Yesterday the Twins finally jumped into the hot stove fray, signing 30 year-old right-handed reliever Hansel Robles to a one-year, major league contract for a reported $2-million base salary. The Athletic’s Dan Hayes broke the news on Twitter:
Source: #MNTwins have agreed to a deal with RHP Hansel Robles. Struggled last year (10.26 ERA in 16 2/3 IP) but had a 2.48 ERA w/ 75 Ks in 72 2/3 IP in 2019 for the Los Angeles Angels.— danhayesmlb (@DanHayesMLB) December 29, 2020
The deal also includes up to $500K of incentives, based on Robles finishing games, reports Darren Wolfson on Twitter:
This isn’t a move on the same kind of level as the Padres have been making this week, but it’s the kind of buy-low with upside move Minnesota often makes and has had some success with in recent seasons.
As for the 6’0, 220 pound Robles, he’s largely been a decent reliever through six MLB seasons with the Mets and Angels. From 2015-2019, Robles pitched to a 3.58 ERA / 3.93 FIP in 317 innings, striking out 9.7 and walking 3.5 per nine innings in mostly middle and setup relief. In that span, Robles held opponents to a .227 / .304 / .390 triple slash line (.298 wOBA).
2019 was a standout campaign. Robles demonstrated the best command of his career, reducing his walks to just 1.98 per nine innings and keeping the ball in the park better than he ever had (7.9% HR/flyball). That season, Robles saved 23 games for the Angels while giving 2.48 ERA / 2.88 FIP over 72.2 innings. Robles was worth 1.8 fWAR that season, which more than tripled his career fWAR value to that point.
Last season was another story altogether, as his command lagged (5.80 BB/9) and the home run bug returned (19% HR/FB). All told, Robles had a 10.26 ERA / 5.89 FIP in 16.2 innings in the pandemic season, numbers that illustrate both how much he struggled and how fraught with small sample size uncertainty 2020 results are.
Rather than pay Robles a projected $3.8M-$4.1M in arbitration, the Angels non-tendered him earlier in December, making him a free agent.
For the Twins, it’s a relatively low cost bet they can help Robles return to his 2019 form. Robles offers plenty of things for Wes Johnson to work with, featuring a mid to upper 90s fastball, and a high-80s slider, and high-80s split-change.
Prior to his 2020 blowup, Robles’ hard fastball came with a spin rate that ranked in the top 15% of all pitchers five years running. Last season, that backed up to the 64th percentile, and the pitch performed significantly worse (.355 BA, .742 SLG). You can bet part of the Twins plan for Robles will be working to restore that.
Robles also struggled mightily against left-handed batters (.515 wOBA allowed to 30 batters faced) in 2020, after not showing terribly significant platoon splits previously in his career. That could be small sample noise or an opportunity for the Twins to help him make an adjustment. With the split-changeup and slider, his arsenal (and track record) suggest he’s a reliever that should be able to handle batters on both sides of the plate.
In that vein, and looking to the optimistic end of the possible outcomes for Robles, he could be viewed as a much lower cost replacement for Trevor May. If you like to have fun with statistics selected with arbitrary end dates, that comparison has some merit, as pointed out by Brandon Warne on Twitter:
Last two full seasons (2018-19):— Brandon Warne (@Brandon_Warne) December 29, 2020
1. Hansel Robles
2. Trevor May pic.twitter.com/0MWJGoQSRG
Robles delivering anywhere near his 2018-2019 levels would be a huge win for this signing, although it may not be terribly likely. The 2021 ZiPS projections, which are designed to project the median of the range of outcomes, project Robles with 4.24 ERA / 4.33 FIP, 9.8 K/9, and 3.5 BB/9. That works out to about six percent better than league average (94 ERA-). For the cost of this addition, Robles delivering production near his projection would still be a win for Minnesota. At any rate, it’s a reasonably low-risk deal with some upside.
The Twins have announced the signing via press release. Adding Robles puts the Twins 40-man roster at 36 and he is out of minor league options.
John is a contributor to Twinkie Town with an emphasis on analytics. He is a lifelong Twins fan and former college pitcher. You can follow him on Twitter @JohnFoley_21.