Our offseason player review series continues today with Victor Robles, who disappointed both at the plate and in the field after a promising rookie season .
PLAYER REVIEW: VICTOR ROBLES
Age on opening day 2021: 23
How acquired: Signed as international free agent, July 2013
MLB service time: 2 years, 52 days
2020 salary: $592,800 (prorated $219,556)
Contract status: Under club control, arbitration-eligible in 2022, free agent in 2025
2020 stats: 52 G, 189 PA, 168 AB, 20 R, 37 H, 5 2B, 1 3B, 3 HR, 15 RBI, 4 SB, 1 CS, 9 BB, 53 SO, .220 AVG, .293 OBP, .315 SLG, .608 OPS, 63 OPS+, -4 DRS, -0.5 fWAR, -0.6 bWAR
Quotable: “We’ve got to remember he’s such a young kid still, and he’s still got a lot to learn. I still believe that: 1) He’s going to be a Gold Glover, and 2) This kid is going to put up some numbers as a hitter. We’ve just got to keep working with him.” - manager Davey Martinez on Robles
2020 analysis: If there was one member of the Nationals lineup who seemed most likely to take a significant leap forward this season, Robles was the consensus choice. After a promising but inconsistent rookie year, he looked ready to develop into a better hitter and combine that production with his already elite performance in center field. Turns out nobody on the roster regressed more than Robles in 2020.
What went wrong? You name it. Robles’ strikeout rate went up while his walk rate went down. He “barreled” up a ball in only 1.1 percent of his plate appearances, which ranked 244th out of 257 qualifying major league hitters. As he struggled, he got overanxious, swinging at the first pitch of an at-bat 41.3 percent of time, way above the league average of 28.3 percent.
Perhaps even more concerning, Robles’ play in the field dramatically regressed. After leading the majors with 25 Defensive Runs Saved last season, he ranked among the worst this season with a minus-4 rating. He especially had trouble coming in on balls and couldn’t take charge on shallow fly balls that often fell in front of him and behind infielders.
How to explain all of this? Martinez, on more than one occasion, mentioned Robles’ weight gain during the four-month hiatus, a product of his attempt to bulk up more. Martinez worried the extra muscle may have negatively impacted Robles’ agility, flexibility and first step reading a ball off the bat.
2021 outlook: The Nationals aren’t about to give up on a 23-year-old whose potential has long been touted. But make no mistake, the pressure will be on Robles to turn things back around next season, right from the get-go.
The club will want to see him report to spring training in better shape and will want to see that translate into better movement in the field. And they’ll want to see a more patient approach at the plate, working the count and looking to drive the ball to the opposite field, something he did only 16.1 percent of the time this year.
Thing is, Robles has shown he’s capable of doing all this. He hit for a high average, reached base at a high clip and worked the count well in the minor leagues. And - at times - he did it as a rookie in 2019. The Nationals believe he can become that player again. But if he can’t do it, they may have to deploy a shorter leash in 2021.