2012 Season Review: Ryan Roberts

Ryan Roberts, good fielder. - Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Breaking down Ryan Roberts's 2012 Season

The injury to Evan Longoria, and the host of smaller injuries to other players that compounded it, sent Andrew Friedman into a frenzy of roster moves as he tried to fill the holes in the Rays lineup. Will Rhymes, Elliot Johnson, Drew Sutton, and Brooks Conrad all gave essentially replacement level performances. Which wasn't very surprising because they were essentially the definition of replacement level players: the type of player that teams either have stashed in AAA, or can acquire at a moments notice in a small trade (without giving up significant value).

It quickly became apparent, though, as both the offense and the defense struggled, that on a team with playoff hopes, replacement level wasn't quite good enough. When the opportunity came along for Friedman to give up a little bit of value to acquire some value in return, he jumped at it, sending second base prospect Tyler Bortnick to Arizona in exchange for 31 year old second baseman (or third baseman) Ryan Roberts. Here are the DRaysBay staff grades:

Baserunning

Fielding

Throwing

Hitting with power

Getting on base

49

58

56

44

41

What we see here is a league average player. He featured a bat just a little bit below average, and a glove just a bit above average. And in the context of a role player, average is pretty good. Let's take a look at each aspect of Ryan Roberts's game on it's own.

Defense

The first thing I noticed about Roberts when he arrived in Tampa Bay was his tattoos. They're pretty cool. The second thing I noticed was that he's an athlete. Watching the replacement level posse play the infield (not including EJ, who has no lack of athleticism), I started to forget what a good fielder looks like. Good fielders are quick, fast, smooth, and have strong arms. All of those things can exist in one body. You don't have to choose. That's Ryan Roberts in a nutshell, and it's why he laid claim to an infield spot (regardless of his offensive output) from the moment he arrived at The Trop. His hands and range are probably a little better than his arm, and his range has more to do with speed than with the first step, both of which make him a better second baseman than third baseman, but he's above average at both spots. Although he only has about two full seasons at the keystone, UZR suggests he may actually be elite (11.5 career UZR/150 at second base).

Hitting

2012 was actually a bit of a down year for Ryan Roberts offensively, but I think it still gave a sense of what type of player he is. Roberts swings like Brooks Conrad (very hard), but struck out at a merely average rate (18%). How does that work? It all has to do with his pitch recognition. I've taken the FanGraphs plate discipline numbers for the whole league and standardized them. A positive number is above average, a negative number below average. A value of one would mean a full standard deviation above average. Here are Ryan Roberts's stats

O-Swing%

Z-Swing%

Swing%

O-Contact%

Z-Contact%

Contact%

-0.56

0.12

-0.08

-0.52

0.34

0.09

What we can see is a player that knows the strike zone and tries to stick to it. He swings at pitches out of the zone at a below average rate, and but swings at pitches in the zone at an above average rate. Overall, he swings at pitches less often than the league average, which is probably a good idea for a middle infielder who's not necessarily going to be smacking the ball out of the park, no matter how hard he swings.

As for making contact, when the ball is in the zone, he makes good contact, but he's worse than the league average at making contact on balls out of the zone. This goes back to the fact that Roberts is very conscious of the zone, and makes his decisions of whether or not to swing based on his pitch recognition. That means that when he does swing at a ball, he's been fooled (as opposed to expanding his zone on purpose), and he's more apt to miss it.

So, if Ryan Roberts has such a good on-base oriented approach, why did he only post a .296 OBP in 2012 (leading to a below average staff ranking)? Well, a .267 BABIP sure didn't help. Also, Roberts posted a walk rate of only 8.2%, which is just a bit below league average. He doesn't have a very long major league record, but in both of his other full major league seasons, he's walked over 11% of the time. That record, combined, with his still strong approach marks him as a strong rebound candidate in my eyes.

Split

The other interesting aspect of Ryan Roberts's 2012 season is his split, or lack thereof. In both 2009 and 2011, Roberts posted at least a 140 wRC+ against lefties, but was below average against righties. Last year, though, Roberts was below average against both, and slightly worse against lefties. That's just weird. I can't say why it happened, but I wouldn't expect it to happen again next year.

For an every-day player, a big split is a bad thing, but for a role player bench bat, a big split is great. Ryan should have a split, and he should get on base more often than he did. I expect him to rebound, and I expect him to be an even more valuable piece for the Rays next year.

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