The marginalization of David Robertson

Yanks offense still waiting for Teixeira and Johnson
Pettitte, Rivera, Jeter and Posada all walk into a bar...

The Yankees’ 2009 season started to turn around once they remade the bullpen, and part of that remake was permanent arrival of David Robertson. The then-24-year-old righty stabilized the middle innings thanks to a nifty fastball-curveball combination with a penchant for inducing swings and misses and retiring batters without the aid of the defense. He got some big outs in the postseason, and was poised to assume even greater responsibility in 2010.

Photo Credit: Charles Krupa, AP

In the early going, Robertson seems to have morphed into Joe Girardi‘s fireman – the guy who enters the game in the middle of an inning to escape a jam. It probably has something to do with his astronomical strikeout rate, which is perfectly fine. It’s a smart way to deploy a valuable reliever. However, more often than not, Robertson finds himself out of the game after escaping said jam, often despite throwing very few pitches.

In three of his six outings this year, Robertson has thrown no more than six pitches. The most egregious example came during Friday’s loss to the Angels, when he was brought in to face Torii Hunter with a runner on first and one out. He escaped the inning by striking out Hunter after Bobby Abreu was caught stealing, needing just six pitches to get the job done. Robertson was fresh and in most cases would have been sent back out to start the next inning. But no, it was the almighty 8th inning, so Joe Girardi summoned Joba Chamberlain, who eventually cost the Yanks the game with a meatball pitch to Kendry Morales.

There really was no reason why Robertson couldn’t remain in the game. There was no difference in platoon advantage, and he was well-rested after not working in eight days. Instead, a highly valuable asset was removed from the contest after just a marginal gain for what amounts to nothing more than a job title.

Although I bitch and moan about Girardi’s bullpen maneuvering on a game-by-game basis, he obviously does a very good job with handling his relief corps over a 162 game season. However, he doesn’t seem to have full confidence in Robertson, using him in a way that strikes me as “let’s quit while we’re ahead.” He did what we asked of him, now let’s make a change before he has a chance to get into trouble, something like that. Maybe it’s just me.

Robertson is a high quality reliever, yet his usage appears to be limited. He’s capable of getting five or six outs during one appearance, but is often used for an inning or less. Sure, his ERA stands at an ugly 7.71 because of that grand slam Abreu hit during the home opener, but even that shot only decreased the Yankees’ chances of winning by just 2.6% because of the situation. The two run homer Joba allowed to Morales was in a much higher leverage spot, and reduced the Yankees chances of winning by a whopping 25.4%.

Robertson’s strikeouts are very real, and they’re what make him so valuable. I don’t think he’ll strike out 13 guys for every nine innings pitched forever, but there’s no doubt he’s a double digit K/9 guy for the foreseeable future with that curveball. The walks are a bit high but they’re trending downward, and he’s just as effective against lefties as he is against righties. On any other team, Robertson would be pitching later in the game in high leverage spots, but because of the Yankees’ bullpen depth and pecking order, he’s stuck working middle relief duty. That doesn’t mean Girardi and the Yanks couldn’t give him a little more responsibility and ask him to get some bigger outs after cleaning up someone else’s mess.

Or course it’s still early, so right now my observation of Robertson’s usage comes from a tiny sample. The Yankees have a tremendously valuable asset in Robertson, and they would be wise to use him more judiciously.

Yanks offense still waiting for Teixeira and Johnson
Pettitte, Rivera, Jeter and Posada all walk into a bar...
  • 28 this year

    Plus, its hard for a pitcher to bring down his ERA if he doesn’t pitch. I wholeheartedly agree. I think the competition about Joba getting the 8th inning wasn’t even a competition. If Robertson doesn’t even get a shot to prove himself, that’s just wrong. Robertson has proved himself capable in big spots like the ALDS.


      I thought Robertson was going to be the setup man on this team – but thats when I thought either Hughes or Joba was going to wind up at AAA so they both could still be starters this year.

