What Went Right: David Robertson

The Great What If: Miggy the Yankee
Replacing CC in the aggregate

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to look back at what went right, what went wrong, and what went as expected during the 2011 campaign.

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

When the season started, David Robertson was third on the Yankees set-up reliever depth chart. He pitched very well in 2010, his first full season as a big leaguer, and he came into this year the proud owner of a 11.3 K/9 and 4.1 uIBB/9 in 135.1 career innings. On most teams, that guy is working the eighth inning or maybe even closing. On the Yankees, Robertson was just the sixth inning guy/fireman because of big money signee Rafael Soriano and incumbent setup man Joba Chamberlain.

The 26-year-old right-hander’s month of April was more notable for how often he didn’t pitch rather than how often he did. Robertson seemed to warm up every single game, but would be left with nothing to show for it when the starter got through the sixth inning and Joe Girardi went to his late-inning formula. He appeared in half of the team’s first 20 games, striking out ten in 8.1 IP. When Soriano went down with an elbow issue in mid-May, Robertson took over seventh inning duties. When Joba went down with an elbow issue of his own in early-June, he took over the eighth inning.

At the time of Joba’s injury, Robertson owned a shiny 1.16 ERA in 23.1 IP, but his underlying performance told a different story. He’d struck out 38 batters in those innings, but also walked 18. Those kinds of control problems can be scary late in the game, but it was like someone flipped a switch after the responsibility increase. After walking 18 in his first 23.1 IP (6.9 BB/9), Robertson walked just eight in his next 26.1 IP (2.7 BB/9). His strikeout rate remained sky high, and opposing batters were unable to top a .500 OPS off him. When Soriano returned from the disabled list in late-July, Robertson kept the eight inning job and forced the $35M man into the seventh inning.

All told, Robertson struck out 100 batters on the nose this season, becoming just the third full-time reliever in Yankees history with a triple-digit strikeout total. Mariano Rivera did it in 1996, and Goose Gossage did it three times. Robertson did it in at least 30 fewer innings than those guys, though. Only one batter managed to take him deep in 2011, J.J. Hardy of the Orioles on August 29th. That was also the only run he gave up on the road this season. Robertson’s 1.08 ERA was the second lowest among relievers with at least 60 IP, his 1.84 FIP third lowest this year and 11th lowest in a single season since 2000. We’re talking 2003 Eric Gagne, 2006 J.J. Putz territory.

In a season in which the Yankees got just 68 total innings out of their Opening Day eighth and ninth inning relievers, it was Robertson who emerged and did more than just fill in capably. He excelled and developed into one of the very best relievers in the game, a strikeout fiend with a knack for pitching out of jams. The “heir to Mo” talks are premature, but just the fact that the thought has crossed people’s minds is a positive sign. Robertson went from a nice complementary piece to a core Yankee in just six months, and he’ll be counted on for much more next season.

The Great What If: Miggy the Yankee
Replacing CC in the aggregate
  • Darren

    I’m still weirded out by the whole 7th inning, 8th inning, 9th inning guy formula. Maybe it helps the players, who are creatures of habit, but it seems so forced. Guys get on hot and cold streaks from day to day, matchups are different in each situation and you would think you’d want a different look based on the style of the starting pitcher. And what about leaving a guy in for more than an inning if he’s pitching well?

    • Monteroisdinero

      This. It is part of the rigidity that is Joe G’s brain. I thought this guy was gonna think outside the chalupa but I see they pulled that commercial. lol

      Robertson needs to work on his changeup in the off season and in low leverage situations. Once he can throw that to lefties in high leverage situations, we can feel good about him taking over for Mariano.

      Funny how when Mo comes in we never think about righty/lefty matchups. He gets them all out 98 % of the time.

      • Accent Shallow

        Robertson needs to work on his changeup in the off season and in low leverage situations. Once he can throw that to lefties in high leverage situations, we can feel good about him taking over for Mariano.

        David Robertson, 2008, vL, vR: 1.88 K/BB, .627 OPS. 3.00 K/BB, .747 OPS
        David Robertson, 2009, vL, vR: 3.33 K/BB, .601 OPS. 2.36 K/BB, .751 OPS
        David Robertson, 2010, vL, vR: 1.89 K/BB, .759 OPS. 2.47 K/BB, .693 OPS
        David Robertson, 2011, vL, vR: 3.05 K/BB, .466 OPS. 2.63 K/BB, .549 OPS

        Sure, the change would be nice, but looks to me like he handles lefties just fine without it.

        • Monteroisdinero

          Stats are fine when the game is not on the line but let’s see what happens in the 9th inning as Mo has done for 15 years. Much higher leverage for MO. I hope Robertson can get it done when Mo is gone with the 2 pitches he throws. Mo did it with one so I hope to be wrong.

