Ryan Roberts Is An Upgrade?

Ryan Roberts had a very good 2011 season. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it was as good as it was unexpected. And boy, it was plenty unexpected. Like Verbal Kint dropping the limp unexpected. The Arizona Diamondbacks third baseman was judged by FanGraphs WAR to have been the sixth best at his position in all of baseball for 2011.

Prior to last season, the sleeved when shirtless Roberts had a reputation for getting on base at the Minor League level, but had never been able to transfer that skill to the Majors. He got on base more than 34% of the time in 2011, but the real surprise was his .427 slugging percentage, which was the highest of his professional career.

It was expected that Roberts would come back down to earth this season, but his descent into its upper mantle has been incredibly disappointing for a Diamondbacks team suffering the strange fate of having a worse record this season with a more talented team than last year.

So, it’s surprising to learn that Roberts, who has put in more than 700 innings at second base in his career, is an object of desire for any team, let alone one that many expected to be among the cream of the crop in the American League. Yes, according to Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports, the Detroit Tigers are interested in acquiring Ryan Roberts.

At first, it might seem strange that a player of Roberts mediocre quality would be actively sought out by another team, but then, you look at the contributions that second basemen have made for the Tigers this season, and suddenly you wonder why the team bothers fielding anyone at the position at all.

  • Ramon Santiago: 210 PAs, .303 OBP, .303 SLG, .274wOBA, 66 wRC+, -0.2 fWAR.
  • Danny Worth: 67 PAs, .277 OBP, .228 SLG, .235 wOBA, 40 wRC+, -0.5 fWAR.
  • Ryan Raburn: 196 PAs, .226 OBP, .254 SLG, .214 wOBA, 25 wRC+, -1.1 fWAR.

That’s a rough go. The Tigers own the worst offensive production from second basemen in the league, even worse than the San Francisco Giants who have fielded an unholy trinity of mire in Ryan Theriot, Emmanuel Burriss and Charlie Culberson this season.

In comparison to whom Detroit is playing now, Roberts looks like Robinson Cano:

  • Ryan Roberts: 260 PAs, .287 OBP, .353 SLG, .278 wOBA, 66 wRC+, +0.2 fWAR.

However, Morosi suggests that the Tigers would also like to acquire shortstop Stephen Drew from the D’Backs, and might be willing to part with Jhonny Peralta to get him and Roberts. Drew, as you’ll recall, has only recently returned from a gruesome ankle injury that struck him down last season. Meanwhile, Peralta, coming off a career season of his own last year, has struggled at times in 2012, but remains a better option than Drew.

If such a deal were to materialize, Detroit would most likely be looking at a slight downgrade at shortstop for an immediate upgrade at second base. That might make sense in a vacuum, but the Tigers have had such bad luck at second base this season, that a replacement level player would be an upgrade for them. In other words, giving up an advantage at shortstop isn’t necessary to improve the situation in the other part of their middle infield.

They could have picked up Brooks Conrad before the Tampa Bay Rays swooped in, and Detroit would’ve been ahead in the game. There are a number of second basemen available that won’t cost a downgrade at another position to acquire. And on top of all that, Roberts is really only good in comparison to what Detroit has now. He’s barely above replacement himself this season.

Are additional years of team control really that much of a prize when you’re talking about a slightly above replacement level player? I don’t think so. My advice to the Tigers would be to save your previous Peralta, and find an upgrade at second base somewhere else.