Dominican born reliever Hansel Robles has emerged into a dominant closer for the Los Angeles Angels and fans should expect him to build on his recent success in 2020.
Hansel Robles probably didn’t expect to find himself working with Mickey Calloway again this season. Calloway was managing the Mets when the team designated him for assignment after a rocky start to his 2018 campaign.
“I don’t think he was comfortable in his own skin in New York, for whatever reason,” Calloway recently said.
Robles left New York with a bloated ERA and searching for a new home. The Angels took a chance on him and, boy, have they been rewarded. Robles finished the 2018 season with a 2.97 ERA in Anaheim, setting himself up to take on bigger responsibilities.
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By the end of 2019, Robles had cemented himself as the team’s closer.
So what happened when Robles left the Mets and joined the Angels?
It starts with his off-speed stuff. Pitching for the Mets, opposing batters smoked his change-up to the tune of a .583 slugging percentage in 2017 and 2018. After joining the Angels, Robles fine-tuned the pitch, relying on it more often, and by mixing it up with his 98 MPH fastball, he held opposing hitters to a slugging percentage of .219 over the course of 2018 and 2019.
Former Angels pitching coach Doug White explained Robles improvement to the Los Angeles Times last September:
"“The movement he gets on [his split change-up], the shape that he gets on it, his ability to locate it pretty consistently … guys have to be ready for 98 and then the changeup comes and it’s really hard to hit.”"
The Dominican-born reliever used this new approach to save 23 games last season. Following a rough start, he dominated from June until the end of the season, at one point mowing down 27 consecutive hitters. After serving up seven home runs in just 19.2 innings before being released by the Mets a year earlier, the power-thrower allowed only six home runs during the entire 2019 season.
Can he continue to baffle hitters in 2020?
As in life, consistency is the hardest thing to find in baseball. While the Angels have struggled to get people out over the past few seasons, Robles has provided the relief corps with a steady hand in the closer role.
Any worry about Robles regressing to the mean in 2019 was quickly put aside. Over a full season’s sample size, he proved that he can reduce his walk rate, generate enough ground balls to take advantage of a strong defense, and keep the ball inside the ballpark.
Joe Maddon might not have the best starting staff in baseball, but if the rotation can stay above water in front of a dominant offense, Ty Buttrey and Hansel Robles provide a 1-2 punch in the back of the bullpen that should be one of the team’s strengths.
Robles avoided arbitration this winter, signing for a team-friendly, one-year contract at $3.85 million. He has two arbitration-eligible years remaining before becoming a free agent, which allows the Halos to take advantage of his production without worrying about paying him closer money right away.
Life has come in full circle for #57 in red. Mickey Calloway is back in his ear, but this time, it might payoff for Calloway to learn a few things from his reliever as he has become a reliable late inning stalwart since leaving the Mets.