Daniel Robertson will likely miss the remainder of the 2018 season recovering from surgery after dislocating his thumb
It was announced on Sunday afternoon that Daniel Robertson will require surgery to repair his dislocated thumb, and his recovery timetable puts him out at least 6-8 weeks, effectively ending his season. There’s a chance he could return in late September, but it seems unlikely that the Rays would risk his health if they are out of the playoff race with a week or two left in 2018.
This is a tough loss for the Rays, as Robertson was such a versatile player for this team. Robertson got off to a torrid start in April, posting a 1.037 OPS with 3 homers, 6 doubles, and 16 walks in 84 plate appearances. He came back to earth in May and remained a good, not great, hitter up until early June when he missed time with a hamstring injury. Robertson will finish the 2018 season with a .262/.382/.415 triple slash line with 9 homers and 2.6 fWAR.
Despite missing significant time to injuries, including this thumb issue, Robertson was effective as a utility player and proved he can be a contributor at the major league level. Just 24 years old, Robertson showed good plate discipline and contact skills, despite limited power this season and left plenty of room for improvement at the plate in 2019.
Robertson provides plus-defensive value as well. The Rays had deployed Robertson at all four infield spots in 2018, along with a handful of innings in left field. Looking at advanced defensive metrics, Robertson was an above average defender at second this season, average at third and slightly below average at short.
However, defensive metrics are tough for two reasons. First is that there needs to be significant sample size, and half a season of playing time just isn’t enough. And second, metrics such as Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) are based on zone data; since teams are shifting more frequently than ever, we need to be cautious relying on these stats.
According to Fangraphs, the Rays have used the shift against 1309 batters this year, third most in MLB. The point being that Robertson spent significant time at all positions in the shift, making his defensive value difficult to define. We do know for certain that Robertson passed the eye test this year as a middle infielder and even if Willy Adames is the shortstop of the future, Robertson can absolutely contribute going forward.
The Rays called up prospect Brandon Lowe to replace Daniel Robertson
Similar to Robertson, Lowe is a 24-year old middle infielder who has split time between triple-A Durham and double-A Montgomery this season. Fangraphs had Lowe ranked 16th in the Rays system at the beginning of 2018 and through 100 games this year, he’s slashed .298/.390/.561 with 22 homers and 8 steals.
Lowe saw time in left field in the minors after the Rays acquired Nick Solak in the offseason. The versatility Lowe provides will be helpful for the Rays due to injuries to Robertson and the newly acquired Tommy Pham. It seems likely that Lowe will be a fourth outfielder and a backup infielder for the remainder of the season and this will be a great chance for him to see major league pitching and for the Rays to evaluate how Lowe adjusts to it.
The Rays have had extremely poor luck with injuries this season but if we’re looking on the bright side, the glut of prospects in the system are getting chances at higher levels. The more the Rays can learn about players like Lowe, the better off they’ll be in the future.