      • The Big City of Dreams

        “was going to wind up at AAA so they both could still be starters this year.”

        hopefully that option is still open at some point in the season

    • The Big City of Dreams

      so they basically did to robertson what they did to joba in the battle for the 5th spot

  • Rose

    Imagine if we had kept Tyler “Cy” Clippard? He’s working wonders down in Washington. Wouldn’t be surprised if he became the closer since Capps has been Crapps.

    As for “The Admiral” David Robertson, I don’t even think he has a full season under his belt. But I still don’t know why Girardi babies him in favor of just-as-inconsistent ‘veteran’ bullpen guys…

    • ADam

      You’re thinking of the Wrong Joe… Girardi does a great job with the pen… D-Rob we’ll become a vital part if the bullpen, To early to say that Joe Giradi (The Joe that can manage a bullpen)favors anybody, just yet.

      • Rose

        Well he puts him in but takes him out WAY too early IMO anyway…and according to the this thread, Mike agrees.

        This Joe is way better at managing a bullpen than the other Joe…but he still needs to trust a few more guys a little more. I don’t know if he feels obligated to throw out the veterans spontaneously and take out the younger inexperienced (yet productive) guys? Not sure.

        • ADam

          He will, Last year he didnt have the Pen figured out until June.. Mainly because he relied on Veras and Ramirez too much.. No reason to worry.. The yanks bullpen is a small reason to worry now.

          • Rose

            Yeah, I’m not actually worried…just wasn’t sure why he has been doing that. Never really understood it.

            But you’re right.

        • Ted Nelson

          It was the 7th inning of a tie game and the first guy out of the pen was not a “veteran”… it was Robertson. I really disagree that Robertson is being babied. He pitched in big spots during the playoffs last season. That’s not babying. He was neither inexperienced nor particularly productive for his first 4 outings this season. The Grand Slam was the exclamation point, but he’d given up 3 hits in 1.3 innings before that… it was a trend. He’s had two strong outings now and I think that’s behind us.

          • Rose

            He’s pitched over an inning – twice (topping out at 1.2 IP) and pitched under an inning 4 times. The grand slam was only one of those outings. The rest of those outings weren’t that bad (2 hits, 0 BB combined) and he was yanked anyway (no pun intended).

            He may not be babied…but why is Girardi taking him out so early then? Because he has an even more unreliable lefty in the bullpen for the other team’s lefty at the plate?

            • Chris

              Perhaps Girardi knows exactly what to expect from Robertson and wants to give other pitchers the chance to prove whether they can or can’t succeed.

            • Ted Nelson

              Joba has been a better pitcher this season than Robertson (te question is whether that will continue). When you take an inferior pitcher out for a superior pitcher that is not “babying him.” Why have Torre and Girardi insisted on “babying” so many relievers over the years by pulling them for Mariano Rivera?

              Again, Robertson’s first 2 innings he gave up 3 hits. That’s 13.5 hits/9. Then he gave up the slam. That’s an awful start.
              Then he got 1.2 innings. Then he didn’t pitch for 8 days (without knowing why it’s as easy to assume he was hurting as it is that Girardi was trying out other bullpen options). Then he came into a tie game with the winnings run on base.

            • Ted Nelson

              And he hasn’t topped out at 1.2 innings because he’s being “babied.” Only three relievers have topped 1.2 innings in an appearance for the Yanks this season a grand total of 4 times: Mitre when they were already blown out, Aceves when Burnett came out after only 5 innings, and Chan Ho Park twice. Robertson is a strikeout guy who works the count and throws a lot of pitches. It would be misusing him to use him as a long reliever. Putting him into big spots to get big outs is a better use of him.

  • YankeesJunkie

    I have been surprised by the lack of the use Robertson as well. He was one of the most reliable pitchers in the playoffs and then Joba gets the job for no reason outside that he is Joba. Robertson needs to be used in a more vital role and hopefully that will happen as the season progresses.

    • Ted Nelson

      How much more vital does it get than coming into a tie game with a runner on?

