What do you do with a 24-year old gold-glove caliber CF who’s been in the league for 3 seasons and was touted as a 5-tool player, but hasn’t been able to put it all together? That’s a question that Mike Rizzo is going to have to answer this offseason. It would be tough to give up on Robles after just 3 seasons in the Majors, but with Lane Thomas now on the roster, it seems a bit redundant to carry both players.
Since slashing .255/.326/.419 with 17 homers, 65 RBIs and 28 steals in his rookie season, Robles has floundered in his next 159 games between 2020-2021 posting a .606 OPS with 5 homers, 34 RBIs and 12 steals. No matter what kind of defense he plays, those offensive numbers aren’t going to cut it. His statcast numbers have gone from bad to worse and we’ve reached the point where it’s fair to wonder if Robles will ever develop into the offensive player that most around the league thought he would turn into.
In 2019, Robles showed the league that he could hit a fastball, but struggled mightily hitting offspeed pitches. It would be fair to assume that the league adjusted and started throwing him fewer fastballs. But that’s not actually what happened. What happened was Robles started to struggle to hit fastballs. In 2019, 56.7% of the pitches Robles saw were fastballs and he hit .280 and slugged .446 against them. In 2020, 61.5% of the pitches Robles saw were fastballs, but he hit just .221 and slugged .317 against them. It was a similar story in 2021, where 56.2% of the pitches Robles saw were fastballs and he hit .243 and slugged .351 against them. Robles can’t hit an offspeed pitch to save his life, so if he’s going to survive in the league, he has to hit the fastball like he was doing in 2019.
Another big issue he’s encountered throughout his first 3 seasons in the majors is his inability to hit the ball hard. Robles was in the first percentile in average exit velocity last season, fifth percentile in hard hit %, and in the tenth percentile or worse in xwOBA, xBA, xSLG and barrel %. He’s not making good contact and frankly never has. Will working with another hitting coach other than Kevin Long make a difference? It’s possible, but probably unlikely.
So what do the Nats do with Robles? They have Lane Thomas in CF now, who came over from St. Louis and put up a .853 OPS with a 133 OPS+ in 45 games and 206 plate appearances. Thomas, who’s just 25 years old himself, has earned the starting job heading into Spring Training. That leaves Robles either destined for AAA Rochester, beginning the season on the Nationals bench or headed to another team.
I know his value is essentially as low as it can get, but I think there are 15-20 teams in the league that would take a chance on Robles. A change of scenery is probably the best path to take at this point and truthfully,, there’s an intra-division trade that makes sense between the Nationals and the Marlins, who have long coveted Robles. The Nationals could use some young starting pitching and the Marlins have a lot of it and could very easily play Robles everyday in CF.
A swap of Robles for Elieser Hernandez or Braxton Garrett would make a lot of sense, although Miami very well might even balk at moving either of those two players for Robles. Just 3 years ago we were talking about whether Robles was too steep of a price for JT Realmuto. Now, we’re hoping that the Marlins might be willing to part with some of their back-end pitching depth for Robles.