Player Preview: Clint Robinson
Reader, please note that not just three days ago we proved without a doubt that Ryan Zimmerman is irreparably broken. Now we turn your kind attention to the player who will keep the Nats afloat during the many times Zimmerman is unavailable: Clint Robinson.
Robinson, if you'll remember, was a rookie in 2015 at 30 (his Rookie of the Year campaign never quite got traction). Given 126 games and 352 plate appearances he excelled by the standards of a 30 year old rookie and bench player, hitting .272/.358/.424, good for a 115 wRC+ and 0.4 fWAR after the harsh positional adjustment of first base. That placed him 12th in the NL among first basemen with at least 250 plate appearances, just ahead of fellow left-handed, defensive deficient Pedro Alvarez and even the injury-hampered Zimmerman.
One thing that the reader may have noted in surprise, as I did when looking that up, was that Robinson's power numbers were merely average. For a first baseman, one of the most important power hitting positions, his numbers were fairly pedestrian. Among the 21 NL first basemen with at least 250 plate appearances, his slugging percentage ranked 16th and his ISO 18th. That doesn't quite fit the stereotype of big, hairy chested country boy. But hey, he also only hit over 20 home runs in the minors twice, so maybe shame on you for stereotyping him like that.
Robinson continues to defy the stereotypes by having some above average plate discipline. His 10.5 percent walk rate last season checked in at eighth among NL first basemen and his strikeout rate was third lowest at 14.8 percent. Finally, Matt Williams limited his exposure to lefty pitchers, giving him only 38 plate appearances compared to 314 against righties, but in that limited exposure he had a 179 wRC+. Now, reader, you can start to see why Robinson has some value at the Major League level, even if he will never be a candidate to be given regular playing time.
While his bat was good, it profiled much more usefully as a player who can also play well at a premium defensive position like shortstop or center field, than the premium power/offensive spot of first base. Basically, Robinson hits like your dream Michael A. Taylor would, but is a slow-footed first baseman. His poor base running also means the Nats aren't getting the most of that high on-base percentage and contact rate as they would with say, Ben Revere.
The good news is that overall the Nationals aren't relying on him to be a starter and he played plenty well enough to be a regular for the few stretches where Ryan Zimmerman can't play. Would it be best if the Nationals could have a starter-quality player as the backup for when Zimmerman gets injured? Of course. However, if a player is starting quality, you'll find that they're normally, you know, starting. When it comes to backups, Robinson is one of the better ones and if the 2016 Nationals underperform, it will likely not be because of how Robinson fills in for Zimmerman.