Demoting David

Vazquez's recovery now key for rotation
Bullpen shutdowns and meltdowns

One of the biggest reasons why the Yankees turned their season around in 2009 was the complete overhaul of the bullpen that took place in late-May/early-June. Gone were the ineffective Jose Veras, Jon Albaladejo and Edwar Ramirez, and in came some new blood in the form of Al Aceves, Phil Hughes, and David Robertson. Robertson famously went on to post a 3.20 xFIP with an American League leading 12.98 K/9, but this year has been a much different story for the righthander.

Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP

Through the team’s first 27 games, his xFIP (3.91), K/9 (11.37) and BB/9 (2.84) are all more than respectable, but the end result generally hasn’t reflected it. Robertson has allowed at least one run to score in six of his nine appearances (including inherited runners), and the three homers he’s allowed are just one behind last year’s total. Ever since I penned this gem, K-Rob has allowed six runs and seven baserunners while recording just five outs spread across three appearances. Making me look like a fool is the one thing Robertson has done right this year.

There’s definitely some bad luck behind with Robertson’s early-season struggles — see Fack Youk for more on that — but a bigger problem is that he’s missing his spots. We’re not just talking about throwing balls instead of throwing strikes (52.4% of his pitches were in the zone last year, 52.1% this year), we’re talking about locating pitches within the strike zone. Let’s look at the two homers he surrendered Wednesday afternoon, starting with the first by Matt Wieters…

(click for larger)

As you can see, Frankie Cervelli set up down and away, but instead the pitch ended up thigh high and on the inner half, i.e. the wheelhouse.  Wieters did exactly what he was supposed to do with that pitch, depositing it into the second deck. The next batter was Nolan Reimold, and we run into the exact same problem…

(click for larger)

Cervelli sets up down and away, Robertson delivers it thigh high and on the inner half, and Reimold sends it into the people. Both homers came on 3-2 counts after Robertson overthrew a 2-2 fastball that Cervelli practically had to stand up to catch. Both times, to both batters. If he’s overthrowing, he’s overthinking, instead of just executing. By no means is Robertson beyond repair, he’s just scuffling a little bit and will eventually work his way out of it. His peripherals are obviously excellent, so with a little regression his overall performance will look better*. Ideally, the process of working his way out of it would take place in Triple-A Scranton, away from meaningful games.

* Although a 14.21 ERA is difficult for a reliever to shake. He’ll have to throw 16.1 consecutive scoreless innings from here on out to get it under 4.00. If he throws another 40 IP in 2010 at the same 3.30 ERA clip as last year, he’ll finish the season with a 4.86 ERA.

The problem with sending Robertson down right now is that the Yankees are experiencing a bit of a roster crunch. You may have heard about their recent rash of injuries, which is going to leave the bullpen a man short while Sergio Mitre fills in for Andy Pettitte. Mark Melancon can’t be recalled for another seven days (unless Pettitte goes on the disabled list), and the only other realistic pitching options on the 40-man roster are Albaladejo (3.83 FIP in 14.1 IP in Triple-A, but it’s Jonathan frickin’ Albaladejo) and Romulo Sanchez (4.68 FIP in 25 IP as a starter). Hardly awe-inspiring. They might not be able to demote him until Chan Ho Park returns from the DL, if ever. For better or worse, Robertson might be the team’s best option right now.

Joe Girardi could always demote him to lower leverage spots, but that’s exactly what Wednesday’s outing was. He entered the game with the leverage index sitting at 0.29, better known as miniscule. Even last year his average LI when entering the game was 0.72, which is below average. Girardi has thrown him into some bigger spots this year (average LI when he enters a game is 1.29), but so far he hasn’t gotten the job done.

Robertson could probably use some time in Scranton to get his act together, but oddly enough, Andy Pettitte’s injury might keep him in the big leagues. As long as Girardi realizes that Aceves and Joba Chamberlain should get the ball in high leverage, non-LOOGY situations, he should be in the clear. Hopefully Robertson figures out his command sooner rather than later, so he can go back to racking up strikeouts and owning the middle innings.

