This was my biggest, of many, issues with the club resigning Cesar “Wiffle Ball” Izturis. Offensively most people would argue that the biggest drop off production wise would be if one of the 2 middle infielders goes down. I agree, but I do think that this years version of the Orioles is much better equipped to withstand losing Brian Roberts for a long period of time than last years version was. It is late so I didn’t make a chart this time, but I did do a little comparison between Roberts and who I consider the best replacement in the leadoff spot currently on the roster, JJ Hardy.
The biggest, and most obvious loss is the stolen base threat that Brian provides on the diamond. Roberts averages 36 SBs per 162 games played where Hardy averages……..1. Yup, 1. Roberts also takes the extra base once on the basepaths 43% of the time where Hardy does this 37% of the time.
But baserunning is only one part of the equation, especially since the next 4-5 slots in the order should be able to regularly advance runners when on base unlike last year so let’s dive a little deeper. One of the other responsibilities of a leadoff man is to get deep into the count and act as a scout for the rest of the lineup as far as what pitches are or are not working for that days opposing starter. Roberts sees an average of 3.96 pitches per at bat and Hardy is pretty damn close at 3.89, both above the league average of 3.77. Another stat I used is contact percentage, obviously the percentage of times contact is made on the ball. Roberts is at 89% and Hardy at 84%, again both above league average. One stat that surprised me about the two is that Brian swings at the 1st pitch 25% of the time, where JJ only does so 9% of at bats. That is quite a difference and I just threw it in because it is not what I expected. I suspect that when leading off a game that number is dramatically lower in BRob’s case. Let’s get to some “normal” stats here, Roberts is a .283 lifetime hitter and has a career OBP of .355 versus Hardy’s .263 average and .323 OBP. Not a light years of difference when we are talking about a limited number of at bats.
So, is Roberts the teams best leadoff hitter? Absolutely, but not to the overwhelming degree he was as this team was constructed last year. All that said, this is the worst case scenario we all fretted over when Cesar was resigned. I hope it never comes into play but the unfortunate reality is that at some point it will. Maybe Josh Bell can learn to hit again, and how to play the two bag.