The Yankees are coming off an injury plagued season where the one consistency was their superstar second baseman, Robinson Cano. In 2014, they replace Cano with a 36 year old Brian Roberts, who hasn’t played even close to a full season since 2009. Over the last four years, Roberts has dealt with significant back problems, an abdominal strain, multiple concussions, and surgery on his hip, hernia, and hamstring. During this time, he’s played in a total of 192 games, or 809 plate appearances.
Roberts finished 2013 on a promising note. After recovering from some significantly horrible concussion issues, Roberts returned to the Orioles after hamstring surgery on June 30th, and played 74 games while hitting .241/.307/.387. Roberts looked to improve throughout the second half of 2013, batting .250/.306/.450 in September, hitting 5 home runs in his last 108 plate appearances.
The switch hitter will look to build on his late-season success with the Yankees in 2014. If he can survive Spring Training, he projects to be the opening day second baseman, and doesn’t appear as if he has much competition either. The Yankees have hinted at acquiring more depth, and looking at further upgrades in the infield, but his job looks safe for now.
Roberts played his entire major league career with the Orioles, so he’s very familiar with the AL East and its ballparks. Most of Roberts’ power comes from the left-handed side of the plate as a pull hitter. The short porch in Yankee Stadium may help Roberts a little, but the infielder is already used to the hitter friendly environment in Baltimore. While the transition to pinstripes should be easy, there won’t be much of a benefit bringing him to Yankee Stadium.
In 2013, Roberts posted one of the highest line drive rate of his career. Despite this, his batting average on liners was far below his career average. While this can often be a sign of bad luck, it can also indicate major regression in his ability to generate hard hits. Not all line drives are created equally, and it takes both good contact and hard contact to create a hit. For this, Roberts’ low 2013 batting average and BABIP are hard to dispute, at least not until we see him improve how hard he’s making contacting.
Speed could also become an issue for Roberts. After suffering so many lower body injuries, Roberts stole just 3 bases in 2013. Over his career, he required ground balls to drive up his contact numbers, getting on base with a .254 average on ground balls. In 2013, he only got on at .160, both a sign of weaker hit balls and slower time to first base.
To get back to playing at the level that he was half a decade ago, Roberts would need to regain some of his hard contact and speed. Now that he’s a season removed from his last surgery, we may see improvements in his game, but I wouldn’t count on that. I’m sceptical that he’ll even make it into a baseball game in the month of April, let alone improve on 2013. Roberts is a lottery ticket, but one that could explode at any point. Overall, I think we’ll see some minor improvements in his power, but his low contact rates are for real. I project that he’ll hit .245/.310/.395, but I would be surprised to see him own more than 200 plate appearances.