The MVP chatter already has begun for White Sox center fielder Luis Robert.
Not for this season, of course, because Robert has played in only 65 games, thanks to a torn hip flexor suffered May 2, but because of the numbers he has amassed in those games. In a 162-game season, Robert’s numbers in the first 121 games of his career translate to a .298/.348/.514 slash line with 31 home runs, 40 doubles and 96 RBI.
Couple that with the rangy, fluid defense the 2020 Gold Glove winner displayed as a rookie and this season and process the adjustments he has made offensively, and you begin to see a potential MVP package blossoming in front of your eyes.
In 2021, Robert ranks seventh (one notch above Jose Abreu, who leads the team in games played) on the Sox with 3.5 wins above replacement, according to Baseball-Reference.com. That’s remarkable, considering his limited games played. Even more noteworthy is what Robert has done since getting back on the field Aug. 9, producing a .365/.400/.635 slash line with 11 homers, 13 doubles, 33 RBI and 30 runs scored in 40 games.
That’s a nice roll to be on with three games left before the postseason.
‘‘There are times which make me feel like you can do everything on the field and you can dominate,’’ Robert said through a translator after hitting homers that traveled 415 feet to center and 445 feet to left in the Sox’ 7-1 victory Tuesday against the Reds at Guaranteed Rate Field. “But there are other times where things look harder for you. It’s just baseball. Sometimes you can do things very easily, and then sometimes you can’t find a way to make things happen. You have to deal with it. I’m glad that this year the results have been there for me, and I’ve been consistent with those results.’’
It’s not only the results that make Robert stand apart on so many levels, however. His size (6-3œ, 225 pounds, according to Sox strength and conditioning coordinator Allen Thomas), sleek and muscular body frame and exceptional talent make him easy on the eyes. Baseball isn’t an easy game, but Robert is playing it and winning with seemingly effortless proficiency.
And if it’s modesty you like, listen to manager Tony La Russa talking about Robert: ‘‘Even around the clubhouse, he never walks around like a ‘dig me’ kind of player. If you look at the great ones, like [Derek] Jeter and guys like that, they have their feet firmly planted. Their ego doesn’t overwhelm them. They have talent and play to their talent. . . .
‘‘He’s got his ego in check, and it’s very important. It gives him a chance to be very good for a long time.’’
Robert is getting it done with an aggressive approach in the strike zone, swinging early in counts if he sees a pitch to his liking. But that aggression wanes when it comes to stealing bases, with only six in seven attempts. La Russa has reeled him in, in part because the hip injury is still too close in the past for total comfort but primarily because he wants to keep his legs healthy and fresh going into the postseason.
Robert is fast, but ‘‘we have to be careful with turning him loose,’’ La Russa said.
Maybe next season, when he might be putting together that MVP portfolio. His numbers this season, a .347/.385/.574 slash line with 12 homers and 41 RBI in 283 plate appearances, might offer a hint of what’s next.
‘‘He’s playing to his huge talent, and he’s producing huge,’’ La Russa said. ‘‘He plays defense huge. You understand how much we missed him and Eloy [Jimenez, torn pectoral muscle] in the first half. Having those two guys back, it’s a different-looking team.’’