May
13

The Marginalization of David Robertson

By
(Presswire)

Too much watching, not enough pitching. (Presswire)

Ever since Mariano Rivera first announced he was planning to retire last Spring Training, it was pretty much assumed David Robertson would take over as the team’s closer. Sure, these are the Yankees and there was always the chance they would sign a free agent closer, but Robertson was the obvious choice. He had proven all he needed to prove as a setup man, and if the Yankees weren’t going to give him the opportunity to close, another team would have when he became a free agent after the season.

Minus a little 15-day groin related hiatus, Robertson has been excellent in the ninth inning, just as he was excellent in the eighth. He’s gone 6-for-6 in save chances, struck out ten and walked two in nine innings, and allowed only two runs. Each run came with a multi-run lead and did no damage other than to Robertson’s individual stats. I know more than a few people were nervous about him in the ninth inning because … he blew a save after Rivera got hurt in May 2012? I think that’s what it was.

Robertson has inherited the closer’s gig from Mariano and he’s been dynamite these first few weeks. He’s also inherited something else: Rivera’s workload. The last few years, basically since Mo turned 40, the Yankees took it very easy on their all-world closer. From 2009-12, he recorded more than three outs just 18 times in 200 total games. Only five times did they ask him to get more than four outs. Joe Girardi did run Mo into the ground a bit last September (five games of 4+ outs) because they knew he was retiring. There was no long-term concern. Rivera also rarely appeared in back-to-back-back games or pitched three times in four days.

From 2010-13, when Robertson really emerged as a dominant late-inning force, the Yankees asked him to get at least four outs 34 times in 269 games. Joe Girardi was a little more liberal with his top setup man, often asking him to pitch out of a jam in the seventh inning before tacking on the eighth for good measure. It worked damn well and it gave the Yankees a big advantage in the late innings of close games. Girardi has not yet asked Robertson to throw more than one inning this year but that’s a function of it still being early in the season more than anything. He was ready to do it last night.

“I was going to use a four-out save with Robertson tonight,” said Girardi to Andrew Marchand after last night’s loss. That comes just a few days after he told Bryan Hoch he feels “more comfortable using [Robertson] for an inning right now … it’s just something I’m more comfortable doing.” Not having Dellin Betances, Adam Warren, and Shawn Kelley essentially forced Girardi to consider using Robertson for more than one inning last night. He really had no choice.

The Yankees have lost their last three games despite either having a lead or being tied in the seventh inning or later, situations that would have called for Robertson in the past. Meanwhile, Robertson has pitched only twice in the last ten days and three times in May. He’s appeared in six of 18 games since coming off the DL, a 54-appearance over 162 games pace after working on a 72-appearance pace per 162 healthy games from 2010-13. He’s been marginalized as the closer, especially of late.

Now, this isn’t to say Girardi should be more liberal with Robertson and use him in tight non-closing situations — that would be awesome, but every manager does the same thing these days, they’ve become slaves to save stat — but it goes to show just how much losing Rivera has hurt. Kelley, Warren, and Betances have been great, but they’re no Mo. They’re no Robertson either. The club replaced their closer just fine, but they lost an ultra-effective presence in the eighth and sometimes seventh innings.

Robertson used to be one of the Yankees’ greatest weapons because he and Rivera shortened the game. They were as good as any setup man/closer combination in baseball. Now that Robertson is married to very specific situations, the most important innings are often falling on the shoulders of lesser relievers, and it has hurt the Yankees these last three games in particular. Losing close games in the late innings with Robertson doing nothing more than warming up rarely happened from 2010-13. That’s where the Yankees most miss Rivera.

Categories : Death by Bullpen

41 Comments»

  1. Darren says:

    Might as well call this post “Underarm Odor: How the Best Arm in the Bullpen is Vastly Underutilized Post-Eckersley”

    See also: “Today’s Closers are Pussies!” by Richard Gossage.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner says:

      I mean…..that’s pretty much it. You nailed it.

      Hey, if anything, it seems like Joe actually shares the hard-on some have on here for wanting to turn Dellin into a fireman type. Too bad he’s had to pitch so often as of late. Could have used him last night.

  2. Vern Sneaker says:

    True re having no good set-up for Robertson, but way too kind to Girardi, Mike. He’s likely cost us at least two games recently by not choosing Robertson in the eighth. It’s not merely 20-20 hindsight — last night especially Girardi was transparently wrong, every Yankees fan groaned when Claiborne came in instead.

    • Mike HC says:

      The more the losses pile up, the sooner Girardi will start going to his bread and butter in the pen more often. He got a little too cute last night. Overall, Girardi is really good with the pen, so I do think he will figure out a better balance.

