Wednesday, August 14, 2013

From Mariano To David

There will never be another Mariano Rivera, so to hold David Robertson to that is completely unfair. Although it's not a surprise, as the heir to Derek Jeter will certainly be compared to The Captain. Furthermore, while putting down current catchers Chris Stewart and Austin Romine, fans will bring up Jorge Posada. So comparing the new guys to the old guys is just part of baseball, particularly Yankee baseball.

"I'm one of a kind, baby!"

Getting back to DRob, the question should not be "will he be as good as Mo?" Because the fact is he won't be. I'll say it... nobody will ever be as good as Mo. Instead, the question for D-Rob should be this... "will he be a good closer?"

I'm not going to argue the fact that he's earned the nickname "Houdini", for his tendency to get into trouble before ultimately getting out of it. But that's just it... he's gotten out of it. I understand dwelling on the fact he's gotten into trouble in a lot of his appearances, but we're past the point where we should be surprised when he comes out of it unscathed. And that's thanks to a very good strikeout rate. We saw what that strikeout ability could do Monday night, when DRob, with the bases loaded and only a one run lead, was able to strikeout the final two batters to end the game.

I'm sure that's not going to convince those that doubt Robertson, so how about I compare him to two of the best closers in the American Lague this season... Jim Johnson and Greg Holland. To do this, I've gone ahead and made a chart showing some key statistics for closers.

Note: K/9, BB/9, H/9, and WHIP were for each man's previous three seasons (marked by an asterisk), while their numbers in Save Situations and High Leverage situations (click for an explanation of "High Leverage" situations) are from their careers.

A quick look at that chart tells me that David Robertson could easily be among the best closers in the American League. His strikeout rate is right in line with Holland's, and more than twice as high as Johnson's. His walk rate may be the highest, although only .1 points higher than fWAR leading Greg Holland. And Holland has shown that walking a higher than average number of hitters does not mean you can't get the job done. DRob gives up less hits than both men, while his WHIP is right in line with them. And his stats in Save Situations, as well as in High Leverage situations, are actually better than Johnson or Holland.

There should be no doubt, as far as ability is concerned, that David Robertson can get the job done as the Yankees' new closer in 2014. The only argument against DRob being able to close next year should be his experience.

As the set-up man for Rivera the past 3+ years, David has only come into close games in the 8th inning, and more often than not he's gotten the job done. Robertson has entered the game in 127 save situations, and earned a hold in 111 of them (a pitcher earns a "hold" by entering a game in a save situation, does not relinquish the lead, and doesn't get the save or the win). In essence, DRob has a "save percentage" of 87.4%. No team in the American League this season has a higher save percentage, with the Texas Rangers leading the pack at 86%.

I suppose you can say that pitching in the 8th inning, while being "high leverage", is not the same as pitching in the 9th. To that I have really have nothing, as they are indeed different. But I don't believe the difference is so big that we should question DRob's ability to take over as the closer. In both situations it's late in the game and the score is close, meaning the opposing team is doing everything they can to score. Whether that be using pinch-hitters, pinch-runners, etc. By the way, with Mariano Rivera looming, teams look at the 8th inning as their real last chance to win the game. So, in essence, David Robertson has been closing for the Yankees for years already.

"So for years I've been, like, the 'co-closer'?"

Again, we're not going to get another Mariano Rivera. Baseball is unlikely to get another Mariano Rivera. So we can't hold David Robertson, or anyone else, up to that standard. We have to accept that we're going to take a step back in the closing department starting next season. That doesn't mean we should be okay with somebody like Ernesto Frieri of the Angels, the man that holds the highest ERA among pitchers with at least 20 saves this season. But saying things like "we should have given Rafael Soriano closer money this year to be the closer for 2014 and beyond" is silly. DRob has more than earned the right to be given a fair shot at the closing spot.

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Sorry for the Capatcha... Blame the Russians :)