Victor Robles finished the 2019 regular season with a .255/.326/.419 line, 33 doubles, and 17 HRs in 155 games and 617 plate appearances in his first full season in the majors, over which he was worth +2.5 fWAR.
Robles then went 9 for 41 with a double, triple, and home run (and 15 strikeouts) in 45 plate appearances on the way to the club’s World Series win that fall.
The Washington Nationals’ 23-year-old center fielder struggled at the plate in the 60-game COVID campaign in 2020, posting a .220/.293/.315 line, five doubles, and three home runs in 52 games and 189 plate appearances, over which he was worth -0.2 fWAR.
Robles seemingly took a step back defensively as well. He finished up the 2019 campaign at +23 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), but he ended up at -4 DRS in 2020, with an Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) that fell from +5.3 in 1,199 innings in 2019 to -3.6 in 422 2⁄3 innings of work out in center in 2020.
Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez talked throughout the 2020 campaign about the work Robles did during the offseason and between Spring Trainings 1.0 and 2.0 last summer to bulk up a bit and add muscle as something that potentially negatively affected the outfielder’s speed and agility. He wasn’t out of shape, the manager said, but the added weight may have been affecting certain aspects of his game.
“We don’t talk to him about necessarily the weight gain,” Martinez explained, “we talk to him about his flexibility, his speed, agility, his first step, I mean, stuff like that. If he feels like he can carry the weight, then we really want him to really hone in on his flexibility and his first-step quickness.
“We’re putting a plan together for him so he can establish that, and get on that. Like I said, not by any means is he out of shape. He’s in great shape. I watch him in the gym. He’s a beast. He’s a big kid. But I definitely don’t want him to lose his speed. And that’s a huge part of his game.”
Offensively, Martinez said, Robles, who did miss time early in Spring Training 2.0, after he’d come in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, may have been trying to do too much when he struggled at the plate.
“He’s trying to get five hits in one swing, and that happens to a young player. I just want him ... [to] go out there, have fun, relax, and just try to make good, solid contact.
“He can’t guide where the ball goes. I tell him just go out there and try to hit the ball hard somewhere, if you get a hit, great, if you don’t, live on that, and just build off of that.
“But just try to make good, solid contact, and go have fun. I think this winter he knows what he has to do, we talked about it. He still wants to stay strong, but he also wants to work on his speed, work on his hitting, his two-strike approach and all that kind of stuff.”
Martinez said late this past season that he wouldn’t object to the idea of Robles getting at bats in Winter League action, and the Nationals’ center fielder has been playing for weeks now with the Dominican Winter League’s Águilas Cibaeñas. The Nationals’ skipper said he still wants to get down to the DR to get some one-on-one work in with his outfielder.
“I know Victor is playing,” Martinez said this past Tuesday, when he spoke to reporters on a Zoom call from the nation’s capital, though Robles is now apparently done. “I want to see him. I kind of want to work with him a little bit one on one, so it might be after Christmas, January, where he gets started rolling again, get back out there, I want to see him.”
Asked if he was surprised at all by Robles’s struggles on the defensive end in 2020, Martinez said it was something that they had addressed with the outfielder, and it was something the team would work on with the outfielder and talk about this winter and next spring.
“We talked to him about it, and like I said, it’s a lot about agility drills, getting his quickness back,” Martinez explained.
“Like I said, he’s a beast,” the manager added. “He’s got such an unbelievable physique, but he cannot lose his quickness, his speed, because that’s who he is, that’s how he plays, so with that being said, we’ve got eyes on him, I know [Strength and Conditioning Coach Matt Eiden] has been talking to him, the trainer there that’s been with him.
“He wanted to play to hone in on his swing, and he is swinging a lot better. So, but I told him he’s going to have to spend January really, really focusing on his quickness and his speed.”
“To me, it’s all about history of players,” GM Mike Rizzo added when he too was asked this week about Robles’s 2020 struggles, the additional weight, and potential fixes, “... and you go back to 2019, we were one of the top defensive outfields in the game and we won the World Series. I think that had a lot to do with it. Victor was one of the Gold Glove finalists, and at his age, I don’t see regressing that quickly. So I am going to put a little bit on preparation as far as the game plan going into the season. I think the COVID stop-and-go had a lot to do with how we came into camp, and believe me when I say that it’s been a conversation that we’ve had with our strength and conditioning coordinator, our manager, and our center fielder on several occasions.”