      • Jorge Steinbrenner says:

        I don’t think it was about balance at all. It was about Warren and Dellin pitching too much, while Kelley was nursing a bad back.

        • Mike HC says:

          Better balance in this case meaning using Robertson for more than one inning.

          • Jorge Steinbrenner says:

            If you’re looking at it one game at a time, perhaps, but that’s not a sustainable strategy either. You pitch him multiple innings too often, you’re going to wind up in the same trap they’ve wound up with the others lately.

            Three swingmen in the rotation, as well as an inconsistent Hiroki Kuroda. This is the problem.

            • Mike HC says:

              Basically it comes down to being more flexible with Robertson’s use, especially when a few of our set up men are unavailable and all of our middle relief depth is in the rotation.

              • Jorge Steinbrenner says:

                Yeah. It’s not a magic bullet, though. You can’t run him out there for five outs and expect to have him three out of four nights either. That’s all I’m saying.

                He should have been in there last night. That I think we all can agree on.

  3. Mike HC says:

    Nice article. I feel like so many people have been beating this drum for so long, but it hasn’t really clicked. Your best reliever should be used in a fireman like role, in high leverage situations, regardless of inning. Lesser relievers with some balls can handle pitching one inning with a 1-3 run lead.

    This hasn’t effected us that much because of Mo and Robertson. But Dellin is an absolute beast, so Girardi should be able to figure it out this year too.

  4. fred robbins says:

    The Yankees are a poorly run organization from the top down to the field including ineffective pitching and batting coaches. Girardi either over manages or fails to use his best players and placate his stars. His baloney about not being here for Jeter’s farewell tour falls under the ” he doth protestest too much” cagegory. He is a submissive to his stars and the team suffers as a whole. There is not another team in baseball with 3-4 players who should be DH only.

    • Vern Sneaker says:

      But you have to admit, don’t you, that this year Girardi is in trouble with the lineup he can put out there. If he doesn’t use the “stars,” who then? Ryan? Murphy instead of McCann? Johnson instead of Texeira? Ichiro instead of Beltran? There is NOBODY to help from the farm system, except Almonte and that’s not much, if any, of an upgrade. Fact is, it’s just not a very good position player roster and especially now with the pitching in shambles it’s hard to be optimistic even conceding that it’s still early. Girardi’s not a magician.

      • Mikhel says:

        Right now

        Murphy > McCann
        Ichiro > Beltrán

        So yes, you have to use Murphy and Ichiro. You always have to use your best option, otherwise it will be the whole Vernon Wells fiasco all over again, using a weak hitter in the heart of the lineup, its as if the only stat JoeG checks is “salary” to decide who plays.

      • fred robbins says:

        Vern… I do agree with you 100%… He only has what he has.. they are not going to use Murphy after paying for McCann.. unless of injury of course.. It’s a team situation- I think mostly due to having no foresight or desire to have a little growing pains… it is a tough situation all the way around for a few years…darn

  5. mitch says:

    I like that Girardi frequently uses Warren and Betances for multiple innings, but if you’re going to manage that way, I think you need to allow all of the relievers to pitch that way. Otherwise you’re going to be frequently shorthanded and have Preston Claibornes pitching in high leverage spots. Warren, Betances, Robertson and Kelley should all be allowed to go two innings a clip.

  6. 461deep says:

    I’d give Betances until the All Star Break to continue to grow and gain confidence and if he remains effective and does not wall too many then make him the 8th inning set-up man. Team looking beat-up and not playing well lately. Starting pitching, Beltran McCann not hitting with Ellsbury in a cool spell will make winning difficult.

  7. King of Fruitless Hypotheticals says:

    We’re always grooming the next guy, and from my amateur vision 1000 miles away it is Betances. If he’s not going to be a starter, then he needs to be groomed to be a 4-out hero. In the meantime, put him in the highest leverage spot between 6th and 8th innings–he’ll get tougher, craftier, more confident, and be better able to lock down the 8th in the future.

    • Vern Sneaker says:

      Absolutely agree. Occasionally he’s going to have an outing with command problems, but his stuff is outstanding and we have nobody better for these situations. And btw he’s 26, not that young any more. No need to “groom,” he’s either ready by now or he’s not going to be.

    • mitch says:

      Isn’t that already happening? He’s 20 innings into his professional career and he’s already pitching more important situations than when he started. I don’t think they need to move him along any faster.

      • Jorge Steinbrenner says:

        Yeah, he’s clearly headed to where most want him to be right now. That’s his to lose at this point.

