What Went Right: David Robertson

Possible Trade Partner: Los Angeles Angels
Nightengale: Yankees have interest in Mike Napoli
(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Last season was David Robertson‘s coming out party. The right-hander emerged as one of baseball’s most dominant setup men, usurping Rafael Soriano as the eighth inning guy while pitching to a 1.08 ERA (1.84 FIP) in a career-high 66.2 innings. His follow up in 2012 didn’t go as smoothly, but the end result was the same. Robertson was again one of baseball’s most dominant setup men.

The 27-year-old opened the season in pretty much the only way he knew how: with a Houdini act on Opening Day. Joe Girardi handed him the ball with a one-run lead in the eighth inning against the Rays, and Tampa had men on the corners with no outs in the span of eleven pitches thanks to a walk and a single. Robertson then struck out Stephen Vogt (four pitches), Jose Molina (five pitches), and Matt Joyce (five pitches) to escape the jam and end the inning. Pretty much par for the Houdini course.

Through his first dozen appearances, Robertson had allowed zero runs with 21 strikeouts against just three walks in 12 innings. In five appearances from April 20th through May 4th, he struck out 12 of 17 batters faced including eight in a row at one point. That’s when Mariano Rivera got hurt. The club’s long-time closer blew out his knee on the Kansas City warning track on May 5th, and Robertson was the obvious replacement in the ninth inning. He nailed down his first save three days later but blew the save next night, allowing a three-run homer to Joyce. Two days later he wiggled out of Boone Logan‘s ninth inning jam to preserve the four-run lead, and that was it. We wouldn’t see him for more than a month.

Robertson had strained his left oblique and needed to spend time on the DL. The injury cost him more than a month, as he didn’t return until June 15th after a handful of minor league rehab appearances. Soriano had seized the closer’s job during his absence, so Robertson came back as the setup man and was eased back into things. Girardi didn’t use him in back-to-back days at first and didn’t bring him into the game in the middle of an inning even though he had some chances. It raised some questions about whether Robertson was actually fully healthy, but he was pitching fine and striking a ton of guys out so it wasn’t a huge concern.

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

In 26 first half appearances, Robertson struck out 40 and allowed just seven earned runs in 24.2 innings. He walked a dozen, but that’s nothing unusual for him. The second half opened with seven straight scoreless appearances and just one run allowed in his first eleven outings. Robertson melted down in an early-August game against the Tigers (three runs in one inning), but the Yankees held on to win anyway so it didn’t hurt anything but his ERA. Another ten scoreless innings followed as he carried a 2.18 ERA into September.

Outside of the blow save against the Rays, Robertson’s most infamous blowup of the season came on September 6th against the Orioles, the first game of the important four-game series in Camden Yards. The Yankees had just scored five runs in the top of the eighth to tie the game at six, but Robertson surrendered a solo homer to Adam Jones to leadoff the bottom half, and then two batters later Mark Reynolds took him deep for a two-run shot. Three batters faced, three hits allowed, two homers, three runs. The Yankees went on to lose the game and Robertson’s ERA climbed by more than half-a-run.

Robertson allowed two runs in two-thirds of an inning in a win against the Blue Jays later in the month but that was pretty much it. He followed up his strong but injury-shortened first half with a 2.75 ERA (2.49 FIP) in 36 second half innings. Girardi leaned on his setup man heavily down the stretch, as Robertson made four sets of back-to-back-to-back appearances in the team’s final 35 games of the season after Girardi never once asked him to work three consecutive days in the first four years of his career. He was also the team’s best reliever in the postseason, allowing just one run on three hits and no walks while striking out seven in 6.1 innings. Despite missing all that time with the oblique issue, Robertson still threw 60.2 innings across 65 appearances during the 2012 regular season.

At the end of the year, the right-hander owned a 2.67 ERA (2.48 FIP) with his usual sky-high strikeout rate (12.02 K/9 and 32.7 K%). He did allow a career-high-tying five homers one year after allowing just one, which was a bit of a problem. The good news is that he also posted a (by far) career-low walk rate, just 2.82 BB/9 and 7.7 BB%. He came into the season with a career 4.72 BB/9 and 12.2 BB%, and even last year it was 4.73 BB/9 and 12.9 BB%. The cool part is that nearly all of the walk improvement came in the second half …

In those 36 second half innings, Robertson walked just seven batters. From July 21st through the end of the season, a span of 36 appearances and 33 innings, he walked just five batters. From August 11th through September 24th, a span of 22 appearances and 82 batters faced, he walked zero batters. That seems impossible, but it’s true. He closed the season out with 81 strikeouts against just 19 walks, setting a new career-high (by far) with a 4.26 K/BB.

