Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Crystal Ball '09: Brian Roberts

Second basemen typically do not age well. Many of them began a decline shortly after their 31st birthday. Brian Roberts…will be 31 this season.

It is rare for a 2B to age gracefully like Jeff Kent. Most fall off a cliff in their thirties. Roberto Alomar dropped off a cliff at age 34. Craig Biggio was greatly reduced after his age 33 season. Ryne Sandberg dropped off at after age 32. Steve Sax had his last good season at 31.

So with all this in mind, is Brian Roberts beginning to show signs of decline? Maybe.

Roberts' stolen base percentage slipped to 80% in 2008 (down from 87% in 2007 and 83% in 2006) and "only" stole 40 bases vs. 50 in 2007.

His fielding numbers were down as well. His UZR has declined for four straight years (5.9, 4.9, 3.5, -0.3).

But there are other indicators that Roberts' speed (which is an integral part of his game) has not diminished. His career Infield Hit percentage is 5.4% and in 2008 it was 5.5%. His ability to leg out grounders remains fairly consistent. And his base stealing is down but it's still pretty damn good.

Furthermore, his BABIP was .341 last season which seems high and seems primed for a regression. But his Line Drive Percentage was 23.9% and typically if you add .120 to the LD% number, you get an expected BABIP value. Roberts' expected BABIP would be .359. Roberts was actually a bit unlucky with his BABIP last season.

There are some small signs of decline but nothing seems to be pointing to Roberts' performance falling off a cliff.

But I just can't shake that historical data I've seen from other second baseman over the years. Roberts will still be an elite middle infielder but I'll call his line .285/.375/.435 with 43 stolen bases vs. 12 times caught. Those numbers are nothing to sneeze at and fall in line with Roberts' excellent performance over the past three seasons.

Photo by Phil Romans and used under the Creative Commons License 2.0

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