          • nsalem

            Robertson excelled in high leverage situations this year with a .406 OPS against. We won’t know how he does in the ninth inning until he gets a chance. When his time comes I feel confident he will do well. He pitches well now against lefties in high leverage situations. Your first comment was made without knowledge of how Robertson does against lefties and your second comment was a weak attempt to cover up the silliness of your first comment.

            • Monteroisdinero

              Thanks for those nice words.

              • Paul VuvuZuvella (formerly Nuke LaDoosh)

                part of me would like to see Mo make a short visit to the D.L. for a ridiculous issue (like an ingrown hair on his small toe) so DRob can get a short trial in the 9th next year.

                • Monteroisdinero

                  DRob has always had Mo behind him and this is comforting. It will be different for him if and when he IS Mo-so to speak.

                  • Paul VuvuZuvella (formerly Nuke LaDoosh)

                    While I agree, I do think sometimes stuff like that can be “over rated.” Remember the “Can Robbie handle batting 5th protecting Alex” discussions?

              • nsalem

                I apologize if that came off as sounding nasty but the guy had such a great year especially against lefties I found your comment had absolutely no merit. Then you tried to defend it by saying Mo has been doing it for 15 years (which had nothing to do with the original point). It made me feel that you gave little thought to what you wrote.

          • http://www.twitter.com/brandonholley B-Rando

            In high leverage situations do you really want your best reliever to be throwing his 3rd (or 4th) best pitch??

      • nsalem

        Robertson’s OPS vs Lefties was 130 better than Mo’s this year. Until batters show they can do anything against him I wouldn’t change anything. Any addition at this point may be subtraction.
        He would be a closer on almost any other team. The only things he should be working on right now is staying healthy and finding the best available accountant. Funny is no matter how great a season he might have had there are those who are looking to change him.

    • vin

      “I’m still weirded out by the whole 7th inning, 8th inning, 9th inning guy formula. Maybe it helps the players, who are creatures of habit, but it seems so forced.”

      I think one reason managers are so willing to devise a late game reliever formula (at least subconsciously) is that it helps insulate the manager from a great deal of second guessing. It’s much easier for Girardi to sit in his office after a loss and say that he went with Soriano because that’s his role – rather than trying to explain sound baseball strategy to the blood-thirsty media, and knuckle-dragging sports radio listeners.

      You’d be right to say that this isn’t progressive thinking, but there is something to be said for maintaining sanity around a team – especially one in the NY market. Even moreso now that all the Red Sox foibles are being leaked. This, combined with the plausibility that players DO prefer set roles validates this method.

      You’ve got to remember that often times it’s better in the long-run for a manager to keep certain players happy, than it is to offend them for an incremental upgrade. I’m speaking more about batting orders than bullpen usage, since the math has shown the difference between the best and worst lineups as being quite small. But I think the concept can be applied to bullpens.

      Oh yeah, there’s not need to ever keep guys like Luis Ayala happy.

      • nsalem

        Nex t year I would love to see Robertson’s role to be pitching according to who’s hitting rather than a certain inning. I would like to see him pitch against the harder parts of line-ups or the parts that contains more lefties.

        • vin

          I agree with you. But it probably won’t happen.

          I think it’ll take a guy like Joe Maddon to throw bullpen convention out the window. Maddon, Friedman and Sternberg are the kings of that franchise… they don’t have to be accountable to a huge fanbase, or a ravenous media. Those guys are more important to that franchise than their fans. They’ve succeeded in spite of weak fan support.

          If Maddon wants to use his best reliever in the 7th inning against the heart of the order, then who are the fans and media to complain? Girardi’s situation is much different.

          • Tom O

            This. I’ve been saying for 2 years now that Maddon (and company) will be remembered for changing the game in a big way. It might not be that he’s the most brilliant manager, but like you pointed out, his situation gives him freedom to experiment with stat-based or controversial strategies. Just picture the backlash if Girardi said something about FIP or UZR. Even if the binder has that info, Francesa callers would go ballistic and the media would would his feet to the fire if the move backfired.

            • Tom O

              Already, Maddon’s use of the shift seems to have taken over. Just look at other teams like Toronto and Milwaukee that are now using extreme and/or unconventional defensive alignments.

  • jim p

    a strikeout fiend with a knack for pitching out of jams

    Worth noting that more than a few times he seemed to create or add to the jams by walking a guy or two. Then he’d get out of it.

    iirc, didn’t he strike out something like ten batters in a row when the bases were loaded? An amazing season from him, on top of the previous outstanding season. Looking forward to more.

    • Accent Shallow

      iirc, didn’t he strike out something like ten batters in a row when the bases were loaded?

