Ryan Roberts entered 2011 as an unknown commodity. Though he was drafted in 2003, the 30-year-old had only accumulated 453 plate appearances in the majors. With the Diamondbacks having few options at third base, Roberts finally got his opportunity. Thus far, he has exceeded expectations — and is one of the main reasons the Diamondbacks are in the playoff race. While Roberts has been great this season, there are some concerns about whether his performance is sustainable.
Among all third basemen with at least 200 plate appearances, Roberts currently ranks fifth in WAR. At the plate, Roberts is feasting on fastballs and is on his way toward posting a career high in Contact %. What’s most impressive about Roberts’ performance is that he’s contributing in all aspects of the game. Not only has he experienced a breakout at the plate, but his glove appears strong enough to handle the hot corner and he’s even managed to post strong numbers on the bases despite a poor success rate when stealing.
Since Roberts has such a limited amount of major league experience, it’s tough to tell whether his breakout is legitimate. In his small sample at the major league level, Roberts has always displayed some semblance of plate discipline and a little bit of power. During his current “breakout,” most of his peripherals fall in line with his career rates — meaning his current performance isn’t too far out of line from what we should have expected.
If there is an area where Roberts has outperformed this season, it’s been his power surge. As Mike Podhorzer explained in June, Roberts was high on the list of players with “just enough” home runs. Those extra home runs may propel Roberts to 20+ this season, but it’s unlikely he’ll hit for that much power in the future. His ZIPS ROS projection seems to agree, predicting Roberts to hit only four home runs over the remainder of this season.
Even if Roberts never reaches these power numbers again he’s still managed to establish himself as a useful player this season. His breakout has been somewhat similar to that of Casey McGehee — another player who turned himself into a useful cog once given the opportunity to play everyday. While Roberts and McGehee will never be considered among the best third basemen in baseball, both players are capable providing slightly above-average production at their positions until someone better comes along. Credit the Diamondbacks for taking a chance on Roberts; he’s one of the biggest reasons behind their huge turnaround this season.
Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.