SweetSpot: Dave Robertson

Rivera's understudies have been shaky

July, 1, 2010
Yes, Mariano Rivera's doing it again. No, he's not a robot.

Meanwhile, the second line of defense is more than human, as Joba Chamberlain, Dave Robertson, and Damaso Marte have all had their rough patches. And don't think they're not just a little sensitive about it.
"We're doing the best we can," Robertson said. "We've got a great group of guys out there. We have our bad days just like every other team has their bad days. But I think we're doing a good job, giving it everything we've got."

Chamberlain lost the fifth-starter race to Phil Hughes in spring training and has had a handful of rough outings, leading to a 5.29 ERA over a team-high 34 appearances through Tuesday. He had allowed one run in his last four games.

"My season is great," Chamberlain said. "You guys will focus on the four bad ones. I'll focus on the 28 good ones that I had. That's the way you have to look at it. You're always going to focus on what goes wrong, but you're never going to write what goes right. I understand that and everybody else does. I just continue to get better every day and focus on what I need to do to help this team win.

What I don't like about the Yankees' non-Rivera relievers: Chamberlain's 5.29 ERA, Robertson's 5.04 ERA, Marte's 11 walks in 15 innings, and Chan Ho Park's (gulp) 6.48 ERA.

What I do like about the Yankees' non-Rivera relievers: With the exception of Marte (who's pitched only 15 innings), all of those guys have solid (or better) strikeout-to-walk ratios. Bullpen ERAs are systemically fickle, due to the small sample sizes. Joba's going to be good, and the others should be serviceable.

Is "serviceable" enough, though? If you're the Yankees, don't you want one more lights-out reliever? Or a situational lefty you can really count on? You know the Yankees will do something this month, and there aren't many holes to fill. A left-handed bat would be useful, and I suppose there's always a chance the Yanks will tire of A.J. Burnett or Javier Vazquez, and go after a big-name starter.

That seems unlikely, though. There are always bullpen arms available in July, and it'll be a small upset if the Yankees don't grab one or two of them.

Second-guessing Girardi

October, 20, 2009
In the wake of the Yankees' loss (and the Angels' win), Jason Rosenberg was angry. Among his reasons: the bottom of the (decisive) 11th inning ...
    * Robertson in after [Francisco] Cervelli's weak hacks. Quickly sets down the first two batters. Did you know that Robertson led the league in K/9IP (with 13.0 K/9) this year? I mention this as it seems that Girardi forgot. My yelling through the TV didn't make it to Anaheim in time. So rather than let him continue ... after all, it was extra innings, the pitcher was doing quite fine, thank you very much... and four other relievers had already been burned ... Girardi decides that Alf Aceves would be a better option here...* So Girardi retreated to his fortress of managerial suckitude and pulled Robertson for no darn good reason. None! Guessing that Dave Eiland likes his job too much to stand up to Joe.

    * Aceves promptly gives up a single followed by a game-winning double.
Look, I'm perfectly happy to question Girardi's play-calling in this one. I was thrilled to see him use Mariano Rivera in a non-save situation, and Rivera did throw 17 pitches. But Girardi used left-hander Damaso Marte for one pitch, and replaced him with another left-hander, who was allowed to throw three pitches. Later, Dave Robertson threw only 11 pitches before giving way for Aceves.

In a game like this one, the manager has to balance two competing impulses. He's got to treat every batter as a potential game-changer, but at the same time he's got to worry about the game continuing indefinitely. Because the great majority of close games do end before the 12th inning, we may forgive a manager for running through his relievers quickly. Particularly when he's employing a three-man rotation and so has more spare pitchers than usual.

Why, specifically, did Girardi replace Robertson with Aceves? We know it's not because of any specific history, because Robertson had faced Howie Kendrick only twice before Monday, and Aceves not at all. Girardi simply mentioned "matchups," suggesting that his charts showed Kendrick faring worse against pitchers like Aceves than against pitchers like Robertson.

As for Robertson's strikeout rate ... yeah, it's incredibly impressive. But getting to the heart of the thing, which is actually retiring hitters, Robertson's and Aceves' ERA's were essentially the same this season, and Aceves' strikeout-to-walk ratio -- thanks to his low walk rate and Robertson's high walk rate -- was significantly better than Robertson's.

In retrospect, it seems like an odd move for two reasons: 1) Robertson had thrown so few pitches; and 2) Girardi was running out of, if not relief pitchers per se, then reliable relief pitchers. But Girardi wasn't playing some wild hunch; he seems to have based his decision on some actual information, the sort of information that's stood him in good stead all season long. It just didn't work out this time.