There was nothing more irritating, in a season where Brian Roberts was having a record-setting year for hitting doubles, to listen to people snipe at Roberts for not hustling on the bases. Where were the triples? Only one? He's just stopping at second to pad his stats, right?
Hear this people...Roberts was a 31-year-old second baseman and speed is a vital component of his game. He's slowing down. He knows this and being the smart baserunner that he is, he will not risk getting thrown out trying to stretch a double into a triple.
But he is still a great baserunner. He stole 30 bases and only was caught 7 times, good for a spectacular 81% success rate. And to anyone who thinks he wasn't hustling...he stole third 14 times in 2009, more than any other American League player and was not caught once! No hustle?!?!
Anyway, enough of that rant.
The reality is that Roberts will be 32 in 2010 and as I said in last year's Crystal Ball, second baseman with Roberts' profile do not age well and you can start to see signs of that decline. While he remains a good baserunner, the stolen base total have dropped for three seasons (50, 40, 30) as has his defense in terms of UZR (5.8, -1.5, -0.9, -8.9). UZR does fluctuate but his UZR was bad enough last year to drop him from a WAR north of 4 to 3.4 in 2009. That's still nothing to sneeze at...but I have to admit it's troubling.
So what's the best thing Roberts could do at the plate to continue to add value? Keep stroking doubles, keep stealing bases smartly and get that OBP back up above .370. It dropped to .356 and as the wheels start to slow, he needs to draw a few more walks to remain a serious threat on the bases.
Enjoy him while he lasts. Roberts is a uniquely gifted hitter for a second baseman and the smartest baserunner I've ever seen. But I can't shake the feeling that we are witnessing the beginnings of a (hopefully) slow decline.
Realistically, I'm sticking with the CHONE projection of .278/.358/.427 line with a 3.3 WAR. Not bad, just not the level of greatness we got used to.