Luis Robert won a Golden Glove in center field and finished second in the voting for the title of 2020 AL Rookie of the Year. After just one short season, his natural talent is amazing and his future potential is sure to be of interest to any White Sox fan. I thought it would be interesting to dive into the numbers and see exactly where Louis Roberts talents have blossomed, where he has struggled to win, and how he can improve next year and beyond.
With only 60 games in a season, it’s hard to have two different seasons, but that’s exactly what Robert did. In August, Robert posted an OPS of 1,015, including nine HR and 19 RBIs, which earned him the AL Rookie of the Month award. Robert accomplished all of this with a ridiculous 30.5%.
As White Sox fans like to remember, the league adjusted to Robert in September, causing him to run into a “rookie wall.” Robert’s PSO dropped to 0.409 in the second month of the season, with a batting average of 0.136 (11-81). Robert K’s PSO reached 34%, and statistically he was one of the worst hitters in baseball that month. Did the Space Jam aliens come and put the spotlight on Robert’s talents? How else do you explain this ridiculous fall?
When we dive into the numbers, we gain insight. Surprisingly, the mixes Robert saw didn’t change much when the schedule changed. As you can see in the chart below, Robert regularly saw nearly 60% fastballs and just under 40% broken balls.
The real difference comes when you look at his batting average. According to BaseballSavant, Robert hit .361 with five HRs against forwards in August. In September, against the same hitters, Robert hit .118 with only one HR.
Of course, these numbers suggest that Robert enjoyed breaking balls in August. In September, pitchers recognized the damage he could do and were much more cautious, leaving broken balls at the plate. However, Robert did not adjust his ultra-aggressive approach, so his breaking percentage dropped from 45.5% to just 14.3% between August and September.
Robert is known for his superior speed and ability to catch every fastball. Therefore, it was somewhat surprising to see him hit only 0.214 with a strikeout rate of 0.330 against fastballs in 2020 (0.245 average in August and 0.163 in September). In my opinion, this suggests that Robert fluctuated between finding the fastball or the outfield for most of the season and could never really sit on the heat and hit consistently like we saw on the pitches.
And while the numbers provide some insight, we have to look at the overall picture to get a full answer. Most of all, it’s about a very talented player who outperforms himself and who needs time to mentally adjust to the big leagues.
Despite the significant challenges he faced in the second half of the 2020 campaign, the sky is still the limit for Robert as a player, and there are many reasons to believe that he will always be the player that is expected (and frankly, that he will be paid). The first reason is that hitting balls into the ground and avoiding being “in the middle” are very relevant issues as players develop, mature and gain confidence. A good example is Tim Anderson, who has gone from being one of the best hitters in the American League in the last two seasons.
Second, it is important to note that Robert’s defense was never in jeopardy during his battles. We focused a lot on his offense here because of the dynamics of his bat, but Robert still played Gold Glove defense at a privileged position from start to finish. Everywhere you go in the league, you find players who are offensive with them on the field. The fact that Robert never let that happen speaks volumes about his confidence and overall mental toughness, which bodes well for the future.
White Sox fans need only look to Minnesota to see the importance of great center fielder Byron Buxton to the team, even if he has yet to find a solid groove in the offense. Just three years ago, the Red Sox won the World Series with a master winger, Jackie Bradley Jr. who patrolled center field but had nothing to offer in the batting cage. At worst, if Robert’s offense doesn’t develop as we expect, he’s a very valuable player defensively alone.
I mean, we’ve already seen Robert come out of his September funk. In three postseason games in Oakland, Robert has hit .308 (4-13) with a HR in the series and took a close look at the August version we saw.
I would also say that this could be a small problem related to sample size. Robert had a bad month that turned out to be about halfway through the shortened 2020 campaign. In a typical season of six months and 162 games, it is very likely that Robert would recover from a bad month and have five months of results approaching August levels. In this alternate reality, Robert would likely win the Rookie of the Year award, and fans would barely remember the one bad month he went through.
Still, it’s a player who has a chance to become as good or better than any other player on the list. And even after the brilliant acquisitions of Lance Lynn and Liam Hendricks, the return of young stars Lucas Giolito, Eloy Jimenez and Yoan Moncada, not to mention MVP Jose Abreu, Robert is the “X-factor” in this team that can make the club a serious team.
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