Vazquez's recovery now key for rotation
Bullpen shutdowns and meltdowns
  • Stryker

    why not just switch robertson with melancon if/when chopper comes back?

    • steve s

      Why is Melancon held in such high regard? He has never shown anything during his brief stays in the majors and he hasn’t exactly been lights out this year at Scranton.

      • Steve H

        That’s kind of like asking why Montero is held in such high regard since he hasn’t been lights out in Scranton this year.

        Melancon has the pedigree, the results, and the stuff to be held in high regard, and a few tiny sample sizes in the majors and this year in AAA don’t change that.

        • steve s

          I disagree. Montero and Melancon are not comparable prospects by any stretch. Melancon is already 25, has been seriously injured and has been nothing but deer in the headlights when up in the majors. Montero is 5 years younger and a superstar at every stop so far along the way with a slow (but warming up fast) start in Scranton.

          • Steve H

            They’re not comparable prospects, I agree.

            That doesn’t mean Melancon shouldn’t be held in high regard over a sample size of less than 20 innings. In Rivera’s first 67 innings his ERA was 5.51. He was 25 and had come off a serious injury.

            • steve s

              Well, I think it’s safe to say he’s not going to be a Rivera notwithstanding the similarities you mentioned. Let’s hope he at least turns out to be a Clippard (Nats version).

              • Templeton “Brendog” Peck

                not one person in the world thought rivera was going to be rivera so give the kid a chance.

            • BklynJT

              Unfortunately, everytime Melancon has come up to the big leagues, he has not performed to anyones expectations. Melancon has yet to show any results in the majors. This does not mean he shouldnt get the opportunities, but it does mean that we should be realistic in our expectations from him.

              • whozat

                Is anyone saying here that they expect more than “useful reliever with upside”?

                • BklynJT

                  First off, are you disagreeing with anything I said in my comment?

                  I was merely following the conversation and responding to Steve H’s comments.

                  Since your so in tuned with what everyone here expects from Melancon, please ellaborate. What are people expecting of Melancon? Is “useful reliever with upside” the extent of it cause i certainly remember people touting him as the future replacement of Mariano just last year.

              • Steve H

                My expectations for Melancon haven’t changed based on a less than 20 inning sample size. I didn’t expect him to dominate right away, as most rookie pitchers don’t. A year ago I thought he has a solid chance of being the next closer, I still think he has a chance. Young pitchers struggle. It happens. Still he has the pedigree, minor league track record and stuff to make me believe he will be a very strong bullpen arm for the Yankees for years to come.

                • matt damon wayans

                  I think it is totally safe to say that Melancon will never be a capable major league relief pitcher based on 18.1 innings.

                  • OldYanksFan

                    I knew after 10 innings!
                    In his MLB CAREER:
                    18.1 IP, 15H, 11K, 10BB, 1.36 WHIP, 4.42 ERA

                    Now aside from being the very definition of SSS… these numbers aren’t horrible. Actually, the BBs are the only thing really bad.

                • BklynJT

                  I agree. I believe the recent years success of Joba in the bullpen has raised people’s expectations for Melancon to come in and dominate right away. It doesn’t help when publishing like the POST or Daily News do stories on him either.

                  • Steve H

                    Totally agree. What Joba did when he came up was unprecedented historically, not the norm. People certainly need to realize that no one (especially Joba) will repeat that performance.

                • Ted Nelson

                  I think it’s quite optimistic to expect him to be the Yankees next closer. He’s not even their AAA closer right now. I do think he’s a good relief prospect.

                  • Steve H

                    I think it’s quite optimistic to expect him to be the Yankees next closer

                    A year ago I thought he has a solid chance of being the next closer, I still think he has a chance.

                    Big difference between expecting something, and thinking something has a chance of happening. As far as being the AAA closer or not, that has nothing to do with his future.

