The numbers weren’t pretty on either side of the game for Victor Robles in 2020’s 60-game COVID campaign.
Offensively, the 23-year-old outfielder put up 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, after a 2019 campaign which saw him put up a .255/.326/.419 line, 33 doubles, and 17 HRs in 155 games and 617 plate appearances in a 2.5 fWAR season.
Defensively, Robles, who finished 2019 at +23 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), ended up with -4 DRS over 52 games and his Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) fell from a +5.3 UZR in a total of 1,199 innings to a rough -3.6 UZR in 422 2⁄3.
Robles’s manager, Davey Martinez, talked this winter and spring about the addition muscle the outfielder put on as part of the problem, and they tasked him with dropping some of it before the start of Spring Training 2021, which he did.
“He looks good, he really does,” Martinez said a couple weeks into Spring Training this year.
“He slimmed down a little bit. His footwork has been good in the outfield. Like I said, he revamped his swing a little bit, he’s a little shorter to the baseball. So far everything looks good. Want to him to stay healthy, want to get him into games, and get him playing again, and as we all know the upside with Victor is unbelievable. We want to get him back to that Gold Glove status and continue to develop.”
Victor Robles covering major ground pic.twitter.com/FFbSdxAWmZ— OPT (@OnePursuitTakes) April 17, 2021
Robles’s improved defense was on display over the weekend, as he ranged into left-center to rob Pavin Smith of extra bases in the eighth inning of an 0-0 game on Friday night, and he tracked an Asdrúbal Cabrera fly to the fence in center field in Sunday’s series with the D-backs and played it off the wall before firing a strike to second where Asdrúbal Cabrera was dead to rights.
The throw from center was particularly impressive (and accurate), but Robles’s teammate, Trea Turner, said he wasn’t surprised to see the center fielder uncork a perfect one.
“I expect him to do that almost every time,” Turner said after Sunday’s game. “As middle infielders you run out there for a double cut, and then when the ball bounces off the wall pretty well, and he’s in a good spot, he’s got a chance to throw almost anybody out at second. As middle infielders, you’re kind of floating, seeing if it’s going to be a double or triple, or if there’s going to be a play at second, and I kind of expect that from him every time, he’s got such a good arm and he plays the ball off the wall really well. So he finally — not finally — got one, but I feel like a lot of times he comes close and today he got it done for us.”
Robles made some adjustments at the plate this offseason and spring, but he’s off to a bit of a rough start offensively, though he is walking more (.225/.367/.275), and his skipper said he has seen a significant improvement on the defensive end.
“He’s been really good,” Martinez said when he spoke with reporters in advance of the first of three with the St. Louis Cardinals in D.C. on Monday afternoon. “Part of the process was to get him to understand — he’s playing a little deeper, so it’s helping him on his angles to the baseballs, it’s helping him go back a little bit better. He has no issues ever coming to get the ball in front of him, so it’s helped him out at lot. You see his first step, it’s been pretty good.
“We challenge him all the time about — you know he was so close in ‘19 to becoming a Gold Glover. [In] 2020, he didn’t look like that guy.
“Now, he’s starting to look like that guy that he was in 2019, which is nice. And we talk to him all the time about his defense.
“His defense for us is going to help us win games as well. It’s not just about his hitting.
“But he’s got to play good defense for us out there, and he’s always the captain out there in center field so we want him to catch every ball possible and he’s done that this year.”
A former outfielder in the majors himself, Martinez said that Robles prefers playing in, but they have convinced him to start a little deeper.
“I actually think after watching him, he likes playing in and we constantly have to talk to him about it. I think it’s tough to create your angles when you’re playing in on balls hit over your head,” he explained.
“And I find it really tough this time of year, because you don’t really know — a lot going on with the wind this time of year. In the summer time you know the balls are just going to — here sometimes the balls just fly out of here, so you know, we’re always going to push him back.
“This time of year you have a tendency to want to play in, and we got him playing — the biggest thing for me is his angles, so his angles are much better going back on balls.
“That ball that was hit to left-center that he caught, I watched it 10 times, and his angle was a straight line to where he needed to be to catch the ball instead of starting shallow and going back a few and then kind of angling the other way. He cuts the distance off.
“Where he’s at right now I love watching him play, I really do. I feel like when the ball is up the air it’s an out when he’s out there. So that’s always awesome.”
And he’s not concerned that starting Robles deeper will result in some balls falling in front of him in the center field grass?
“He covers ground,” Martinez said. “You see him coming in on balls, there’s some balls where I think bloopers, I say, ‘Oh man, he’s not going to get it,’ and he gets them quite easily.”