Sunday, February 2, 2014

A Closer Look At Brian Roberts

A lot of Yankees fans have shrugged off the team's signing of Brian Roberts. They see a guy that's missed a ton of time in the past few years, and they immediately think of other options at second base. While I understand that line of thinking, as it's hard to lean on a guy that's missed a total of 446 games since 2010 due to injury, we could be in for a nice surprise.

"I love surprises!"

Between 2003 and 2009, Brian Roberts suffered from minor injuries to just about every part of his body. The only big issue came in 2005 when a dislocation of his left elbow led to Tommy John surgery. However, it's worth noting that of all the ailments he's had since then, not one of them had to do with that elbow. And since it's been over eight years since that surgery, I think it's safe to say that Brian's elbow is just fine.

Even though Roberts had issues all over his body in those seven seasons, he missed a total of only 52 games, which works out to less than eight a year. In fact, even if you count regular days off during that time period, Brian ended up appearing in an average of 146 games a season.

And what did Brian do during those seven years? Well, he only hit .288/.362/.430. Oh, and it's worth noting that Roberts was an above average defender at second base as well.

Of course, you can't ignore the fact that Roberts was between the ages of 25 and 31 during those seven years, and you shouldn't expect a 36 year-old coming off various injuries to match those statistics. The point I'm trying to make is that, when healthy, there's every reason to believe that Brian could be a valuable piece to the puzzle that is the Yankees' 2014 season.

And therein lies the catch... "when healthy". Since the beginning of the 2010 season, Brian Roberts has had problems with his lower back, abdomen, lower leg, hip, knee, head, neck, thigh, and face. One of the four surgeries he's had in the last three years was on his hip labrum, which not only cost him 103 days, but is something that can certainly linger. Hopefully the 77 games since without any problems indicates that his hip is good to go.

Then you have the surgery performed on him last May for his right hamstring. Certainly not something to scoff at, although he played 74 games in July, August, and September without missing any time due to lingering effects.

By the way, the other two surgeries were for a root canal and offseason surgery for a sports hernia. Two things that aren't concerning to me.

Four surgeries in three years? Yikes. 

Well, I guess there's some optimism regarding his ability to play after those surgeries. But what about the other large chunks of missed time since the beginning of 2010? Let's take a look...

In the early part of the 2010 season, Roberts suffered a strained abdomen stealing second base. Then, late in the season, he gave himself a concussion due to hitting himself in the head with own bat. The first injury is not an indication of a true problem to me. I mean, Brian could have avoided the ab injury by simply sliding feet-first like most players. It's not something that tells me he's brittle. And as for hitting himself in the head with his own bat? I think we can chalk that up to a momentary lapse in judgement that can easily be avoided.

Unfortunately, the following season, Brian had yet to learn his lesson of not sliding head-first, as he suffered a concussion due to it. Not only that, but he slid head-first into first base. Sliding head-first in and of itself is unnecessary. But head first? Ugh! Please tell me Roberts has learned his lesson.

Most of his missed games in 2012 came from the fact he was still recovering from his previous concussions, and not from something new. Brian came back for a short time when his recovery was finished, but decided to have season-ending hip surgery... which I discussed earlier.

I touched on his hamstring surgery earlier as well, which he had in 2013. What I didn't mention was that that injury happened while stealing second base. Which means a third injury involving sliding. Maybe he hasn't learned, and we should all worry whenever Roberts starts a slide.

Overall though, the only thing that really worries me is the hip issue, as that's something that can come back to haunt him later. The other stuff was suffered due to injuries that any player could have happen. Hideki Matsui missed 111 games in 2006 due to breaking his arm sliding to make a catch in left field, but that didn't make him an injury risk (it was Matsui's knees that were the problem). Sometimes you just run into some bad luck. To be fair, Roberts has run into a butt-load of bad luck.

The severity of such a thing depends on the size of the butt.

You could say that Roberts' body is weak and more susceptible to injury than others, but as long as he plays smarter then he could be fine. By "smarter" I mean not hitting himself in the head with his own bat, not sliding head-first into bases, and being more careful sliding... period. Which are all things that are not hard to change, at least with a bit of coaching.

So while Brian hasn't had a healthy season since 2009, and he's unlikely to match what he did before then in 2014, he could still put up a respectful batting line. I wouldn't be surprised to see him hit .270/.335/.420, which at $2 million would be a heck of a steal.

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Sorry for the Capatcha... Blame the Russians :)