Everyone misses Mariano Rivera, except for maybe Rafael Soriano, but I swear I saw him pitching the other night. Yes, it’s almost blasphemy in Yankee land to compare anyone to the great Rivera, but David Robertson has come closer than anyone I’ve seen. The Sandman loves playing baseball, he lives for his team, and he doesn’t shy away from teaching his incredible cutter to his teammates. Go back to spring training, and David Robertson was still learning how to throw the pitch consistently.
“On a good day, every once in a while, I’ll throw one like Mariano’s,” Robertson said. “Think about it, one pitch, they know it’s coming, and still no one hits it. I’ll never be able to get by like that. Closers today have two pitches, sometimes three. Not one. No one does that.”
This was after a 2011 season where PITCHf/x had him throwing 27% cutters in his repertoire. The number of cutters has only increased, and in the month of August, Robertson is now throwing the pitch 67% of the time. It’s not Rivera’s 90% selection, but it’s growing, and that’s because the pitch is starting to look an awful lot like that of the former closer.
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Robertson throws the pitch considerably harder, but he is around 100 RPM short of the spin rate Rivera has. This cuts the movement about a half inch both horizontally and vertically. The cutter has been good enough in August to allow no line drives to right handers and only 13.3% to left handers. Although the movement is preventing hitters from making good contact, it still isn’t close to the whiff level of Rivera. As Robertson struggles to replicate the break, it would appear that he’s getting incredibly close, and you can see on the charts below just how similar his cutter in August was to Rivera’s in April.
Of the differences, the biggest is Robertson’s lower release point, however he’s done a good job of replicating the zone. Movement-wise, the cutters are landing right in the middle of Rivera’s spread, however there are still pitches that break with much more positive horizontal and vertical movement. These are the only real contrast here, and likely the pitches that hitters often whiff at. But when Robertson has maintained high spin rates, he’s looked almost exactly like Rivera.
Finally, I thought this was amazing. Other than Rivera finishing upright, there are very few differences in their mechanics. The timing is so similar, you have to believe that Robertson has worked hard to copy Rivera’s delivery. I can’t say that Robertson will ever become the same pitcher as Rivera, but it’s amazing to watch him transform.