To be honest, David Robertson might be my favorite Yankee right now. Not just favorite Yankee pitcher, favorite Yankee overall. That is, favorite Yankee not named Derek Jeter or Mariano Rivera. I’ve loved Robinson Cano since he was rocking Roger Clemens’ old No. 22 jersey and any one of my friends here at St. John’s will tell you that I have watched hours upon hours of Cano highlights at a time, just gawking at that picture perfect swing. But ever since the beginning of the 2011 season, I can’t help but watch in awe as D-Rob mows down hitter after hitter with that 94 mph fastball that appears to be going 104 mph.
Just after last year’s Tuscaloosa tornado, I spent my last twenty dollars on a High Socks For Hope shirt and at the four games I’ve gone to this year, I’ve been hoping to see Robertson pitch just as much as I hope to see Rivera. Watching No. 30 jog out of the bullpen from the bleachers in three of those four games has been such a treat, but with that said, it should be So of the So-Ro-Mo trio closing out games for the remainder of the season. I adore Robertson, but in my opinion, the ninth inning should belong to Rafael Soriano.
If you follow Bronx Baseball Daily’s fearless leader Rob Abruzzese on Twitter, you know that he believes there is no better reliever in the game right now than David Robertson. I don’t necessarily know about “best”, but it is undeniable that Robertson has more talent, ability, and potential than he knows what to do with. He’s so comfortable in the eighth inning role he’s occupied for nearly a year now and he looks absolutely locked in from the second that bullpen door opens. I mean, up until Wednesday’s Hindenburg-esque disaster, the guy basically hasn’t given up a run since his first season of little league when he was six years old! (Ok, it was last August 29). As phenomenal as he is, there are three reasons why I believe he should remain the eighth inning man as opposed to the new closer, and they are the timing of the job opening, Rafael Soriano’s previous experience, and Robertson’s relative inexperience.
Replacing a legend, regardless of who it is or what sport it is, must be incredibly tough. Once that player retires at the end of the season, the fans and the media will expect you to be able to step right into the past player’s shoes and mostly find the same success he did. Imagine replacing arguably the biggest legend in that team’s history, who is still at the top of his game, mid-season because of a freak injury.
Whether he leads onto it or not, you can’t convince me that David Robertson doesn’t feel an incredible amount of pressure replacing the immortal Mariano Rivera. And on Wednesday night against the Rays, that appeared to be the case. After throwing just six pitches, the bottom of the Rays order had loaded the bases with the heart of the lineup coming up. He showed a lack of control and confidence on the mound, but the kicker for me was something as simple as a moment of body language. Call it reading too much into things, but immediately after retiring Carlos Pena with a fastball on the “corner” for a questionable strike three call, Robertson shrugged his shoulders and violently exhaled as if he was Mark Teixeira running to first base, letting out a visible sigh of relief as the umpire punched out Pena. I don’t know about you, but that seemed to me like the move of someone whose nerves were getting the best of them. Combine that debacle with his high wire act against those same Rays on Tuesday night and I’ll be watching the ninth inning with my hands over my face pretty soon.
For as great as Robertson is, we all have to remember that he has absolutely no experience being a closer (three career saves before last week) and getting arguably the hardest three outs of the game. Sure, he’s pitched in high leverage eighth innings for a while now, but it’s got to ease your mind a little bit that the game doesn’t solely ride on your shoulders as Mariano Rivera will be pitching the next and last inning. And while Robertson has been fantastic since taking over as the set up man, but he’s only been truly stellar for about a year now. Are we so sure that he’ll be able to keep up such dominance and not come back to Earth anytime soon? As amazing as he’s been, it would be wild to say that we Yankees fans know with absolute certainty that this is the real David Robertson, and a few blown saves early on could hasten a possible decline back to being good, but not great. Again, I think Robertson is the real deal, but I don’t know for sure. What I do know is that we have a proven closer on our team, ready to step in to (attempt to) fill the shoes of Rivera.
Mariano Rivera did not lead the American League in saves in 2010. Neither did Jonathan Papelbon, Rookie of the Year Neftali Feliz, Jose Valverde, Joakim Soria, or Andrew Bailey. With 45 saves, a 1.73 ERA (third amongst AL relievers), and a miniscule 0.802 WHIP, it was Rafael Soriano of the Tampa Bay Rays that claimed that title. That season, he was simply dominant. His 2.0 BB/9 was second best in the league amongst relievers, with only Mo topping that (1.7 BB/9) and his 4.07 strikeout to walk ratio was third best in the league to Mo and Soria. Soriano has done a decent job over the last year to show that he isn’t the reliever he was in 2010, but it is my belief that he is still more than capable of stepping into the closers role once again and finding success. On Thursday night, Soriano picked up his first post-Rivera save, allowing one meager run without allowing the ball out of the infield and he looked completely different than Robertson did the previous two days. Sori looked calm and prepared while D-Rob looked like he was pitching on a mound of hot coals. If the Yankees want stability in the wake of Rivera’s devastating injury, it can be found with Robertson setting up for Soriano, not the other way around.
David Robertson will be a star in this league. Hell, he basically already is. But a crazy streak of 30-plus innings without allowing a run should not grant you the job of the first closing pitcher for the New York Yankees not named Mariano Rivera since 1996. An All-Star season and the league lead in saves just two years ago is the better track record of the two. Argue talent versus experience all you want, but if I’m looking for a five month period of stability, I’m going with the more experienced candidate ten times out of ten. Robertson is successful to say the least, but leave him where he is for right now. I’ll take the All Star closer for the 2010 American League East champions, thank you very much.