Retrospective Player Comments: Bip Roberts

The Ducksnorts 2008 Baseball Annual included a section called “Overlooked ex-Padres.” I’d wanted to call attention to four players–Ollie Brown, Mike Ivie, Ruppert Jones, and Bip Roberts–that maybe didn’t get their due in San Diego. The idea was noble, but the execution could have been better.

Since I’ve spent much of the offseason writing player comments for Baseball Prospectus 2015 (#ShamelessPlug), I’m in the mind-set of condensing a man’s contributions to his team into a short paragraph with snappy phrases. In that vein, I thought it might be fun to revisit those players from DS2008 and write capsules for each of their seasons with the Padres.

Previous installments have focused on Ollie Brown, Mike Ivie, and Ruppert Jones. Now we finish with Bip Roberts.

BP1987

Roberts, who attended the same high school as Nothing in Common star Tom Hanks, was selected by the Padres in the Rule 5 draft. Unfairly compared to former San Diego speedster Alan Wiggins, the diminutive switch-hitter enjoyed moderate success from the left side of the plate but was useless from the right side. After swiping 90 bags over the previous two seasons in the minors, Roberts was not a threat at the big-league level. Although his 14 steals were second on the Padres, a 54 percent success rate made him a liability. Roberts, whose given name is Leon, hit .378 in September and played a respectable second base, both encouraging. If he hits grounders and refines his running game, he could be more than a guy with a cool nickname.

BP1988

After spending the previous year in San Diego as a Rule 5 draftee, Bip Roberts hit .306 in the PCL, controlling the strike zone but still making poor use of his speed (27 for 41 in stolen-base attempts).

BP1989

Bip Roberts put himself back on the proverbial map, hitting .353 at Las Vegas (fourth in the PCL, 10 points behind league leader Edgar Martinez, a Mariners third base prospect) and showing improvement on the bases.

BP1990

Formerly a second baseman, Roberts resurfaced with the Padres as a utility player after spending two years in Las Vegas (where he’d also played college ball). Perhaps affected by off-field distractions, he started slowly before getting on track. Making starts at six different positions, he hit .301 and had more walks than strikeouts. He still gets caught stealing too often but has improved against southpaws, against whom he hit .325/.397/.513 last year. Any concerns about his size were assuaged by his .305/.396/.429 line over the final two months. Although he lacks the power normally associated with third base and left field, his two most frequently played positions, Roberts is a useful bip-of-all-trades.

BP1991

Again primarily splitting time between third and left, Roberts emerged as an offensive force. Playing most every day, he did damage from both sides of the plate and turned his speed into an asset, swiping 46 bases at a 79 percent success rate. Perhaps most encouraging were his 36 doubles and his .333/.393/.444 line after the All-Star break. For a guy generously listed at 5’7”, 150 lbs., the ability to drive baseballs and endure 600 plate appearances are not givens. But, as he did the year before, Roberts owned August and September. The prognosis for most Rule 5 draftees is not good, but Roberts has so far bucked the odds. Despite skills that aren’t a classical fit for the positions he plays, he could be this generation’s Ira Flagstead.

BP1992

With Roberto Alomar’s departure, Roberts returned to second base and saw his game disintegrate. His plate discipline, base-stealing efficiency, and ability to hit southpaws all suffered. Left knee surgery in August couldn’t have helped. He’s a tough kid, though, and young enough to rebound. If he does, it will happen in Cincinnati, who acquired him for lefty closer Randy Myers. There is risk for the Reds, but don’t be surprised if he turns in an All-Star performance with his new club.

BP1995

After two seasons in Cincinnati, one great and one terrible, Roberts returned to the Padres and landed somewhere in the middle. He hit .320 but didn’t show a lot of secondary skills. The overall numbers are a bit deceiving, though, as his bat slumbered for the first five weeks. Roberts hit .349/.408/.443 from May 19 until August 11, when the players went on strike. A month later, used car salesman/Brewers owner/acting Commissioner Bud Selig and his cohorts canceled the season and World Series, presumably in the best interests of baseball. As with teammate Tony Gwynn’s quest for .400 and fellow 1969 expansion team Montreal’s pursuit of the pennant, we’ll never know what might have been.

BP1996

After going 0-for-5 in the season opener, Roberts had 13 multihit games in his next 23 and was batting .384/.440/.455 through May 24. A fierce competitor who struggled to cope with the Padres’ losing ways in ’94, he stepped up his game for an improved ballclub under rookie manager Bruce Bochy. Roberts stumbled toward the end of June, then missed two weeks with a strained right quadriceps, batted once on July 13, then missed five more weeks. He had multihit games in each of his first three games back but batted just .236/.247/.278 the rest of the way, with an uncharacteristic 15-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. In the first major deal made by new GM Kevin Towers, Roberts was shipped to Kansas City for first baseman Wally Joyner after the season.

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  • Tom Waits

    I love these retrospectives, GY, but I can barely pay attention because WHAT WILL MADMAN PRELLER DO NEXT!?

    It may go up in spectacular flames, but no one can say he lacks guts.