Brian Roberts is Not the Problem

Yankee fans are restless, indignant creatures. A descent below .500 and the overall weakness of the team has spurred scapegoat hunting. No one liked that Brian Roberts was signed to start at second base. Now he’s receiving lots of criticism. Caitlin Rogers complained that the team "continue(s) to roll Roberts out to second base every day." Commentors dismissed him more ruthlessly. Some compared him to Chris Stewart. All those criticisms are unfair. Roberts plays decent, mediocre baseball and should be fairly down the list of Yankee problems.

Comparing playing Roberts to playing Chris Stewart is ridiculous. Stewart hit very poorly (RC+: 65) in 2012 and hit even worse (RC+: 58) in 2013. He reached new levels of horribleness (RC+: 37) in the second half and his glove deserted him then as well. He literally reached the any AAA player, but him level. Girardi should have replaced him.

That’s not true of Roberts. He plays a defensive position, but grading his defensive is difficult. The defensive metrics conflict on his play on the field (positive with baseball reference, negative with fangraphs). Even if they didn’t, given the amount the Yankees shift, any defensive metric may not be reliable this season. Nor do we have a large sample size to evaluate.

Evaluating his production at the plate illustrates his value. Coming into today’s career game*, Roberts’s .237/.309/.355 line looks bad. Considering the context though, those are reasonable numbers for a second baseman. That line grades out to a Runs Created Plus of 84, good for 15th among major league second baseman who qualify for the batting title (I removed Brett Lawrie and Luis Valbuena because they are primarily 3rd baseman). Roberts sits in between Brandon Phillips and Omar Infante.

Still, mediocre is mediocre. Rob Refsynder is torching AAA. What could it hurt to replace Roberts with him? Remember that plenty of second baseman hit worse than Roberts, some of them much worse. Check out the second baseman playing for the A’s, Blue Jays, Orioles, Braves, Nationals and Cardinals.

Team Player PA AVE OBP SLG RC+
Oakland Sogard 169 0.191 0.262 0.224 41
Oakland Punto 160 0.223 0.321 0.281 78
Toronto Tolleson 101 0.225 0.310 0.393 95
Toronto Kawasaki 72 0.242 0.329 0.290 77
Toronto Goins 66 0.150 0.209 0.217 13
Baltimore Schoop 266 0.220 0.261 0.332 62
Baltimore Flaherty 150 0.222 0.295 0.356 77
Atlanta La Stella 133 0.270 0.356 0.339 100
Atlanta Uggla 143 0.163 0.238 0.233 35
Atlanta Pena 103 0.194 0.257 0.323 61
Washington Espinosa 268 0.217 0.284 0.348 74
Washington Frandsen 144 0.237 0.296 0.298 70
St. Louis Wong 171 0.228 0.282 0.304 66
St. Louis Ellis 162 0.191 0.220 0.234 42

Despite these teams either sitting in first or second in the standings, only two sometimes field a second baseman who has outhit Roberts this season. Neither player has even reached a quarter season of plate appearances. As you can see, many are brutally bad. Refsynder may or may not be the answer, but let’s not pretend that he’d certainly be better than Roberts. Giving up average play is risky in this environment where even contenders are struggling to find competent hitting second basemen. (That’s not to say the Yankees shouldn’t investigate trading Roberts to one of these teams. He might yield something of value and I wouldn’t mind gambling at second if Roberts yielded another player.)

Even if replacing Roberts would improve the team, it’s not like his the lone player not pulling his weight. Eleven Yankees have batted more than a hundred times this season. Without looking, rank them in order of RC+.

Teixeira 124
Gardner 120
Ellsbury 105
Solarte 105
Ichiro 91
Johnson 88
Beltran 85
Roberts 84
Jeter 80
McCann 80
Soriano 64

(not including July 4th numbers)

Unfortunately, our average second baseman is an average hitter in our lineup. Only four Yankees have hit above league average and one of those just left for Scranton. The Yankees have holes throughout the lineup and even Robbie replacing Roberts wouldn’t salvage much. Bigger problems include a starting rotation with only two trustworthy starters, weak hitting right fielders/ designated hitters, terrible infield defense, the need to bat Derek Jeter second every day and the back half of the pen. Replacing Roberts might be the most convenient change to make, but it’s unlikely to make much of a difference.

*I wish I had finished this column before Roberts stroked four extra basehits.

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