Robertson has the repertoire to succeed as a Starter
Only about a month ago we were all talking about how much pitching depth the Yankees had. The Yanks were 7-deep at the Major League level with 5 guys ready to go in AAA. Since then, nothing has gone right. The starting staff is 29th in MLB with a 5.73 ERA, Michael Pineda has a labrum tear and is out for the year, and our 2 top pitching prospects have had brutal starts to their seasons in AAA. Once a luxury, Andy Pettitte is now being depended upon to come save this staff. But can Andy be relied on at his age after a year off? And even if he’s effective, is it enough with both Hughes & Garcia struggling badly?
It may be time for the Yanks to think outside of the box. I was talking to some friends last year around this time about the Yankee pitching staff and who had the best pure stuff. We were all pretty much in agreement that the nastiest pitcher was David Robertson. We then discussed making Robertson a starter and really couldn’t find a valid reason why it shouldn’t be attempted. After all, you generally want to maximize ways for your better pitchers to help you and Roberston could be much more helpful throwing 200 innings a year rather than 65-70.
The Yanks need to learn from perhaps the best run team in the league - the Texas Rangers. They have successfully turned CJ Wilson from a reliever into a top-notch starter and are doing the same with Neftali Feliz this year after getting a solid season from reliever turned starter Alexi Ogandolast year. Boston has taken notes and is using power set-up man Daniel Bard as a starter this year.
So why not Robertson? Since the start of last season, he’s been more effective than anyone in MLB with a 0.96 ERA. He has the repertoire to do it with 3 plus pitches and a 4th that could be plus if he had to use it more. In relief he generally uses the Fastball and Cutter with a few Curveballs mixed in. DRob also throws a change-up from time to time and it could be a very effective pitch as a starter. He has perfect mechanics – using his legs and mid-section to generate most of his power. His mechanics are very unique but if I had to compare him to a couple of pitchers I’d say Tim Lincecum and to a lesser extent, Pedro Martinez. Both are multi-Cy Young winning starters despite being under 6’0″.
The first problem is Robertson has never been a starter in his pro career so there would be a big increase in his workload. He’s never thrown more than 85 innings in a season so it would be a big increase. But he has perfect mechanics that don’t put a lot of stress on his arm so I think he would hold up. The second issue is his style. Currently as a late inning reliever he is often in full-blown strikeout mode. With no room for error and often pitching with men on base, he goes for the K and has done it better than anyone in the A.L. with a 13.4 K/9 since last April. This has led to him averaging 18 pitches per inning where the average starting pitcher is around 15 pitches per inning. This would be a small adjustment in my opinion as he could afford pitching to a bit more contact with some wiggle room that he doesn’t enjoy in his current role.
The other con is how do you replace him in his current role as the best set-up man in baseball? Well, the Yanks already have Rafael Soriano and David Aardsma should be back in the 2nd half to help as well. But what I would do is put Phil Hughes back in that role. Hughes was awesome in the pen in 2009, going 5-1 with a 1.40 ERA – 0.85 whip – 11.4 k/9 and .456 OPS against. Phil is currently struggling as a starter because he lacks the secondary pitches to start. Robertson has those secondary pitches.
It would not be ideal to make this switch during the regular season which I brought up to YFU poster Ballpark the other day. But as he mentioned, it is still early enough to give it a try. Robertson could be sent down to the minors for however long it took to get lengthened out. With Pettitte on his way up, the Yanks could afford to be patient getting DRob ready. Even if he wasn’t ready until mid-season, we really need him for the 2nd half and playoffs. A rotation of CC, Pettitte, Nova, Robertson & Kuroda would be pretty impressive. If Robertson doesn’t take well to starting, he can always be put back into the pen. It really seems like low risk, potential very high reward. So what do you guys think? Would Robertson be a good starter?