People are still trying to run on Victor Robles? Seriously?
The Washington Nationals’ center fielder inched closer toward the NL lead in outfield assists Tuesday night when he picked up a ball to his left on a hop, planted with his momentum pulling him toward right field and fired a 97-mph screamer to nail José Peraza at third.
“The tag Anthony [Rendon] made was incredible,” Nats manager Davey Martinez told reporters after the game. “But Victor’s got an incredible arm. When he started throwing to third I was like, ‘Oh boy.’ And the play was unbelievable.”
Statcast clocked the throw at 97.3 mph, the second time in as many days Robles threw out a runner with a bullet that fast. It was his ninth outfield assist of the season, which ranks third in the Senior Circuit behind the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger (10) and the San Diego Padres’ Hunter Renfroe (12). It’s the best among NL center fielders.
Hardest tracked OF assists of 2019— #Statcast (@statcast) August 13, 2019
1. Bubba Starling: 100.7 mph, 7/26
2. Kevin Kiermaier: 100.6 mph, 5/22
3. Starling Marte: 99.9 mph, 6/15
4. @Victor__Robles: 99.5 mph last night
the @Nationals CF's cannon pic.twitter.com/RmEmRkd1Vl
Robles has emerged a Gold Glove candidate in his first season as a big leaguer. Entering play Tuesday, he led the majors in Outs Above Average with 15. The Statcast-created figure measures outfielders’ range and assesses point values based on the difficulty of catches they make. Lorenzo Cain, a perennial Gold Glove contender, ranks second in the NL with 11.
With only three errors on the season, Robles boasts a strong .989 fielding percentage that should please the more traditional writers. FanGraphs enthusiasts will also be pleased to see him rank fifth among NL outfielders in Defensive Runs Saved (13) and eighth in Ultimate Zone Rating (3.2). Both statistics are commonly used to measure the number of runs a player has saved compared to the average defender at their position.
The most impressive feat, however, might be how well he’s performing given his age.
Robles has adjusted to the majors remarkably well as a fielder, something that’s fairly uncommon for rookies.
In fact, Robles has a chance to be the first rookie NL outfielder to win a Gold Glove and the 11th rookie overall. Only three rookie outfielders have ever won the award, and all three played in the American League: Tommie Agee (CWS/1966), Fred Lynn (BOS/1975) and Ichiro Suzuki (SEA/2001). The last rookie at any position to win one was not-the-best-third-baseman-in-baseball Nolan Arenado with the Colorado Rockies in 2013.
It’s not as if this really comes as any surprise for Washington. Robles, although overshadowed by budding superstar Juan Soto, was the Nationals’ consensus top prospect for three years before earning the starting nod upon Bryce Harper’s departure last offseason. The Dominican native earned a 70 grade for both his arm and glove on the 20-80 scout’s scale, putting him among the best defensive minor-league outfielders in the country heading into this year.
His bat has been slower to develop, as evidenced by his disappointing .240/.313/.421 slash line this season after showing flashes of better production during each of his September call-ups over the last two years. He’s also been prone to rookie mistakes on the basepaths, entering play Tuesday leading all rookies with 17 stolen bases but also topping the entire National League with seven times caught stealing.
But in the field, Robles has been turning the heads of the coaches and players who see him on a day-to-day basis. After he threw out Joey Votto at home plate Monday night, Martinez jumped at the chance to praise his young center fielder.
“It was awesome,” Martinez said at his post-game press conference. “We always talk about coming to get the baseball, and he charges the ball really, really well. He cut the distance off and he threw a bullet, right on target.”
In an NL field that includes repeat winners like Jason Heyward, Ender Inciarte and Starling Marte, Robles hasn’t necessarily been at the forefront of national discussions for one of the best defensive outfielders in the game. But at 22 years old, Robles has continued to defy expectations and place himself firmly in the running for his first career Gold Glove award.
It’s only a question now of whether the voters will take notice.