When Hansel Robles is at his best, it’s not hard to dream on the relief pitcher he could become. Unfortunately for the Mets, the 26-year-old just hasn’t been able to stay at or near his best over the course of a full season yet in his major league career.
To be fair, Robles has only been in the big leagues for two seasons, and there are things to really like about his performance. In 131.2 innings with the Mets, he’s struck out 9.98 opposing batters per nine innings—or 26.6 percent of them, if you’re into the whole accuracy thing. But thanks to less-than-ideal walk and home run rates, he has a 3.55 ERA and 3.70 FIP over those two seasons. Those aren’t really bad numbers, but they’re not quite good enough to get him up on the level that Jeurys Familia and Addison Reed have been on over the same span.
Robles has been in the Mets’ organization for the entirety of his professional career. He was a starting pitcher the grand majority of the time in his early years in the minors, but the Mets moved him to the bullpen while he was with Double-A Binghamton in 2014, and he has remained a reliever ever since.
As for his flaws in his time with the Mets, home runs were the bigger issue in his rookie season in 2015, when he gave up 1.33 per nine innings. Last year, that rate dropped to a more reasonable 0.81 per nine, but his walk rate went from 3.00 per nine to 4.17 in the process. Looking at the single-season numbers, Robles improved a bit in both ERA and FIP from his first season to his second. Generally speaking, the major projection systems see him doing more of the same this year, which makes sense.
While Robles was relatively consistent on a month-to-month basis in that first season with the Mets, he was incredibly streaky using those same endpoints last year. His monthly ERA broke down like this: 1.69, 5.11, 2.93, 0.00, 9.00, and 0.71.
When you’re looking at a player, you can’t just take the good or bad parts and ignore the opposite side. The good version of Robles has been really, really good, but those awful months—May and August—still very much count. In May, he gave up a staggering 3.65 home runs per nine innings, and in August, he issued 7.20 walks per nine.
And that’s really the thing that seems like it’ll define Robles’s 2017 season. We still don’t know exactly how long Jeurys Familia will be suspended at the beginning of the season, but with or without him in the bullpen, Robles should have plenty of opportunity this year. It would be unrealistic to expect him to take a major leap to the level of his elite peers, but if he were able to lessen the damage when things are going poorly, he might turn into a trustworthy late-inning reliever.