Check any sports page or web site today and you’re bound to find some story to the tune of “The Biggest Question Marks For The Yankees.” Sample: “Can Mariano continue to defy age?” and “How long can Derek Jeter continue to play shortstop?” and “Can A-Rod avoid injury and get back on track?” and “Can Mark Teixeira raise his batting average from the left side of the play (.224)?”
There’s one question I don’t see being asked that I think is at least if not more important: Is David Robertson for real?
Last season, The Hamma from Bama was fantastic with a 1.08 ERA and an eye-popping 100 strikeouts in 66 innings. He gave up just one home run all season long. In truth, he might have been a better setup man last year than Mo was a closer.
Robertson is just 27, the same age Rivera was when he was handed the closer job in 1997. (The previous season Rivera was a set-up man for John Wetteland.) One of the reasons Robertson is so important to the Yankees is that he’s relatively young, and, if he continues to pitch at this pace, the likely inheritor of Mariano’s closer sport.
The question: Is he for real? This year’s Baseball Prospectus sums him up well:
“The right-hander again emerged as one of the most important relievers in the AL. He’s also one of the most stress-inducing. Nicknamed ‘Houdini’ because of his ability to pitch out of jams, he likes to pitch his way into them as well; give him an inherited base runner and he’ll walk two more to make things really interesting. He led he league in strikeouts per nine, offsetting his wildness, but it’s uncertain how long he can sustain this high-wire act … In 120 plate appearances in situations defined as high leverage, Robertson struck out 50 and allowed just 10 hits — all but four of them singles. No one can be that good, or that lucky, indefinitely.”
I think BP is correct, except that Robertson isn’t that wild — 35 walks was much too high for 66 innings pitched. What Robertson does tend to do is go ahead and walk a batter (and yes, sometimes two) and then challenge hitters to go after his fastball — or whatever that pitch is that seems to accelerate as it approaches the plate. And it’s true that sooner or later this is going to end up as a bad strategy.
But the thing you can’t get around is the strikeouts. You can’t fake the Ks. In three seasons Robertson has pitched 170 innings and struck out 234 batters, one of the best ratios of any reliever in the majors.
If you can strike out batters with two runners on base, you can strike them out when there’s no runners on base, and if Robertson can do that, he’s in line for greatness.
I’ll give BP the last word: “Still, it’s not much of a stretch to think that Robertson, not Rivera, could be the bullpen’s most important pitcher in 2012.”
Actually, last word to me: David Robertson could well be the bullpen’s most important pitcher throughout the rest of the decade.