Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Roberts's injury is a big deal

Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail commented on Brian Roberts's injury (a herniated disc) yesterday and expressed some concern that he may not be ready at the beginning of the season. Here are some of MacPhail's comments, via Jeff Zrebiec's article:

"I talked to Richie Bancells, our head athletic trainer, about it again today, and at this time he still thinks Brian is going to be ready for Opening Day, but you have to be concerned now," MacPhail said. "To me, you get 10 days into spring training before you start really paying attention, but the clock is starting to be an issue. ... By now, we have to start thinking about, 'What if he isn't ready?'"

MacPhail said he might start having his scouts look at who is available on the trade market along with exploring internal options.

If it's not enough that Roberts is dealing with back pain, he's also now battling stomach problems after the prescribed oral medication made him ill.

There's no question that Roberts is a big part of the Orioles, and he may be the player the team can most ill afford to lose (I'd say either Matt Wieters or Roberts). That doesn't mean that Roberts is the team's best player, but the Orioles aren't exactly well-equipped to lose a quality second baseman like Roberts for an extended period of time. For example, if Nick Markakis or Adam Jones gets hurt and has to miss a few games, the Orioles have other outfielders, Luke Scott and Felix Pie, who can fill in and play competently enough. Hopefully Roberts is healthy enough to start on opening day, but if he's not, the Orioles will face a significant drop-off in production, especially at the plate.

Let's look at some of the possible replacements at second base and how they stack up against Roberts. (All stats are career numbers.)

Brian Roberts .284 .356 .421 0.76
Robert Andino .213 .264 .292 0.29
Ty Wigginton .271 .328 .452 0.41

Ouch. Wigginton hits for more power than Roberts, but he doesn't get on base enough or draw nearly as many walks. And Andino has simply been overmatched at the plate in his time in the majors.

Justin Turner, 25, is another internal option for the Orioles, but he doesn't have much major league experience -- only 12 games and 18 at bats. It is worth noting, though, that last year in Triple-A Norfolk he hit .300/.362/.388 with a 0.92 BB/K ratio, so that's something.

I remember reading an article, maybe on Roch's MASN blog, about how Dave Trembley will give Andino the first crack at the job if Roberts can't play, but I can't find it now. If that's true, that's a pretty good decision in terms of defense. Andino hasn't really played a ton of games at any position, but he had a 2.5 UZR at shortstop (a more difficult position to play) last year in 62 games and a -0.3 UZR at eight games at second as well. Again, those are small sample sizes, but it's not exactly going out on a limb to say that Andino is a better defensive player than Wigginton -- though, believe it or not, Wigginton actually has a career 1.1 UZR at second base in 128 career games. Anyway, Cesar Izturis and Andino would be a dynamic double play combo, but having both of their bats in the lineup certainly hurts the O's.

It's safe to say that the Orioles won't be able to replace Roberts's bat in the lineup, particularly his ability to get on base at the top of the lineup to set the table for Markakis, Jones, Nolan Reimold, Scott, etc. However, Andino could be a defensive upgrade over Roberts (-9.0 UZR at second last year), for whatever that's worth. Again, hopefully Roberts gets healthy soon.

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