D-Rob Is Absolutely Worth Papelbon Money

D-Rob vs CIN The silence remains deafening on the David Robertson front.  Since he rejected the Yankees' qualifying offer there has been little to no reported activity on the 2 sides working on a new deal, and there hasn't been much chatter on him on the rest of the hot stove rumor mill.  It appears as though the attachment of draft pick compensation has slowed the pace of pursuit for this offseason's top free agent reliever.

The one bit of worthwhile (depending on how you look at it) information to come out on D-Rob was the recent report that he is seeking "Papelbon money" on the open market.  You'll remember the record 4-year/$50 million deal Jonathan Papelbon signed with the Phillies during the 2011-2012 offseason, a deal that could vest into a 5-year/$63 mil one when all is said and done.

The general reaction I saw online to this report was that D-Rob was crazy for wanting that much and he would never get it.  When you really stop and look at the numbers, you'll see that it's really not that crazy.  In many ways, it's perfectly fair.

Take a look once again at D-Rob's total numbers from the last 4 years, the period of time that has passed since he made the leap to the elite level of MLB relief pitchers in 2011:

258.0 IP, 2.20 ERA, 2.40 FIP, 2.46 xFIP, 84.5% LOB, 46.5% GB, 34.0% K, 9.1% BB, 7.6 fWAR

Compare them to Papelbon's numbers from 2008-2011, the 4 years before he signed his big deal:

268.2 IP, 2.75 ERA, 2.53 FIP, 3.00 xFIP, 74.8% LOB, 38.0% GB, 28.7% K, 6.4% BB, 9.5 fWAR

D-Rob bests Papelbon in almost every category, save for innings pitched and BB rate.  He was better at limiting runs, preventing runs, and striking out batters, the 3 most important parts of being an effective relief pitcher.  And he put up his line in his age 26-29 seasons compared to 27-30 for Papelbon.  By most statistical measures, it's clear that D-Rob now is better than Papelbon was then.

The one big statistical comparison that doesn't favor D-Rob is the Saves category.  Papelbon racked up 147 in his 4-year stretch while D-Rob had just 45 in his.  When Papelbon was pitching from '08-2011, those represented his 3rd-6th years as the closer for the Red Sox.  He had already gotten to the big money job in the relief world and he was excelling in that role.  2014 was Robertson's first as a closer, as he spent 75% of his great previous seasons as the setup man understudy to registered "Big Money Closer" Mariano Rivera.

The perceived value of Papelbon's performance as a closer compared to D-Rob's as only a "reliever" is what got him that big contract.  Saves equal dollars.  That and the Phillies were willing to give Papelbon the deal.  And that's really all it takes to establish a baseline for future comparison and show how D-Rob is worth that kind of money.  Just one team bold or dumb enough to offer the deal once and give today's smart agents everything they need to build their case.  Because that's really what this is all about.

It's much more likely that D-Rob ends up signing a deal for less than Papelbon money, but it's not he nor his agent's job to settle.  It's their job to try to get as big a deal as possible and Papelbon's is the new measuring stick.  Ultimately it will be up to the Yankees and every other team to decide what D-Rob's performance to date is worth, but these are undeniable facts: Jonathan Papelbon pitched a great 4-year stretch of baseball from 2008 to 2011 and he got 4 years and $50 million guaranteed for it.  David Robertson, in many ways, has pitched as good or better than Papelbon did from '08-'11 over his last 4 seasons.  He has not recorded as many saves, but he's been better in multiple other key statistical and performance-related categories.  He is also younger now than Papelbon was then.

When you think about it that way, Robertson is absolutely worth Papelbon money.