What's Wrong With David Robertson?

Brad Penner-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

According to David Robertson's Baseball Reference page, his nickname is "Houdini." So maybe when he allowed two runs in Wednesday's game against the Blue Jays, there were a few Yankees fans yelling "Hoooooooooooooudini!" as they implored to escape from yet another impossible situation. That might not be the likeliest explanation, but I'm not wise to the ways of Yankees fans. They're a curious specie.

But they were probably booing.

Robertson was the Yankees' closer for exactly one day, as he was the first in line after Mariano Rivera's injury. It was the natural progression: Robertson was dominant last year, finishing with both Cy Young and MVP votes after an All-Star appearance. But an injury gave Rafael Soriano a chance, and that's the setup the Yankees have used since.

Robertson isn't dominating anymore, though. He's been somewhere between okay and pretty danged good, but he certainly doesn't have the gaudy stats he did last year. His ERA is up from 1.08 to 2.98 this year, his strikeout rate is down some and, most strikingly, he's given up five home runs in 54 innings after giving up just one last season. Oh, and he's lost seven games. So on Wednesday, a few vocal Yankees fans let their displeasure be known.

The usual suspects don't reveal anything terribly illuminating. His velocity is down a half-tick from 2011, but that's not alarming, especially when you consider it's still higher than what he was throwing in both 2009 and 2010. The batting average on balls in play is right around his career average. He hasn't drastically changed his pitch selection; he's throwing a few more fastballs this season, and it's remained an effective pitch.

Or maybe the problem is with the question. What's wrong with David Robertson? Well, just how bad has he been? Since returning from the DL in June, he's thrown 40 innings with a 3.15 ERA, 47 strikeouts and 11 walks. He's made 43 appearances, allowing a run in 10 of them -- not an unreasonable rate. Before Wednesday's game, he had faced 10 batters in his previous four outings. He allowed just a single during that stretch.

So it's not like he's been languishing in a slow, downward spiral, sucking the Yankees and their fans into his dark portal to bullpen hell. He's been mostly okay, but he's had a few more bumps in the road than last year. Consider his boo-inspiring performance against the Blue Jays. He had his typical Robertson velocity and movement, with cutters that ranged from 91 to 94. But he didn't have his location. Here's where Russell Martin set up before Brett Lawrie's double:

And here's where the pitch went:

The setup against Adam Lind before his single:

The pitch:

The setup against Kelly Johnson before his single:

The pitch:

The setup against Omar Vizquel before his double:

The pitch:

Vizquel's last double before this was against the Expos, so it was a bit of a surprise. Still, it's clear that Robertson's problem Wednesday was poor command in the strike zone. Well, that, and Adam Lind's ability to hit a shoulder-high pitch on the outside corner. That command, though, could be a problem created by several factors:

  • Maybe Robertson's tired!
  • Maybe Robertson's hurt!
  • Maybe Robertson's mechanics are out of sorts!
  • Maybe the guy who came into 2012 with a career average of 4.7 walks per nine innings doesn't have the best command, which can sometimes lead to pitches in the middle of the strike zone that shouldn't be there.

Aaaaaand … give me that last one. Robertson's career ERA coming into the season: 3.03. His ERA this year, again: 2.98. He's even cut his walk rate this year, so he's allowing fewer baserunners than he had in any season before 2011.

If the question is "Why isn't Robertson as good as he was last year?", that's an easy one. Nobody is as good as Robertson was last year. He allowed just one home run. He walked 35 batters in 66 innings, but allowed only eight earned runs (1.08 ERA). He allowed 5.4 hits per nine innings, which is pretty danged rare and usually unrepeatable.

It looks like David Robertson is David Robertson. That is, a reliever with good stuff, imprecise command, an ability to strike hitters out, and the potential to let the other team string a few runners together. Or, more specifically, he's a reliever. They do this.

Where did Yankees fans get the idea that a reliever could be nearly flawless every single year, without interruption? Why would they be so demanding? What possible reason could make them think …

Right, right.

There's only one of those, though. Robertson is probably okay. He's a reliever, and a pretty good one. But he's not magic like he was last year. He isn't really an escape artist. The Houdini bit was good for one year only.

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