Now David Robertson is a guy with some big shoes to fill. How in the world do you replace a guy who’s been on the mound for four World Series clinching victories? How do you replace a guy with more saves than anyone in the history of the game, a record that won’t be broken any time soon, by the way? How do you replace a guy who’s almost universally seen as the best closer in the history of the game?
In other words. How do you replace Mariano Rivera?
What the Numbers Tell us
Want to replace The Sandman?
If you’re David Robertson, you do the same thing in 2014 that you did in 2013, just an inning or two later. Let’s see a little 2013 comparison and contrast, shall we?
I’m not saying Robertson will be the next Rivera. But, those numbers would seem to go a long way in easing the transition for the New York Yankees, wouldn’t they?
Robertson has great stuff. Even though his strikeout rates have reduced over the last few years, he’s still a strong strikeout guy.
While we’re on that note, I actually like that his strikeout rates are going down. His stuff is more than good enough to get outs even when hitters are making contact. His WHIP had suffered a little bit because of too many walks. Now he’s walking fewer guys and producing basically the same hit rates that he has been, while still striking out significantly more hitters than Rivera.
So, what do the numbers tell us? They tell us that Robertson has all the makings of being one of the game’s best closers. Give him chances in the ninth inning and with his stuff, we should be looking at a 35+ saves guy. But, it’s not always that simple.
Beyond the Numbers
This is where things get a little more interesting. If you’re a pure number’s person, you may not put a ton of stock into this. But if you’ve heard relief pitchers talk about closing, you won’t get too far in the conversation without hearing this.
It’s different pitching the ninth inning and the 27th out is the toughest to get.
I guess I can’t really speak to that. I mean, I was a pretty mean closer playing baseball in my front yard when I was 9, but I’m not sure how well that translates to Major League experience. But I’m guessing a 15-foot putt in a practice round at Augusta feels quite a bit different than the same exact putt on the 72nd hole when going for the Green Jacket. I’m also guessing a 45-yard field goal in a preseason game feels different than a 45-yarder in the same stadium for the Super Bowl. So, I can buy the notion that getting three outs in the last inning feels different than three in the seventh or eighth.
Robertson has never really been a closer at the professional level. In 423 games between the Minors and Majors, he’s earned all of 17 saves. So, it does at least beg the question. Is this the kind of guy who will be a great set-up man, but not a closer?
It’s a question the Yankees have asked. Mark Feinsand of New York Daily News has reported that the Yankees have looked outside of the organization to replace Rivera.
Source: Yankees have interest in Joe Nathan, but working on more pressing needs (Beltran, McCann) before things such as bullpen help.
— Mark Feinsand (@FeinsandNYDN) November 20, 2013
With all due respect to a great closer in Joe Nathan, I’m not sure I understand this one. As was stated, the Yanks certanily have more pressing needs, and Robertson has shown he’s got the stuff to handle the ninth inning and at least deserves a chance. Besides, we’ve been down this road before.
Mariano Rivera, the Sandman himself was once a setup guy, just like Robertson is now. Actually, going back a little longer, he was a bad starter in 1995. In 1996, he became the primary set-up man for John Wetteland. He did close five games but Wetteland was the closer, even locking down that year’s World Series. The very next year, he was on the Texas Rangers and Rivera stepped in as the closer. That seemed to work out okay in 1997, and every year since.
What do I think we see from Robertson in 2014?
I do understand the notion that the ninth inning is different, and I’m not downplaying the mental part of being a closer. But obviously every closer started without that experience, at least at the Major League level.
The bottom line is that while David Robertson hasn’t been a closer, he’s not a rookie. He knows that his stuff is good enough to dominate big league hitters, and that goes a long way in overcoming any potential mental barriers that may exist.
My head tells me that Robertson will be one of the best closers in baseball in 2014. Actually, he’ll only be 29 in 2014, so he could be one of the best closers in the game for a while, and he deserves a chance to pitch in the ninth inning in the Bronx.