The Unheralded Shane Robinson

Shane Robinson doesn’t look like much of a ballplayer. Listed at 5’9″ and weighing slightly more than a buck fifty, he’s not going to win any “good body” praise from scouts. If he were to walk past you on the street, he’d appear a perfectly averaged sized human male, but in professional baseball, he’s knee high in a land of giants.

Players with Shane’s stature are typically associated with one thing: speed. Find an athlete that’s 5’9″ and lean, and 9.7 times out of 10 you’ll find a speed demon capable of beating a jackrabbit in a footrace. Hyperbole and generalization aside, there are certain expectations that arise when I look at a baseball player like Shane Robinson. I expect him to cover more ground in the outfield than the Union Pacific Railroad and to steal bases by the bunch.

Given 50 opportunities this season, Shane Robinson is a perfect 5 for 5 on stolen base attempts. 5 measly stolen bases won’t light up a stat sheet, but attempting a stolen base on 10% of your opportunities and walking away with a clean slate is solid work. And while he’s never registered a season of 20 or more stolen bases in his professional career, it’s largely due to the lack of opportunities that comes with being a part-time player.

In 147 innings in center field this season, his primary position when he enters the game, Shane’s posted a mark of 3.8 runs above average according to UZR. He has a range factor of 5.2 runs above average. We’re dealing with an incredibly small sample size here, and defensive metrics can fluctuate wildly over small samples, still it remains that Shane has been a positive in the field and covers a bit a ground. It is true that there’s more to being a good defender than being quick, but it often helps outfielders track down sharply hit balls and can mask deficiencies in route running and defensive placement.

There’s little doubt that Robinson’s speed has a lot to due with him making the big leagues. But I’d be lying to myself if I thought he could be a  prolific base stealer or defensive savant, given the opportunity to play more. I think he simply puts good use to what he has on the basepaths and in the field. But in one of the nicer surprises of the 2013 season, it’s what Shane’s done at the plate that’s shattered my perception of him.

Shane had a monster spring training. I’m not going to bother looking up the stats, because spring training stats don’t matter, and that’s precisely why we didn’t make much of it at the time. In hindsight, we can now think of it as his coming out party. Maybe I’ll pay more attention next February (unlikely).

Some context is need here, though. Shane is having a monster season in no way, shape, or form. We’re talking about a player who’s hitting .282 with 2 home runs and 12 batted in. Yet, in 128 plate appearances, he’s got an OBP near .400. He’s walking at a Votto-esque rate of 17.2% and has lashed 25 laser beam singles. The walk rate will undoubtedly be coming back down to Earth at some point, but it’s fun while it’s lasting.

All this to say someone should pat Shane on the back and congratulate him the next time they see him. It’s clear he showed up to Jupiter this spring ready to make the most of any opportunities thrown his way. Things like this make the season all that more enjoyable. And the next time a national broadcaster heralds the Cardinals and their ability to unearth and extract value out of players who don’t fit the traditional mold, remember they’re talking about guys like Shane Robinson.

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