Hansel Robles entered 2018 looking to rebound from his worst year in the major leagues. After enjoying a solid rookie campaign and an even better sophomore season, Robles was mostly a mess in 2017. He finished his third big league season with a 4.92 ERA, a 5.13 FIP, and a -0.4 fWAR while allowing 1.59 home runs per nine innings and posting a career-high 11.7% walk rate and a career-low 24.3% strikeout rate.
With plenty of question marks surrounding the bullpen, the 27-year-old right-hander had the opportunity to seize a spot and establish himself as a late-inning threat during spring training. Instead, a poor spring performance, in which he yielded 12 earned runs in 11.2 innings, resulted in the New York Mets leaving him off the roster to start the season. After a short-lived stint in Triple-A, he found his way back in New York after Anthony Swarzak landed on the disabled list, and his 2018 began in earnest.
Like the rest of the bullpen, Robles hit the ground running and put together an impressive first week-and-a-half. He struck out all three batters he faced during his season debut on April 4 and followed that up by striking out the side the next day while scattering one double. He made eight April appearance and recorded a 3.38 ERA, a 5.16 FIP, and a 1.13 WHIP in eight innings. The long ball remained his Achilles’ heel, however, as he was tagged for three solo home runs, which resulted in a home run rate of 3.4 per nine.
With the Mets looking for fresh bullpen arms, Robles was sent back to Las Vegas after pitching three consecutive days from April 14-16. He returned to the Mets on May 6, but was not nearly as effective. In four May appearances, he allowed five earned runs on nine hits and four walks while striking out six in six-and-one-third innings. He landed on the disabled list after suffering a knee injury during his May 8 outing and missed 20 days of action.
He wasn’t much better in June, as he allowed three earned runs on four hits and five walks while striking out five in five-and-one-third innings. The end results were ugly: 5.03 ERA, a 7.06 FIP, and a 1.58 WHIP in 19.2 innings, which led to a career-worst -0.7 fWAR. The Mets designated Robles for assignment on June 22, and he was claimed almost immediately by the Los Angeles Angels.
The move officially brought an end to his up-and-down tenure in New York, where he posted a 4.07 ERA and struck out 229 batters in 182 innings. After allowing solo home runs in each of his first two outings with the Angels, he pitched significantly better on the west coast and ended with a 2.97 ERA, a 3.22 FIP, a 1.29 WHIP and a 0.5 fWAR in 36.1 innings with the Angels.
It was a tale of two seasons for Robles, and it’s hard to pinpoint the exact cause of his decline between April and May/June. According to Brooks Baseball, his velocity remained consistent across the board, as did the frequency with which he utilized his fourseam fastball, his changup, and his slider. In terms of quality of contact, his Hard% actually decreased from April to May/June, and his line drive rate decreased significantly from 36.8% in April to 21.2% in May/June while his ground ball rate increased from 15.8% to 33.3%. In total, BABIP dropped from .313 in April to .290 in May/June. At worst, all of this should have resulted in similar numbers across his 16 appearances for the club.
His downfall came from allowing far more walks in his latter eight appearances. After walking just one while striking out 13 in April, he walked nine while striking out ten in May/June. This led to his walk rate rising from three percent in April to 16.4% in May/June. Meanwhile, his strike out rate dipped drastically from an unsustainable 39.4% in April to a much more reasonable 18.2% in May/June. On top of that, he allowed four more home runs in May/June for a grand total of seven and a home run rate of 3.2 per nine.
Robles was frustratingly inconsistent as a Met. During his best seasons, he was plagued by stretches where he couldn’t get anybody out. During his worst seasons, he enjoyed stretches where he was dominant. The lasting image many fans will have of Robles is of him frequently pointing to the sky on home runs, as if to signal a routine fly ball. All in all, Robles could never seem to put it all together for a full season, which led to his eventual exit from New York.