Red Sox cut bait with struggling reliever Hansel Robles

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - JUNE 18: Hansel Robles #57 of the Boston Red Sox reacts after being taken out of the game during the sixth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Fenway Park on June 18, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - JUNE 18: Hansel Robles #57 of the Boston Red Sox reacts after being taken out of the game during the sixth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Fenway Park on June 18, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images) /
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Hansel Robles’ tenure with the Boston Red Sox has come to an end

The Boston Red Sox have designated right-handed reliever Hansel Robles for assignment, according to Sean McAdam of the Boston Sports Journal. The move clears a roster spot for top pitching prospect Brayan Bello, who will make his major league debut on Wednesday.

Boston acquired Robles in a mid-season trade with the Minnesota Twins last season. Despite his spotty control, Robles emerged as a late-inning option down the stretch. He posted a 3.60 ERA and 11.9 K/9 while converting all four of his save opportunities in 25 innings with the Red Sox last season.

Robles earned a spot on the Opening Day roster this year and appeared to be one of the few reliable options in the Red Sox bullpen. While the team struggled to maintain leads early in the season, Robles was dominant in April, posting a 0.93 ERA and striking out nine with only two walks in 9 2/3 innings.

The wheels quickly fell off once the calendar flipped to May and Robles hasn’t been the same since. Robles owns a 9.00 ERA over 15 innings since the beginning of May. He allowed at least one run in five of his last eight appearances and a total of 11 runs in only 5 2/3 innings during that span.

The Statcast data for Robles is troubling. According to Baseball Savant, Robles ranked in the bottom 1% of the league with a 92.7 mph average exit velocity. His .566 xSLG, .399 XWOBA, 50.0 Hard Hit% and 6.32 xERA all fall in the bottom 2% of the league.

What happened to Robles that caused him to fizzle out so quickly?

Limiting hard contact has never been his specialty. His 47.5 Hard Hit% was still in the bottom 2% of the league last year and he was in the bottom 6% in average exit velocity. The best way to counteract giving up hard contact is by missing bats, which Robles hasn’t been able to do frequently this year. His strikeout rate has dipped to a career-low 7.7 K/9.

Robles hasn’t seen a notable decline in velocity with his fastball and his results with the pitch are fairly similar to last season. The same cannot be said for his slider, which has lost 1.5 mph in velocity and doesn’t appear to be as sharp as it was in the past.

The slider was his put away pitch, generating a 35.2 Whiff% and holding opposing hitters to a .286 SLG last season. This year, his whiff rate has fallen to 22.7% with the slider and hitters are slugging .594 against the pitch.

Robles uses his changeup primarily against left-handed hitters. He held hitters to a .181 batting average and generated a 22.8 Whiff% with the pitch last year but hitters are smashing his changeup to the tune of a .333 average this season while his whiff rate has dropped to 13.8%.

His control has always been shaky but Robles has struggled more than ever with his command this year. His career-high 12.6 BB% puts him in the bottom 6% of the league.

Hard contact, a rapidly declining ability to miss bats and an uptick in free passes. That’s a bad combination for any pitcher. Robles still has a decent fastball that sits in the mid-90s but he can’t survive on the mound when his secondary pitches aren’t working for him.

The Red Sox could save about $1 million if another team claims Robles on waivers, although that seems unlikely considering his struggles this year. If he clears waivers, Robles could decline a minor league assignment to hit free agency, where another team might be willing to roll the dice on him at the prorated minimum salary. Boston would be hook for the remainder of his salary.

The departure of Robles removes a struggling reliever from the mix but leaves Boston’s bullpen short on reliable right-handed options. Garrett Whitlock‘s return to a relief role once he’s activated from the injured list will go a long way toward solving that problem. In the meantime, the Red Sox are counting on Tanner Houck and John Schreiber to handle high-leverage innings late in games, with lefties Matt Strahm, Austin Davis and Jake Diekman rounding out the core.

Robles proved to be a valuable addition in the second half of last season. The Red Sox will need to find another option to upgrade their bullpen for the stretch run this year. The pitcher who was known for marching to the mound to the eerie sound of The Undertaker’s entrance music has been cast aside to the baseball graveyard.

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