Robertson wasn’t as great as he was a year ago, but no pitcher, not even Mariano Rivera, sustains a near-1.00 ERA. He did have two really memorable meltdowns and at times he stopped throwing his curveball for no apparent reason, but it never really cost him effectiveness. Robertson hurt the Yankees the most when he wasn’t on the mound due to the oblique injury, but otherwise he was again a fantastic setup man and one of the five or six best non-closing relievers in the game.

Possible Trade Partner: Los Angeles Angels
Nightengale: Yankees have interest in Mike Napoli
  • Robinson Tilapia

    I wish we could have a window into the alternate universse in which DRob didn’t get hurt and worked through the initial closing troubles in order to see what that would have looked like.

    Long live David Robertson. May the DRobs in waiting in the minors grow to be even half as good as you are.

  • Jersey Joe

    I think if the Yankees just brought in a setup type they would be fine with Robertson as closer. Everybody is going crazy about our closer situation about Mo maybe not coming back or Soriano not coming back/demanding too much. I think Robertson has proved himself again to be a well-above average reliever. I’m more confident in him now than even last year in him being the closer of the future.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      In the short-term, sure. Obviously, the team did fine without Mariano this year.

      In the long term, you have not even had to think about who is going to close a game for this team since 1997. That’s something worth being slightly crazy over once Mariano is gone.

      I’d be fine with Robertson closing. I’d be fine with Joba closing. None of them will ever come close to giving you with Mariano Rivera has year after year for this team. Shit’s gonna change.

  • Robert

    Heard the Tigers already rejected Soriano as too expensive and they didn’t want to lose a 1st round pick!!
    With that thinking who is gonna sign Swisher???
    And for that matter who Signs Kuroda a 38 yr old to a 2 yr contract and loses a number 1 pick?

    • Robinson Tilapia

      They’ll all find a home. I don’t think Swisher gets his massive contract. I don’t think Kuroda goes anywhere but back to the Bronx.

    • RetroRob

      A lot of its just posturing. As Robinson said, all will find homes. No team contending today gets overly worked up on losing a draft pick with the odds being low that any of the draft picks outside the top ten will deliver anywhere near the value of a Soriano, Swisher or Kuroda. If a team needs a starting RFer and can get one for the next three years who will play 150 games and will triple slash at .265/.365/.485, then they’re going to sign Swisher and lose the pick who will almost assuredly never deliver that value.

      A Swisher in hand is worth two in the bushes.

      • King of Fruitless Hypotheticals

        I thought you didn’t lose picks but just got one from the other compensation round?

        • Sweet Dick Willie

          The team that signs a FA who received a QO loses their 1st round pick, but it doesn’t go to the team that lost the FA; it just disappears.

          The team that loses a FA to whom they made a QO receives a supplemental pick at the end of the 1st round.

  • The Real Eddard

    Robertson needs to realize that he’s not Mariano Rivera and has to throw more than one pitch. And he has an excellent 2nd pitch, the curve, he just doesn’t throw it. Yanks should lock up guys like Robertson, Phelps and Nuney now while they’re still cheap.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Nunez: 10/250
      Phelps: 12/360 (LOTS OF BIG GAMES)
      Robertson: Hand over keys to Steinbrenner plane and be done with it

      • gc

        Ichiro: Largest monument in Monument Park

        • Robinson Tilapia

          Mike Bloomberg holds contest in order to determine which of the five boroughs should have its name changed to “Nunie.”

    • The Real Eddards Mom

      Stop using nicknames like Joey G does, you don’t know those guys. Refer to your elders as Sir and Mame, eat your peas and go to bed.

  • I Voted 4 Kodos

    Robertson is probably my favorite pitcher to watch on the Yankees. When he’s on, his fastball just looks flat out nasty. Based on how batters react, it looks like he’s pumping it up there in the upper 90’s, and when he chooses to drop that hammer curve it’s a thing of beauty.

    • jjyank

      I latched onto Robertson as my favorite bullpen guy (non-Mo division) after I read the article about how he was one of the longest strides in all of baseball. So his fastball appears faster than it really is. I just found that really cool because he’s not the tallest reliever by any stretch.

      • I Voted 4 Kodos

        It is amazing how long his stride is. It doesn’t even seem to be possible.

  • jjyank

    Love me some K-Rob.