D-Rob vs Soriano: Who should be the closer?

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.

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9 Responses to D-Rob vs Soriano: Who should be the closer?

  1. Bronx_Knight says:

    Interesting article. I was leaning towards Robertson, based on his dominance in 2011, but your article made me scrutinize the two candidates more closely. I tend to agree with you now that Sori should have a shot at the closer's job.

    One interesting point is that the two pitchers' ERA+ scores are practically identical: 148 for D-Rob vs. 149 for Sori. Sori was the AL-leading closer in 2010, but D-Rob was an All-Star in 2011 with a tiny 1.08 ERA.

    What makes me lean towards Sori is that he is more efficient. Although he struggled a bit in 2011, Sori's career WHIP of 1.046 is much lower than D-Rob's career mark of 1.331. In fact, even in D-Rob's great 2011 campaign, his WHIP of 1.125 was higher than Sori's career average. D-Rob's problem is that he walks an average of nearly 5 per 9 innings. He usually gets out of jams, striking out 12.3 men per 9 innings. But in the process, he throws too many pitches.

    In sum, while both men have been dominant at times during their careers, Sori's leaner pitching style is a little bit better suited to the closer role of being able to go out and close nearly every night.

    Additionally, I like your simple point that Sori, at age 32 with two years' prior experience as a closer, is probably psychologically better prepared for the closer role than D-Rob, at 27 with no real experience as closer.

    So I say give Sori a shot.

    • Chris Barca says:

      You bring up great points, Bronx Knight. You can't be a very effective closer if you constantly are pitching with men on base.

  2. NY TAMMY says:

    IF THEY USE BOTH AND ALTERNATE ,I THINK THAT WOULD BE BEST… TAKES MORE THAN EVEN 2 TO FILL MO'S SHOES! BUT I THINK THEY ARE BOTH GOOD ,I FAVOR 'ROBERTSON A BIT MORE,IN FACT ALOT MORE ,HIS 'FASTBALL'IS AWESOME! HOWEVER ,IT WOULD TAKE ALOT OF PRESSURE OFF RATHER THAN ONE IN A SOLO SPOTLIGHT. !NYTAMMY1

  3. Fred says:

    Overreaction. Robertson pitched like a maniac all of last season and up till the other night this year. His scoreless inning streak was bound to end sometime, and it makes sense that it happened against a good team like the Rays

    In the beginning of this year, Mariano blew a save to the Rays, and everyone freaked out, fooled by the sample size of a closer on 1 appearance. It is disheartening to see people making the same mistake now.

    • Chris Barca says:

      It isn't an overreaction. Robertson gives up way too many base runners to find consistent success in the closers role. He's a little like Jonathan Papelbon without being the jerk that Paps is. If and when D-Rob implodes, it's going to be ugly as we saw the other night. He plays with fire whenever he goes out there, and I don't want my closer to pitch like that

      • Fred says:

        Basically this is what it comes down to for me. If we can get the Soriano of 2010 to come out, then sure, that guy is a fantastic pitcher and should be our closer. .802 WHIP, 2.0 BB/9 8.2 K/9 1.73 ERA, it was great stuff.

        But for us so far, he posted a 1.297 WHIP, doubled his walk rate to 4.1 while his Ks stayed the same, and blew his ERA up to 4.12… Meanwhile Robertson, for all his magic act trouble, still had a lower WHIP at 1.125. And this year Soriano hasn't exactly been keeping the bases clean either, with a higher BB/9 and significantly higher WHIP than Robertson.

        Obviously its still early though and both guys will likely get shots at closing. I really don't have that much faith in Soriano bouncing back to his Rays form just by pitching in a different inning, but if that is the case you are certainly right and he should be our full time closer. Till then, I won't give up on Drob being the guy this year.

  4. Gonzalo says:

    It's true Robertson gives up too many base runners but his at the end of the inning his numbers are amazing.
    My answer would be: Right now my vote is for Robertson but If he's struggling, then very fast I would take Soriano without waiting too long.

    • phillip massaro says:

      robertson had a great year as a setup man and last year very clutch at times he has has no exsperiance as the man and frankly it scares me

  5. phillip massaro says:

    there both very good relievers but closing a completely diffrent animal soriano has had sucsess at it but right now switch them off and on so i think joes garage is thinking ill make them earn it