  • larryf

    It’s a long season and I think D-Rob will rise to the top in time. It will be in the binder soon enough.

  • TheZack

    As if anyone thought that Joba would be used in any other way. Managers do themselves their toys…

  • The Three Amigos

    It is the defined roles that kill a bullpen. If the pitcher is pitching well, let them go until they stop. The only asterisks is when its the 9th in a close game. If a pitcher is getting outs let them continue until they stop. D-Rob is more then capable of getting 4-6 outs.

    • Ted Nelson

      Your logic is spotty. Why is the 9th inning different? Because most teams have (or wish they had) a guy who is clearly better to pitch in the 9th. If you feel like you have another guy who is clearly better why not give him the 8th of close games?

      The question is whether or not Joba is clearly better. The Yankees think he is, and they really hope he is because he’s their “closer” of the future. If Joba is not better then the Yankees have to re-evaluate the situation.

      • Ted Nelson

        “closer of the future” not “closer” of the future

        • king of fruitless hypotheticals

          its different because its the last one.

          • Ted Nelson

            That’s why you put your best relief pitcher there. If you feel like you have a guy who is clearly your second best relief pitcher–say a guy who was the #3 prospect in all of baseball as a starter and hasn’t pitched poorly since–then it would also make sense to put him into the second to last inning.

            In most bullpens if you have a guy who was the #3 prospect in baseball in your pen and he’s not your closer he’s already flopped miserably as a starter. The Yankees are not most teams, though, and Joba would be a starter or the closer on most teams.

            In most pens you have a bunch of guys who are basically mediocre–somewhere between crap and good–and it doesn’t make much sense to designate an 8th inning guy.

            • king of fruitless hypotheticals

              as you put it so aptly, the Yanks are not most teams.

              • Ted Nelson

                To be clear, Joba may or may not justify the “8th inning guy” or set-up man role. What I’m saying is that I can see why they’ve given him the role to start the season.
                He, like Robertson, started the season rough. He had been justifying the role for 5 outings before last game, though, then did terribly last game.

  • Jammy Jammers

    Also, it seems our starters (well 4 out of 5) have been giving us long outings. Joe’s trying to figure out what he’s got out there in limited innings.

    • AndrewYF

      Yankees starters are averaging 6.25 IP/start, which means there are approximately 8 outs to get from the bullpen each game. Given a 7-man pen and 18 games, that comes to an average of about 6.6 IP for each spot in the bullpen. And since on a winning team, the setup man and closer will ideally get more work than most (and that is the case here), that lowers the average for the middle relievers.

      I wouldn’t say Robertson’s been marginalized or ignored, if in fact Joba is definitely the setup man and he’s middle relief. You can give an argument for him being the setup man over Joba, which I think should be the case.

  • Moshe Mandel

    I think marginalization is a strong word, if only because they are using him in big spots as a fireman, as you said. Otherwise, I agree with the post entirely- he should get more innings, like he was getting late in 2009.

  • Ted Nelson

    I don’t know if Joba can live up to the hype, but the Yankees are trying to develop their next closer while they still have their current closer. If Joba can’t handle the 8th, maybe they’ll abandon this strategy. The guy just barely lost out on the 5th starter job and most posters here have been crying ever since, but it seems like the Yankees are looking at him as their closer of the future. If he doesn’t start dominating soon maybe he’ll lose that role, though.

    It’s true that the only runs Robertson has given up are that Grand Slam. First, that was a REALLY bad outing. He also gave up 7 hits in his first 2.1 innings, though. Sort of natural to make him earn it after that start and with the number of other options the Yankees have. Worth noting that the two times he’s been allowed to go more than an inning he’s thrown 25 pitches in 1.1 innings and 30 in 1.2. It’s understandable as a strikeout pitcher, but I’m not sure about calling for him to pitch 2 innings at a time… How many times a week can you put a reliever out there to throw 40 pitches? If he keeps getting big outs his role will probably expand. The fact that Girardi is putting him out there in big spots clearly speaks to his confidence in the guy.