  8. LarryM Fl says:

    The “nutshell” of Mike’s article is setup man wanted. Who in the bullpen could be our 8th inning guy. I would not go to Betances at this point. We know Aceves is a bit shaky at times. Preston has good speed and breaking pitches but has a location problem. Our lefty specialist is proving that he was a bad sign. I like Mr. Warren. This young man can reach 95 in a heart bit. Nice change-up and two seem-er I would put him out there in the 8th every chance we get with Robertson to follow. The seventh inning is starting to look like Betances.

    I would have patched Robertson for four outs last night but the guys before made it unnecessary.

    • Mikhel says:

      Mmmh you missed the “nutshell”, really.

      The important thing is: use your best available reliever when you needed, not only to close/finalize a game.

      Now that Robertson is the closer the Yankees are not using him because he will not get a save. You do not need a setup-man, forget about that, bullpen specialization is killing modern bullpens, you either have good relievers or you dont. Right now Girardi is using lesser pitchers and saving his best for situations that might not come because the lesser pitchers are busy blowing games.

      You want better pitchers? Acquire them and do not label them ’6th inning guy’, ’7th inning guy’, ‘setup man’, etc. Use them when you need them.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner says:

      “Not having Dellin Betances, Adam Warren, and Shawn Kelley essentially forced Girardi to consider using Robertson for more than one inning last season. He really had no choice.”

      Actually, that’s your nutshell.

  9. frank says:

    Can’t say they didn’t have an opportunity to obtain a more established reliever in the off season for the set up role. But they decided it was more important to spend over $150M for 7 years of Ellsbury or even more ridiculous, over $50M to extend Gardner. Oh well.

    • LarryM Fl says:

      Gardner is the going rate for starting OFer’s who can field and bat .275 with some pop at times.

    • mitch says:

      half of the established relievers they could have spent big bucks on have been awful, but i’m sure you wouldn’t be complaining if Ellsbury was on another team and Balfour was blowing games for the Yanks

  10. BNJ says:

    Eventually, there will be a manager and a GM who have the balls and who are willing to use their “closer” (a/k/a the best relief pitcher on the team) in critical situations any time from the 7th inning on. Right now they are tied to the traditional 9th inning even though the odds are only 1 in 9 that the 9th inning will be the most critical inning. Unfortunately, Girardi will never be that manager.

    • Mikhel says:

      And they will be dubbed as revolutionary by “thinking outside the box” when all they will be doing is: using common sense.

      But for baseball managers it is true the saying: common sense is the less common of the senses.

    • Now Batting says:

      The 9th is absolutely the most critical inning. Every inning has identical potential outcomes. That means the 9th is always the highest leverage inning since you have the fewest opportunitues remaining.

  11. Mikhel says:

    Mmmh you missed the “nutshell”, really.

    The important thing is: use your best available reliever when you needed, not only to close/finalize a game.

    Now that Robertson is the closer the Yankees are not using him because he will not get a save. You do not need a setup-man, forget about that, bullpen specialization is killing modern bullpens, you either have good relievers or you dont. Right now Girardi is using lesser pitchers and saving his best for situations that might not come because the lesser pitchers are busy blowing games.

    You want better pitchers? Acquire them and do not label them ’6th inning guy’, ’7th inning guy’, ‘setup man’, etc. Use them when you need them.

  12. BNJ says:

    Amen, Mikhel. Spot on.

  13. Mel says:

    In the old days it was a six inning game. Starter, Mo for 2 and then Wetteland. They should try that again – using Betances and Robertson. Can’t do it every game but Claiborne – and Thornton – and Aceves – sure aren’t the answer.

    • Barracuda says:

      So “the old days” = precisely 1996?

      In what consider “the old days” Gossage would enter the game in the 7th and pitch the rest of the game.

      Of course, for some people in “the old days” pitchers would pitch complete games in both games of a double-header, although there aren’t too many of those people left alive anymore.

  14. Enough with trashing Girardi every time whoever he puts in the game plays badly. Girardi’s use of his closer is very similar to what most clubs are doing with their closers. Whether that conventional wisdom is really the best strategy is a bigger issue. And while Robertson has seen little recent action, remember that everyone complained that Torre overworked his relievers.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner says:

      Thank you.

      We can talk over and over about how much sense it makes to go into the “fireman” days, but that’s not where baseball is right now. Maybe it’ll revert someday. It’s not happening by tonight.

  15. qwerty says:

    Girardi must not have much faith in Robertson to get more than 3 outs as a closer, a setup man maybe. Robertson does appear shaky at times.

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