not realistic for Ryan Roberts to maintain a 24.3% line drive rate in the future considering 2010 was just 10.2% and 2009 featured a line drive rate of 19.2%, but even if he fell back to 2009 rates, if he wasn’t horribly unlucky, he’d be able to sustain a BABIP at or above his 2011 level. His HR/FB rate was perhaps a little fortuitous, but he does play in the thin Arizona air, and his park plays favorably to right handed batters. He’s a dead pull power hitter with 18 of his 19 home runs being straight left field, and his average distance on his home runs was over 380 feet, so while he wasn’t sending balls into the stratosphere, he didn’t have a pile of cheapies.

His stolen bases also appear to be legit as he flashed good stolen bases in the minor leagues in the last couple of seasons, not to mention his speed score in 2011 registered at 5.3, which is tops for third basemen, but also has company with guys like Chris Young, Rickie Weeks, and Dustin Pedroia. As long as he’s playing for a manager willing to deal with his occasional caught stealing (he was caught nine times in 2011) he’s aggressive enough on the bases to probably be a perennial double-digit steal candidate.

Lastly, Roberts will strike out occasionally, but the guy has a very good sense of the strike zone. His walk rate is near 12% (for comparison, the Greek God of Walks, Kevin Youkilis was 13% in 2011) and he doesn’t frequently fish for balls outside the strike zone with his O-swing% at just 24.7% (league average is about 31%). While he will strike out a decent number of times, his ability to draw a walk and command of the strike zone doesn’t lead me to believe that a lot of what we saw in 2011 flirts with a fluke.

Roberts isn’t going to win any batting titles, but if you’re willing to sacrifice a little bit at batting average, he’s a plus home run, steals, and runs third baseman. Depending on where Kirk Gibson wants to slot him into the 2012 version of the snakes, it’s possible that he could provide you with 80 RBI as well. There’s not a plethora of third baseman that can contribute to four categories the way that Ryan Roberts can, and it’s possible that competing owners may also discount his value as I had for so many months. He not only merits consideration on the keeper front, but if you’re already looking ahead to your draft in 2012, he’s someone that you might want to target as a sneaky value pick.

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Michael was born in Massachusetts and grew up in the Seattle area but had nothing to do with the Heathcliff Slocumb trade although Boston fans are welcome to thank him. You can find him on twitter at @michaelcbarr.

5 Responses to “Ryan Roberts and Burden of Proof”

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  1. Brad Johnson says:

    It’s important to also note that Roberts carries most of the uncertainty of a typical upside play without possessing any of the upside.

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  2. theeiffeltower says:

    SSS caveats apply but he destroyed lefties this year (.385 wOBA, .211 ISO, 15.7% BB rate, 13.2% K rate). I think he could be a very effective play next year in deep leagues in tandem with a steadier option at 3B or 2B. Just start the other guy when Roberts plays righties.

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    • Michael Barr says:

      another good point. If you look at his ML career, he’s always been pretty good vs. lefties with a .365 wOBA and .839 OPS over about 350 plate appearances. If you’re in a daily transaction league, running some kind of platoon makes some sense, but if you’re only playing Roberts vs. lefties, you’ll lose out on a good number of steals (oddly, 60% of his career steals come against left handed pitchers in about half the number of plate appearances).

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  3. hotwater says:

    Also, Roberts had an awesome spring training.

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