    In a somewhat related matter. I’m willing to be patient, but at what point is Vazquez out of the rotation? He’s been mediocre to bad every start. I know we’re not nearly there yet, but in the worst case at what point do the Yankees start thinking about stretching Joba’s arm out? Or do they go with someone besides Joba as the #5 starter?

    • B-Rando

      In that FAR off scenario, I’d say the yanks would summon Nova before inserting Joba.

      • The Big City of Dreams

        or it could be mitre thats according to michael kay

        • Ted Nelson

          How did Kay sneak into the White House with the team?

          • The Big City of Dreams

            lol that guy loves the camera i’m surprised obama didn’t mention him by name

  • B-Rando

    The lack of K-Rob this year has been disappointing, but I trust he will find his way into the 8th inning role before the all star break rolls around. If joba keeps pitching as flaky as he has, Girardi is obligated to give other guys some shots at some high leverage situations. I think in due time K-Rob will be back in the same position he was towards the end of 09.

    • Ted Nelson

      I hope he doesn’t find his way into the 8th inning, because that means Joba will find his way to having zero value to the Yankees and little value in a trade.

      Joba hasn’t been all that “flaky.” He hadn’t given up a run in 5 appearances before last game. In that stretch he gave up 3 hits in 4.1 innings. Mike can play Monday morning QB all he wants, but it’s not that questionable to plug Joba in to that spot and it would have been very hard to expect Joba to give up a HR there.

      The role Robertson had at the end of last season was behind Mo, Hughes, and Joba…Now he’s only behind Mo and Joba. He’s moving up in the world.

      • Ted Nelson

        “Joba hasn’t been all that “flaky.” He hadn’t given up a run in 5 appearances before last game. In that stretch he gave up 3 hits in 4.1 innings.”

        I need to stop staring at the computer screen for a while… 3 hits in 5.1 innings.

      • The Big City of Dreams

        “Joba hasn’t been all that “flaky.” He hadn’t given up a run in 5 appearances before last game.”

        He has been flaky. the fact of the matter is the kid has been inconsistent. One game he is throwing hard and then the next game he tops out at 90. There were appearances he made where he put runners on and then hot out of it.

        “I hope he doesn’t find his way into the 8th inning, because that means Joba will find his way to having zero value to the Yankees and little value in a trade.”

        I see what you’re saying but if that does happen they can rebuild him as a pitcher. The kid has issues that he needs to work on

        • Ted Nelson

          That’s simply not true.

          You can see his game log here:

          He was inconsistent his first three appearances. Over his next 5 he was consistently dominant: 5.1 innings, 0 runs, 5.3 H/9 (Mariano’s career average is 7 H/9 for comparison’s sake). Then he had one other bad outing where he gave up a HR. One bad outing doesn’t make you flaky, it makes you human. Let’s see what he does from here.

          • The Big City of Dreams

            i’m not doubt the fact that he had the bad outing be lets be honest the switch hasn’t been turned on since he entered the pen.

            • Ted Nelson

              I don’t know how else to say it: in Joba’s previous 5 outings before the Angels game he was lights out. The switch wasn’t on because he came in and turned it off.

              Robertson lost the game last night and has an ERA of 10.80 on the season, but I guess he should be the #2 reliever and Joba needs to be rebuilt… makes sense.

  • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

    Weren’t there reports that the coaching staff didn’t think Robertson looked great coming out of Spring Training? Could be that they’re just being careful with him until they’re more comfortable that he’s clicking on all cylinders. Sometimes we expect these things to happen overnight but they tend to take some time. I think this is probably something to be monitored and revisited in a couple of months, I wouldn’t be surprised if at that time the Yanks’ use of Robertson looks different than it does less than a month out of Spring Training.

    • Ted Nelson

      If that’s how they thought he looked then they were right because he wasn’t great coming out of spring training. 3 hits in 2 innings and then 4 hits in 0.1 innings. His last two outings have been great, though.

      • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

        Sure. All I’m saying is… I don’t think it’s unreasonable for them to want to see a guy who they thought didn’t look great, but who now looks better, do it for a little bit longer, before they just let him loose and trust him more. I think it’s pretty prudent, especially with a young reliever, to want to see him get into a groove and throw the ball well for a little more than a couple or a few outings.

        • Ted Nelson

          I agree completely. I was seconding your point.

          • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

            Gotcha… Thought you were saying that he may not have looked great earlier but now looks good so it’s time to let him loose.

            • Ted Nelson

              May be getting close to that time. I wouldn’t say “let him loose” so much as “let him pitch more.” He hadn’t pitched in 8 days (maybe he had soreness or something that we are unaware of… which is where being a Monday morning QB is hard, because otherwise it doesn’t take much to call out a manager for putting in the guy who gave up the game winning HR…). He pitched 1.2 innings his last time out. He came into a tie game with the winning run on base last game. I would say he’s already been let loose.

    • Matt Imbrogno

      Yeah, agreed. If it’s late May or early June and we’re seldom seeing Robertson, there’s definitely a problem (unless he’s just horribly ineffective, which is unlikely).

  • Lucas AA, aka don’t_bring_in_the_lefty

    It’s strange, because he doesn’t have insane velocity, but his fastball actually gets him more strikeouts than his curveball does. Hitters just swing right through it.

    • A.D.

      The power of movement

      • larryf

        and mechanics…

  • larryf

    Ok-Yanks leaving Inner harbor Hotel for Camden Yards. Time for BP. This series makes me nervous because of the old Damn Yankees show where the best (Yanks) lose to the worst (Senators). Hopefully life will not imitate art.

  • CS Yankee

    I’d tend to stay with the arm “du jour” as opposed to yanking him after 6 pitches but if Joba (or whoever) needs work, I understand that they need to get him in real games and build success.

    Although, if he looks like crap in the pen, then don’t plug him in…I trust the bullpen manager/catcher have that communication versus just staying loyal and saying to Joe that they are ready.

    Joe will spread the love and the cream will rise to the 8th inning instead of staying with the “hot” arm each night. Routine and roles are better for the players in the long haul.

  • ralph

    They should groom another 8th inning lock-down reliever because god forbid we don’t have a dominant set up guy in 6 years when Mo retires and Joba’s the closer. If they’re grooming the next closer (for 6 years from now) shouldn’t they also groom the next set up guy? What are they…Oh wait, sorry, I’m combining threads.

    In all seriousness, Joba can’t pitch the eighth inning of every win (if the win the expected 95+) so they should definitely give Robertson a look there once in a while. It will only help him.

  • Ted Nelson

    The more I think the about it less I see the logic behind your argument, Mike. Robertson started the season poorly, had one good outing, didn’t pitch for 8 days (I have no idea if that’s because he was out of favor or because he had dead arm or something), then came into a big spot. He got his job done. If you put him back out there and he blows it the ball keeps rolling towards terrible season for Robertson. As it is his momentum is definitely swinging in the right direction and Girardi turned to a guy who had allowed 0 runs and 5.3 H/9 in his last 5 appearances.

    If you have an ax to grind with Joba being the 8th inning guy I think doing so with a post aimed directly at that would behoove you more than jumping on one instance where Joba didn’t get the job done. Given what he knew at the time I would say Girardi made the right call. It’s really easy to say he made the wrong call once Joba blows it.

    Finally, if Robertson continues to throw 5 or 6 pitches per batter you can only use him so much. You can’t have a guy pitching every night if he’s throwing 40 pitches per outing. By limiting their pitch counts you can keep Robertson, Joba, and Mo (and everyone else) all fresh.

  • Neil

    Don’t forget he had some arm/shoulder issues at the end of last season. Mybe they are just taking it slow with this young dynamic arm.

    • Jeffrey

      Maybe he is still hurt? These elbow issues can keep coming up until they finally have to capitulate and have the Tommy John.

  • WonderBoy

    I know that hindsight’s a bitch, but, are you pleased with the judicious way that Joe used Robertson tonight?