                    • Ted Nelson

                      Your expectations (“My expectations for Melancon haven’t changed based on a less than 20 inning sample size”) are that he has a chance to be the next closer… A little vague, no?

                    • Ted Nelson

                      My original statement makes sense anyway… Forgetting the semantics bs, Melancon is unlikely to be the Yankees’ next closer. That’s my point.

  • Steve H

    Oh the volatility of middle relief.

    • Rey22

      It only makes Mariano look that much more inhuman with his ridiculous consistency.

  • Lucas AA, aka don’t_bring_in_the_lefty

    This is great analysis, Mike. One of the problems with PITCHf/x is that it lacks a “catcher’s target” function, so other than hanging sliders and such, it’s hard to tell when a pitcher in missing in the zone. So I really dig the screenshots of the catcher positioning.

  • MattG

    But demoting Robertson would be the same sort of move for which we would pan other organizations. Its a SSS, and the peripherals are solid (all things you mention). No need to do anything but get ’em next time.

    • Steve H

      I agree for the most part, but you certainly don’t want to use him in high leverage situations. Even thought peripherals are solid, if the results aren’t there, he may be better off in the minors for a few weeks to regain some confidence, but that’s something the team would know.

    • Ted Nelson

      If he keeps missing his spots it’s not just a “get em next time” thing. There’s a problem that needs to be corrected. The sample size is getting bigger and bigger and the results are not getting any better. He’s been off more than he’s been on this year, and since the Yankees have other options they need to do what’s best both for the team and Robertson. We’ll see what that is.

  • Templeton “Brendog” Peck

    personally i think k-rob is a terrible nickname

    • Steve H

      How about HR-Rob?

      • Templeton “Brendog” Peck

        how about d-rob. or, you know, something that makes sense…

        • Thomas

          According to Wiki, his nickname is Houdini, which I’ve never heard.

          “In the 2009 playoffs, Robertson earned the nickname “Houdini” by coming in twice in high-pressure situations with multiple runners on base, once in the ALDS and once in the ALCS, and managing to escape the inning without letting any runs score.”


          • Templeton “Brendog” Peck

            this i like

          • Anksy

            Well, he’s making my patience disappear.

          • sleepykarl

            I thought I was alone on that one as that is what I referred to him as after he came in the 11th with the bases loaded and no outs and got out without giving up a run (although the ball was hit hard off him, just right at Teix).

    • Thomas


  • Tank Foster

    My arbitrary classification of relief pitchers:

    1. Guys who are good for a a little while (part of a season, up to one or two seasons)
    2. Guys who are good for a short-ish career (4-5 seasons).
    3. Guys who are good for a full career.
    4. Mariano Rivera.

    I figured Robertson would be a class 2 reliever. Maybe he’s a class 1.

    I think it would help him to be demoted maybe for a month or so to work on his control

    • MattG

      OK, and if you look at this closer, you will usually notice your type 1 guys figure it out for a year, or part of a year, in their early thirties, while your type two guys figure it out sometime around their late 20s, and your type three guys figure it out before they’re 25. Generally speaking.

      Robertson it most likely type 3, who has made a few extra bad pitches over a short period of time, and who has not had the good fortune of having those pitches fouled back.

      • Tank Foster

        Reading the data in Fack Youk, I think you’re right that it’s just bad luck. I was probably wrong about sending him down. No need to. I did notice in one of his recent outings that he had bad luck, either on a squib/bloop hit, or an error, or a bad umpire call, etc., and the homer came after.

      • Ted Nelson


        I think you’re being optimistic. I am a big believer in statistical analysis, but you also have to actually analyze the performance to see what’s behind the stats. His ERA of 14 over a short stretch could be caused by bad luck, mechanical problems, or both. There seems to be evidence Robertson’s delivery is off. Clearly I would expect the Yankees to be more on top of this and more capable of diagnosing the situation than any of us so I’ll wait to see what they do.

