During last night’s game, Michael Kay said something that bothered me. Granted, this isn’t something unique and it definitely happened multiple times last night. Can you believe that in 2013, we’ve still got an announcer talking about Adam Dunn through the lens of batting average? Ugh, that bothers the hell out of me. Anyway, I digress. Getting back to the point of this article, Kay said something about David Robertson that he’s said many times before, that he worries about D-Rob as the post-Mariano Rivera closer.
At its face, that’s a fair point. Going from Mo, the greatest relief pitcher ever, to anyone is going to seem like a downgrade. But Robertson is a damn fine relief pitcher and does just about everything that you want a reliever to do. He strikes lots of guys out; he gets ground balls; and he keeps the walks down. Kay, though, thinks Robertson throws too many pitches to be a closer and that this will hinder his ability to take the ball on back-to-back days and the like. Again, on face value, Kay doesn’t appear to make a bad point; when Robertson first arrived in the Bronx, pitch economy certainly eluded him. Over the years, though, Robertson has grown out of that trend, despite Kay’s comments to the contrary. Take a look at this chart.
For the first four years of his Major League career, including the short season in 2008, Robertson hovered around 18-20 pitches per inning and about 4.5 pitches per batter faced. In the last two years, though, he’s slashed those numbers considerably. Kay’s argument does not hold water. This brings me to a point that I’ll spend just a second on. It took me all of five minutes to look up those numbers; why can’t Kay–or some YES intern or staffer–do the same? When your job is to inform people and their opinions, you should have the information right. His argument shows either a lack of or disregard for research. Bah.
One legitimate concern regarding Robertson’s future performance does exist, though. His strikeout rate has been trending downward. It’s gone from 36.8 in 2011; to 32.7 last year; and down to 31.7 this year. Despite that drop in K%, though, Robertson’s rate (34%) still stands as third best in MLB (min 170 IP) since 2011, trailing only Craig Kimbrel (44.2%) and Kenley Jansen (40.3%, so he’s still elite when it comes to the whiffs.
The drop in strikeouts has also led to a drop in something else, a positive drop, if you will: a drop in walks. When he first came up, Robertson walked guys…a lot of guys. From 2008-2010, he never had a walk rate of under 11%. In the last two years, though, he’s managed to keep it under 8% (7.7% and 7.2% respectively).
He’s also managed to turn into more of a ground ball pitcher over the last three years. From ’08-10, Robertson’s GB% peaked in ’08 at 42.5%; he was under 40% (though just barely in ’09) the other two years. In the lat three seasons, he’s never had a GB% under 44.9 (2012).
Over the last two years, we’ve seen the emergence of a dominant and reliable reliever in David Robertson. No one will ever replicate what Mariano Rivera has done and continues to do, but that doesn’t mean that the Yankees are up the creek without a paddle with regards to their future closing situation. D-Rob appears more than able to take the job next year, and I think he’ll be just fine.