      Yes, and I believe he did walk a guy in a few of those situations to load the bases.

  • Jose M. Vazquez..

    No doubt about it. heir apparent to Mariano. The kid has intestinal fortitude and coolness to do the job.

    • gc

      ehhhh, not yet. Perhaps. We’ve seen examples of relievers be lights out one year and then can’t get out of their own way the next. Then all the sudden, people start questioning their “intestinal fortitude.” Let’s not make any proclamations just yet.

  • Erica

    One of my favorite Yankees. It was truly special to watch him progress and then develop real trust and confidence in his abilities (and in his socks). I can’t wait for next season!

  • Jumpin’ Jack Swisher (formerly Jorge)

    There are no words which could properly encapsule my love for 2011 David Robertson.

    • Cris Pengiucci

      Next new handle for you: DRob’s High Socks? :-)

      • Jumpin’ Jack Swisher (formerly Jorge)

        doesn’t have that snap to it. nice try, though.

        i would have just kept my actual first name, to be honest, but some other Jorge posted on here the other day and couldn’t have been more the opposite of me.

  • UYF1950

    Don’t know exactly what went right with Robertson but I’d like for him to bottle it and give to some of the other Yankees as a Holiday present. He was that good.

  • Not That Guy

    I know that “Houdini” is his nickname, but I always liked the “Dragonslayer” title that IATMS gave him.

    • JohnC

      I thought that was Coach’s nickname on Survivor

      • http://www.twitter.com/tomzig Tom Zig

        It was also Josh Fogg’s nickname in 2007.

  • Kevin

    My biggest fear is that he will regress ala Daniel Bard or many of the other relief pitchers around baseball.

    • nsalem

      Bard’s problem can be traced to his 36 pitch appearance (high for the year) vs the Jays in early September http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/TBA/TBA201109100.shtml it was all downhill after that (as it was for the Sox).

      • https://twitter.com/johnsc2000 JohnnyC

        It was the beer and fried chicken.

        • http://www.thefatladyblog.com JoshTFL

          It’s because Gonzo wasn’t a leader, derpy derp derp.

  • vin

    Robertson was amazing this year. He was spectacular on the road, and really excelled in the second half. Hopefully he gets a nice bump in arbitration.

    DRob, Nova and Noesi were the biggest surprises this year for me. We knew Robertson had the tools to be good, but I didn’t expect this level of utter dominance.

    I figured Nova could be a capable #5 starter, but he flashed enough stuff to indicate he may be a middle of the rotation workhorse.

    And for Noesi, it was refreshing to see a guy without huge expectations get a call-up and put a strangle-hold on the 25 man roster spot.

  • Kevin

    If nothing else, I’m glad he was on the team in 2009. This is one kid I’m glad has his World Series ring.

  • Dave B

    This guy may have been the MVP of the pitching staff for 2011. Although I agree that relievers are generally inconsistent from year to year, I think his mechanics are so strong (a la Mariano) that he may have staying power to be effective far into the future.

    My simmering worry is Soriano. Not that he can’t get guys out, but he seems to be a guy who needs his ass kissed on a regular basis. To be the “7th inning guy” may burn at him through the offseason and into spring training. We’re seeing some of this stuff from K Rod in Milwaukee and fortunately for them it hasn’t impacted their playoff run. I just hope the same for the Yankees next season.

  • Tags

    What I like about DRob is that he was a closer for a major college team, he’s not a fomer starter moved to the pen. His walks came down as the season went on, if that trend can continue I can see him becoming our next closer. No one will ever replace Mo but but I’d rather see DRob come in then pay for another over priced free agent.

    • Darren

      Oh yeah, definitely. When the time comes to replace Mo (hopefully still a long way away), I think we would all much rather have Robertson, Joba or Hughes take over, rather than a KRod, Papelbon or other asshole import.

      Hopefully Mo can stay as a very high level closer for another 2 years at least, but do you think he would ever stay on the Yanks in a non-closing role? Let’s say he’s still highly effective, but can’t work even as many innings as he does now. It would still be worth it to have him on the team, almost like a righty LOOGY (a ROOGY?), right? Leaving aside the intangibles, which have to be worth a lot.

      But would Mo do it????? Or would he just go home to his family once he can no longer close.

  • http://www.thefatladyblog.com JoshTFL

    My favorite part of the season was when Kay suggested, in late September, that DRob could be the team’s MVP.

  • Paul VuvuZuvella (formerly Nuke LaDoosh)

    Doggone it, you called him a Core Yankee right when it would have been completely acceptable to provide him True Yankee(TM) status.

  • Bavarian Yankee

    wow, I knew that his ERA was pretty low but 1.08!? WOW!!