I always love an under dog story and this season that love story has come in the form of Ryan Roberts. The thirty year-old has hit 5 more home runs this season than in his 5 previous MLB seasons combined. Even though a few older players finally are able to break out (see Jose Bautista), the data shows that Ryan probably won’t be one of the those players. My heart is still pulling for him though.
Ryan was drafted in 2003 by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 18th round. In 8 minor league seasons, he hit for a triple slash line of 0.274/0.373/0.448. Not shabby, but nothing to really write home about. During his minor league days he hit 96 home runs, or 1 every 33 PA. During that time frame, both of the Toronto Blue Jays and Texas Rangers released him before he ended up signing with Arizona. With Arizona he was able to get a total of 422 PA in 2009 and 2010. In the 5 seasons he saw MLB playing time, he hit for a slash line of 0.251/0.333/0.389 in 453 PA.
In 2011, not that much has changed in Ryan, except he has decided to begin hitting with more power. His slash line this season is 0.259/0.355/0.447. His AVG and OBP are nearly the same, but his SLG has increase quite a bit. It is being fueled by 15 HRs, or 1 every 26 PA. This rate is better than he did in his minor league career. This jump in home runs can further be seen in his increase in HR/FB% from a previous value of 7.1% to 12.8% this season. He is actually hitting just about the same percentage of fly balls (42.5%) compared to his career value (43.6%).
The increase in home runs could actually be from hitting the ball further this season. The following is a graph of his average batted ball distances over the past 3 years on fly balls and home runs.
It can be seen that even during this season, he is not hitting the ball as far. The previous graph almost mirrors the following graph of his ISO over the last 3 years.
I don’t see any signs of his home run power being real.
The one addition trait for Ryan is that he has stolen 14 bases in 21 attempts this season. In his previous 5 seasons, he had a total of 7 SB in 10 attempts. Thirty year-olds are not really known for their speed break outs. I would be amazed if he continued to get the green light in the future.
As much as my heart wants the journey man/late bloomer to be the real deal, the information shows that this season is pointing to a career year for Ryan and not much more. His power burst this season is hallow and he is not going to enjoy the speed numbers going forward considering his age.
Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won three FSWA Awards including on for his MASH series. In his first two seasons in Tout Wars, he's won the H2H league and mixed auction league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.