        • MattG


          I’m not about to argue with you, but if this stretch occurred in August, after Robertson already had 4 months of 3.91 xFIP pitching under his belt, no one would really even have noticed…

          • Ted Nelson

            I disagree. It would be a slightly different situation, but it would not go unnoticed.

            1. Hopefully Eiland would notice.

            2. 10 ERs in 6.1 innings is just something you notice. This isn’t a stretch of a few games, it’s 9 appearances over a full month. His last 3 appearances he’s given up 6 ERs in 1 2/3 innings. The Yankees lost two of those three games by one run each. Certainly that would have been noticed no matter what time of the year it occured.

            Your assumption seems to be that this is a blip and given more innings he’ll turn it around. There’s no way to know that. This was also Mike and other people’s assumption in the middle of April… since then he’s gotten more appearances and gotten worse instead of better. With an ERA of 14 over any 9 appearance stretch you have to start to worry. Especially if you also notice that it’s not just BABIP or a few good cuts by batters but instead missed spot and poor mechanics. As fans there’s nothing we can do but hope, but as the Yankees organization you probably want to tackle the issue.

  • mike c

    he looks like calvin in that picture

    • MattG

      I don’t know who Calvin is…but to me he looks like he just spit the ball at the plate.

    • Thomas (safe)

      I am not seeing any sort of resemblance.

    • JobaWockeeZ

      Calvin and Hobbes?

      • mike c

        yeah calvin & hobbes– stress builds character

  • Cam

    Even to the untrained eye he looks out of whack on the mound. During that last appearance it looked like he couldn’t keep his balance. He was just falling off like crazy to the first base side. Definitely looks like he’s over thinking/throwing right now. I just remember his delivery being much more quiet last year, which is why that 92-93 mph fastball was so effective.

    • Thomas

      Yeah. I think you’re definitely right about falling off the mound. His left leg is definitely landing farther to the first base side than it usually does (based on the videos I just checked).

      Here is the Reimold HR:
      Here is Robertson in Trenton:

      His left foot is clearly not landing in the same place.

      • Cam

        Exactly. And he just looks a lot more awkward now. He just doesn’t look balanced.

  • jay destro

    ill tell you one thing, the total amount of whining about John Sterling’s visibility sure dropped down in the last week.

  • larryf

    looking at Cervelli’s setup I have noticed that before he sets up low and outside he will often pound his glove in the dirt inside just to get the batter thinking. Love that Frankie the framer…..

    • Templeton “Brendog” Peck

      Frankie the framer…..

      he was a carpenter. and in his days he paved the way for jesus, our savior.

  • Bob

    D-Rob is one of my favorite yankee relievers. He could one day be the Yanks’ top closer. However, in that last game against the orioles he was way off the mark. His pitches were either way off the plate or right down the middle. He wasn’t able to hit the corners as was his specialty. D-Rob needs more appearances to get his location back and that might require a stint in the minors.

    • MattG

      “D-Rob needs more appearances to get his location back and that might require a stint in the minors.”

      With Pettitte and Park out, Robertson will get his innings now.

  • Dan

    What about Jason Hirsh for a temporary fill in? MLB experience, pitching well down in AAA.

  • Ted Nelson


    Great analysis. Definitely respect that your opinion on the Robertson situation has evolved as more evidence has become available.

  • bexarama

    This is an excellent analysis, guys. Nothing to add, just wanted to say that. I agree that he’s far from beyond repair, but for now, he shouldn’t be in high-leverage situations.

  • Jeffrey

    I say send him down and bring up either Melancon or Royce Ring who has been great at Scranton and deserves a chance.

    In my opinion Robertson has not been healthy since last September when he had elbow soreness that was serious enough to warrant a visit to orthopedic surgeon James Andrews.

    He may not be hurting enough to go on the DL but he just isn’t right. Marte stayed at AAA last year until he was healthy enough and came back just in time, perhaps Robertson could do something similar.

  • Mike HC

    Loved this analysis. I was waiting for the “What is wrong with Robertson article.” Well done.