David Robertson had one of the more impressive seasons a relief pitcher is capable of last year when he had a 1.08 ERA and became a force out of the Yankees bullpen. However, this season things have been a bit different and lately downright bad. What is going on with D-Rob?
His overall numbers aren’t terrible. He has a 2.98 ERA, a 11.8 K/9, a 2.8 BB/9, and batters have just a .663 OPS against him. Those numbers are actually pretty strong relative to the average reliever, but it’s really been a tale of two seasons for him.
From the start of the year until August, D-Rob had a 2.20 ERA, a 13.5 K/9, a 4.1 BB/9 and batters hit just .598 against him. Aside from his ERA, which was realistically unsustainable at 1.08 anyway, those numbers are actually very similar to the ones he put up in 2011. The trouble is that since August, he has a 4.15 ERA, a 9.1 K/9, a 0.8 BB/9, and batters have a .756 OPS against him. That’s a much improved walk rate, but a significant drop in every other statistic.
So if D-Rob is actually getting much better at avoiding walks, why is he struggling so much? The answer is in his pitch selection.
Last season he threw his fastball and cutter 76.1 percent of the time and his curve 20.4 percent. When he got to a two-strike count he leaned more heavily on his curveball and the breakdown changed to 67.6 percent fastballs and cutters and 30.3 percent curves.
Since August he has gotten away from his nasty curveball that made him so effective. Now he’s throwing his fastball and cutter 80.9 percent of the time and his curve just 16.3 percent. Not a huge drop, but certainly enough to make a difference. Even when he gets to a two-strike count he’s not throwing his curve as much as he used to, just 24.2 percent of the time compared to 30.3 percent last year.
Why is D-Rob throwing his curveball so much less this season? It’s hard to say, but it doesn’t appear to be because the pitch has lost effectiveness. If anything it might be even better right now than it was last year. Last season he only got swings and misses on 33.9 percent of his curves, but since August he’s gotten swings and misses 47.6 percent of the time. On top of that, he allowed just one homer last year, but has now allowed three since August and all came on fastballs.
No, it seems more likely that the cause is injury related. He dealt with an oblique injury earlier in the season. Perhaps he’s still dealing with pain from that and has taken to throwing fewer breaking balls. Or perhaps it is worse, an elbow injury, and he’s fighting through it because the Yankees bullpen has become so thin relative to what it’s been throughout his career.
Backing up the idea that this is due to an injury is his drop in velocity. Last season D-Rob consistently sat in the 93-96 MPH range. He started out in a similar fashion this year and then after the oblique injury that dropped more into the 92-94 mph range. Worse, since August that’s even dropped more to the 91-93 mph range.
So what’s wrong with D-Rob? He’s probably pitching through an injury because that’s what Derek Jeter teaches us that tough ball players do. That injury, whether it be his previous oblique injury or something else, has put a damper on his velocity and forced him to use his nasty curveball much less and taken him from the dominant reliever he once was to a guy who is merely human.