What Went Right: David Robertson

Sherman: Chase Headley remains on Yankees' radar
Yankees reach deal to move High-A affiliate from Tampa to Ocala

The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with the team’s super-setup man and likely heir to Mariano Rivera‘s throne.


Over the last three seasons, the Yankees have been very spoiled in the eighth and ninth innings. Regardless of whether Mariano Rivera or injury fill-in Rafael Soriano was closing out games in the ninth, the one constant since 2011 has been the elite performance of David Robertson in the eighth inning. He has emerged as one of baseball’s very best relievers and has reached the point where dominant performances are expected, not a surprise.

The 2013 season was more of the same from the 28-year-old Robertson. He pitched to a 2.04 ERA and 2.61 FIP in 66.1 innings as the primary bridge to Rivera, only twice going through a rough patch. Robertson allowed five runs in a 5.2-inning, ten-day span in late April and then five runs in a 3.1-inning, eight-day span in early-September. That’s it. Two-thirds of his season runs allowed in 13.7% of his innings. The Yankees actually sat Robertson down for five days after the hiccup in September because of fatigue, which somewhat explains the poor performance.

From May 1st through September 1st, a span of 48 appearances and 46.1 innings, Robertson allowed five runs and 43 base-runners. Opponents hit .182/.257/.252 against him during that time, which is more or less what David Adams hit for the big league team this summer (.193/.252/.286). He was pretty much automatic during those four months — Robertson didn’t blow a single lead and took only one loss, which came when he allowed a run in a tie game. There was every reason to feel confident when the Yankees handed a lead over to him.

Overall, Robertson struck out 77 batters (10.45 K/9 and 29.4 K%) and walked only 18 batters (2.44 BB/9 and 6.9 BB%) while posting a career-best 50.9% ground ball rate. The most important thing to me is those walks. Somewhere around the All-Star break last season, Robertson simply stopped walking guys. It’s very cool but also kinda weird. Here, look:

Robertson walks

This is a guy who walked 4.72 batters per nine innings (12.2% of batters faced) during the first four seasons of his career. Robertson then went on to post a 4.38 BB/9 and 11.4 BB% in the first half of 2012, but since then? A 2.20 BB/9 and 6.2 BB%. For whatever reason, either improved mechanics or improved confidence or something else entirely (all of the above?), Robertson cut his walk rate in half after the All-Star break last year. He followed up this season by showing it was no fluke. That’s probably the best thing the Yankees could have seen out of their setup man in 2013.

After three straight dominant seasons, Robertson has both raised expectations and put himself in position to be key long-term piece for the Yankees. Unlike much of the veteran dreck on the roster, it’s easy to see him as part of the next Yankees team to make the postseason and contend for a World Series title. Robertson is due to become a free agent next winter and barring a catastrophic injury, he’ll get paid top of the relief market dollars. He’s earned it. New York could bring in a Proven Closer™ to replace Mo this winter — it’s hard not to notice Joe Nathan will become a free agent in about a week — but they have the perfect internal candidate. Robertson has shown everything a team could possibly want to see out of a potential closer and he’s earned the opportunity to inherit the ninth inning in my opinion. Sustaining that improved walk rate this year clinched it.

Sherman: Chase Headley remains on Yankees' radar
Yankees reach deal to move High-A affiliate from Tampa to Ocala
  • SDB

    D-Rob’s been fantastic for some time now. I really hope that next year we’re hearing Sweet Home Alabama before the top of the ninth.

    • MannyGeee

      Or, Master of Puppets.

      That would be dope.

      • Chris In Maine


  • W.B. Mason Williams

    Guy’s earned it for sure. In a world without Mo, I think the heir apparent deserves an extended look. Next season, depending on the offseason, could be even uglier than this one. Robertson taking over the reins would be a bright spot.

    And, should he prove up to the task, I’m all for locking him up. He’s been the brightest farm product since Brett Gardner, and is pretty much a longer contract away from getting True Yankee™ status.

    • qwerty

      The time to lock up Robertson would have been now or earlier, not when he becomes a free agent, although I understand the FO’s thinking. Robertson has not proven he can be a closer. His few stints closing games has not been pretty, and appears to unnerve him. He may grow out of this or he may not. If the yankees sign him to a long term deal for a 3-4 million a year and he can become a closer than it’s a great deal for them, but if not he’ll be a decently price setup man.

  • http://riveravenueblues mississippi doc

    As attractive as Nathan may be, they need to spend their free agent dollars on two starting pitchers, SS, catcher, RF, and 3B. How about Tanaka (or whatever his name is), Garza, Drew, McCann, Beltran (if Grandy leaves) and even Reynolds if the other 3B options cost too much.

  • JGYank

    Never understand how he is so good. Doesn’t have overpowering stuff or pinpoint control, but the guy just gets outs and escapes jams. Gets plenty of strikeouts, grounders, and is now limiting the walks too. I’m all for giving him an opportunity as the closer. The only problem I have with that is then he can’t be the setup man.

    • qwerty

      Not only does he hide the ball well, but he has major extension on his delivery, meaning the ball is actually closer to the plate at his release point relative to many other pitchers, making it seem as if it’s actually thrown harder than his velocity indicates. This is why he gets so many strike outs.

      I think giving Robertson the closer’s role weakens the bullpen in two spots, the closer and setup man.

      • JGYank

        “Not only does he hide the ball well, but he has major extension on his delivery, meaning the ball is actually closer to the plate at his release point relative to many other pitchers, making it seem as if it’s actually thrown harder than his velocity indicates. This is why he gets so many strike outs.”

        I heard that from somewhere, but I never thought it had much of an effect. Guess I was wrong.
        Honestly, Drob isn’t much of a downgrade from Mo if he even is a downgrade at all. Obviously he doesn’t have the consistency or experience that Mo had, but he can still get the job done just as well. Fornutely, we only have to replace 60 innings in the pen, even if those innings were pitched by the greatest reliever of all time. Actually we have to replace Joba’s innings too but that’s pretty much an automatic upgrade no matter who soaks up the innings. So if you think about it, we improve one guy in the pen (from Joba) and downgrade another (from Mo) so it kind of cancels out.

        • qwerty

          I think Robertson can close based on just his stuff; I just don’t think he has the mentality for it, at least not at this moment. Whenever I saw him attempt to close a game he simply did not pitch the same way and was ineffective a lot of times. It may be he’ll get over this, but he is not a “natural” closer.

  • JGYank

    *Never understood how

  • mt

    I can see D-Rob being a successful closer and if he is successful (although there will be some bumps in the road) Yankees signing him to a long-term contract at end of year. He turns 30 in April 2015 so I could see a three or four year deal after the 2014 baseball season.

    On the other hand, next year, I just don’t see a long-term contract for the other home-grown Yankee free agent Brett Gardner for some reason.

    I was wondering whether Yankees $189 million plan may be preventing a long-term contract offer to Robertson this off-season but probably not – it may work for both parties to wait. Yanks will want to see him perform as a closer this year before giving him a more lucrative long-term contract of a closer and Robertson will not want to sign a long-term contract now based only on his set-up work.

    • mitch

      Agree about Gardner, though I think he could become a QO candidate. Ideally, Williams or Heathcott will be ready to take over CF within the next couple years, but that’s certainly not a given.

    • qwerty

      Which is precisely why they should trade Gardner now, but it appears the yankees are incapable of actually trading their veterans for prospects.

  • Eselquetodolosabe

    I’d try to sign Brian Wilson, just in case. Robertson has been great for us, but being a closer is a different animal all together.