When Hansel Robles was called up to the majors in early 2015, the hard-throwing right hander didn’t come with too many expectations attatched to him. He had a live arm and good fastball, but his upside was always capped by a lack of a true secondary pitch and wild command. But Robles turned out to be a key player in that year’s Mets bullpen, with a 28.1% strikeout rate and a 3.67 ERA with a 3.79 xFIP in 54, and he largely duplicated that success in 2016 with a 25.7% strikeout rate, a 3.48 ERA and a 4.21 xFIP in 77.2 innings.
But the issues Robles had in the minors persisted in the majors, and prevented him from taking that next step into a true late-inning reliever; he wasn’t always the most reliable pitcher for Terry Collins to turn to. Robles was prone to blowups and frustrating outings due to his lack of control and a true secondary pitch, resulting in below-average chase rates and forcing him to put hitters away with just his fastball. This led to a tendency to allow homers and a lack of reliability with inherited runners. He allowed 1.33 HR/9 with a LOB% of just 65.3% in 2015, and despite improving both those numbers in 2016, his BB/9 jumped to 4.17 that year.
And those flaws, which only seemed to rear their ugly heads separately at different times in his first two years, seemed to finally come together all at once and produce an ugly 2017. Robles walked 4.61 batters per nine innings while striking out a career-low 24.3% of hitters, and allowed a career-high 10 homers in 54.2 innings. Overall, he posted an unsightly 4.92 ERA and 4.91 xFIP. He simply wasn’t fooling anyone last year, as his chase and swinging strike rates were far lower than they had been in 2015 and 2016, at 22.4% and 8.9%, respectively.
But there are still reasons to be optimistic about Robles for 2018. Lefties only have a .265 wOBA against him in his career, and still only had a .308 wOBA against him in 2017. And while his strikeout numbers did drop last year, they were still above average, which is a good sign. In addition, he still averaged 95.3 MPH on his fastball, which still induced a good amount of whiffs, according to Brooks Baseball. So what made him effective is still there. And if he can just limit his walks to at least 2015 levels while also improve his slider and changeup, there’s no reason he can’t be a quality MLB reliever once again.
This offseason, Robles worked with Pedro Martinez to improve his delivery, perhaps in an attempt to improve his control. He pitched in Dominican Winter League this offseason, though the results weren’t great.
The 27-year-old reliever enters spring training without a guaranteed spot in the Mets’ bullpen, though there is still a good chance that he makes the Opening Day roster. Given Robles’ past success and his still-present upside, along with the fact that he still as one more option year left and two more years of team control, there is no reason for the Mets not to give him another shot in 2018. There are a wide range of outcomes for Robles’ 2018, but his ceiling is too high to give up on so soon.