Diamond Duels: Ben Zobrist vs. Brian Roberts

by Tim Heaney and Keith Hernandez on March 4, 2011 @ 02:46:47 PDT


Ben Zobrist, 2B/OF, Tampa Bay Rays

Tim Heaney

Zobrist's fantasy baseball player profile

  • Apparently, Mr. Hernandez would like another. Time to defend one of the 2010 fall-back-to-earth specials. Zobrist couldn't follow up on his 27 homers and sustain the BABIP from his .297 clip from '09. Shocker. But even in his fall-off, Z wasn't zzzzzzzz-ing. Dude still drove in 75 runs, scored 77 and took 24 bags - he actually built on his '09 thievery. His improved contact rate is a good sign for restoring his clip to at least a useful level.
  • Tampa Bay Rays 2B/OF Ben Zobrist
    Don't zzz on Zobrist
    You can also blame some of that downturn on the pressure for justifying his recently signed extension and - more significantly - a sore neck that started bugging him in camp. It went away by midseason, but having played through it, Zobrist had already fallen into a trap of poor plate mechanics (keep your head in, kids!) and stumbled further in the second half. No ill effects have surfaced above his shoulders this spring, and a cleaner machine should allow for squarer hacks.
  • Not really sticking my neck out, but the taters will approach 20 again. Even as he struggled to regain his stroke in the second half, he steadily increased his fly-ball output over the final three months. Plus, Zobrist's power explosion from '09 is an easy target for justifying the correction. Well, as a part-timer the year before, he displayed similar yard-leaving ability. Brian Roberts typically hits more fly balls but hasn't been able to do as much with them as Zobrist has in his pain-free days of significant PT.
  • Zobrist and Roberts boast similar batting eyes and helpful steals profiles. Z will turn 30 in May. Roberts will be 33 for the whole season. Choosing the younger player doesn't hurt.
  • Though Roberts came back strong on the base paths last year after his sabbatical, it's hard to bank on that for an entire season. A B-Rob injury is as surprising as the sunrise. Even if he doesn't miss time, he frequently seems to be nagged by something, especially lower-body maladies in the last few seasons. Back problems, which cost him most of 2010, rarely vanish, especially at his age. And he wasted no time this spring, already reporting neck stiffness!

Closing argument: Both keystoners will be undervalued in most drafts. Give me the one with better 20-20 potential. Without a nagging injury, Zobrist won't be the shell of him we saw in 2010. Roberts' casing, conversely, is older, has been more fragile and has less pop upside, even with his comfort of a more favorable hitter's home. Bet on Zobrist splitting the difference between 2009 and 2010 before paying to wait for the next time Roberts splits, separates, sprains, strains, bruises or breaks something.

Brian Roberts, 2B, Baltimore Orioles

Keith Hernandez

Roberts' fantasy baseball player profile

  • Both Roberts and Ben Zobrist are better than what their 2010 seasons might suggest. However, Roberts was a bust because of injuries, not outright poor performance. B-Rob critics are quick to point out the back injury that kept him out for two-thirds of the schedule. Sure, there is no denying it: He is an injury risk. Still, aside from last year, he had played in at least 138 games in each of every season since 2004. A minor neck tweak this spring may have you saying, "Here we go again." Relax. The sore neck was not related to his back injury, and he is back on the field.
  • Baltimore Orioles 2B Brian Roberts
    Roberts' BB rate and above-average contact make him a steady BA contributor. Zobrist may have a more excitable power profile, but his BA is vulnerable (2010: .238). The injuries played a part in B-Rob's lack of power and SBs last year. However, he didn't display a hesitance to run upon his return in late July - he managed to steal 10 bags in 216 ABs. It would be a stretch to expect a 20-homer season from him, but don't count him out for double-digit HRs. Roberts' fly-ball rates have increased in each of the last two seasons, including last year, when he dealt with a concussion, herniated disc and hip strain.
  • Hitting in the leadoff spot will continue to limit his RBI opps, but more pop behind Roberts in the O's lineup will give him plenty of chances to cross home plate. The additions of Vladimir Guerrero, Mark Reynolds and Derrek Lee will make the lineup more potent; opposing pitchers will be more occupied with the sticks behind Roberts when he manages to reach base, leading to an increased probability for stolen-base success.
  • The 29-year-old Zobrist's speed and power combination is hard to pass up, especially for a super-utility player. But why is the word utility still attached to his name? The switch-hitter status and positional eligibility is nice, but the absence of a permanent position may make it hard for him to contribute consistently. Manager Joe Maddon may be inclined to stay away from Zobrist in favor of more time for Sean Rodriguez or another form of roster shuffling if the former gets off to a slow start this year.
  • In his two full seasons in Tampa, it looks like we may have seen Zobrist's ceiling in '09 and his floor in '10. Two seasons don't make much of a track record, though, and Roberts' consistent production over a 10-year career is much better-rounded. Zobrist's BA is a good bet to rebound after enduring a poor BABIP last year. The 27-homer explosion of '09 seems to be more of an outlier; his FB rate didn't go anywhere in the last two years, and he was never power stud in his minors stops.

Closing argument: Once you look past the major back tweak from a year ago, Roberts' true talent shines through. Where he lacks, Zobrist's game doesn't, and vice versa. We've likely seen the best and worst that Zobrist has to offer - something in between doesn't stack up to what Roberts can give you when healthy. Even at age 33, B-Rob still has the potential to give you 30 thefts and a BA above .280. Both players are on the cheap this year, and where Roberts is being drafted, the injury risk becomes minimal.

KFFL staff verdict

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Fantasy Baseball Diamond Duels


About Tim Heaney

Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum, who competes in the prestigious LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.

He appears frequently, including every Sunday, on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, as well as every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.

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