Washington Nationals Editorial: Clint Robinson quietly putting up solid numbers at the plate


At the end of Spring Training, the feel-good story for the Washington Nationals was that Clint Robinson made an Opening Day roster for the first time in his career.

Prior to this season, the 30-year-old journeyman had only played in 13 big league games—four with the Royals in 2012 and nine with the Dodgers last season. The first baseman/outfielder had plenty of professional baseball experience, playing 921 games over eight seasons in the minors, but he was always considered a good Triple-A player and not much else.

When the Nationals signed him to a minor league deal with an invite to big league Spring Training last season, few expected Robinson to swerve away from the general trend of his career. Robinson would report to camp, spend a few weeks with the big league club, and then the Nationals would cut him and send him to Triple-A Syracuse—waiting for a call-up that probably wasn’t going to come.

Of course, things didn’t work out that way.

Baseball is an unpredictable game. Sometimes, unfortunate circumstances can send players like Robinson deeper into the depths of baseball’s imaginary “AAAA” level—players who are too good to play in Triple-A, but not quite good enough to make it in the majors. But other times, things work out just right so that players can ascend from that “AAAA” level and prove that they do, in fact, have what it takes to survive in the big leagues. For Robinson, the latter happened during Spring Training, and it couldn’t have worked out better for him and the Nationals.

Thanks to a combination of injuries to other players and his own Spring Training success, Robinson made the Opening Day roster as a bench player.

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He certainly deserved to break camp with the big league club, hitting .333 with two homers, six doubles, eight RBIs and six walks in 51 at-bats. It also helped that the Nationals were entering the season with Denard Span, Nate McLouth, Jayson Werth and Anthony Rendon on the disabled list. Regardless of why he made the big league roster, he made it, and he had the chance to do something he’d never done before.

Of course, few expected Robinson to stay with the big league club for more than a few weeks. Once players started coming off the disabled list, Robinson would surely be the first to be sent packing. And yet here we are, nearly three months into the season, and Robinson is still with the Nationals.

Granted, the same injury concerns that helped him gain his spot on the big league roster have helped him keep it. Werth is back on the disabled list. McLouth won’t be coming back anytime soon. Ryan Zimmerman is also on the DL, giving Robinson playing time at first base. But Robinson has worked hard to stay in the big leagues, and the player who wasn’t supposed to make it through Spring Training has quietly put up solid numbers at the plate in his first extended stay in the majors.

Out of the Nationals’ first 70 games, Robinson has played in 47. In 97 at-bats, the 30-year-old rookie is batting .268 with six doubles, two home runs and eight RBIs. His offensive numbers may not seem like much, but for a player who only had three hits in the big leagues prior to this season, Robinson’s success at the plate has been far better than anyone could’ve hoped for.

Robinson’s batting average is the fourth-best among Nationals position players. He has the fifth-best wOBA on the team, well ahead of the likes of Wilson Ramos, Zimmerman and Ian Desmond.

Despite the fact that he’s played in significantly fewer games, Robinson’s WAR is well higher than that of Desmond and Zimmerman. While this may be more of a testament to Desmond and Zimmerman’s struggles than Robinson’s success, the fact that he’s been worth more to to the Nationals than two of the team’s historically best players is impressive—especially since Robinson doesn’t play everyday and often goes several days without playing at all.

It’s also important to note that Robinson has been one of the lone bright spots on a bench that has been mediocre at best all season long. Robinson has a higher batting average and slugging percentage than all other bench players on the team. In wOBA and runs he’s second only to Michael A. Taylor, who has had 78 more plate appearances than Robinson.

Of course, Robinson is by no means a great player. He paces the bench in several offensive categories, but that’s not very difficult to do with the bench as bad as it is right now.

That being said, Robinson has been very useful for the Nationals. He’s been solid at the plate and, more importantly, he’s helped keep the team afloat in a season which has been flooded by injuries to key players.

It’s impossible to know how long Robinson will stay with the big league club, but with Werth and Zimmerman remaining on the DL for the foreseeable future, it’s safe to say Robinson will be here for a while. And even when both players come back, there’s a good chance he’ll stay with the big league club since he’s been much better than fellow bench players Tyler Moore and Dan Uggla.

A lot can happen over 162 games. If the Nationals want to win the World Series, they not only need players like Bryce Harper to lead the way, but they also need productive spare parts like Robinson to step up when other player’s can’t.

One of the few bright spots of a weak bench, Robinson’s under-the-radar success this season brings back memories of Chad Tracy‘s “Goon Squad” from 2012, which played a major role in the Nationals’ first ever division title. And with an NL East race that looks to be heated down the stretch, the success of players like Robinson will be critical for the Nationals—especially with the team’s injury concerns.

He’s not one of the best players on the team. He’s not playing everyday. And at 30-years-old, he’s not going to win Rookie of the Year. But Robinson has given the Nationals more than they could have asked for. The player who wasn’t supposed to be on the Opening Day roster is one of the most important bench players on the big league club, and he’ll become even more important for the Nationals down the stretch.

After nine seasons, Robinson is finally a big league player. And at least for now, he’s here to stay.

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