Monday, September 15, 2014

New York Yankees: David Robertson’s no-win situation

It goes without saying that New York Yankees closer David Robertson had some very large shoes to fill when the greatest closer of all time, Mariano Rivera retired at the end of the 2013 season. What was not expected was an amazing season from an afterthought of the Yankees minor league system, Dellin Betances.

Anyone who claims they saw Betances coming was doing so back when he was a heralded starter in the organization, not in February 2014.

There were likely times when the Yankees might have felt that departing with Betances was the right idea, but instead converted him to a reliever in 2013 and thus began the rise of one career and the plight of another.

Let’s admit that if Betances is not around and pitching like he has this season, the questions about Robertson blowing Sunday night’s save against the Baltimore Orioles would not be as dramatic. We’d potentially question manager Joe Girardi’s use of Robertson for a third consecutive day, but who would we clamor on about as the person who should have gotten the ball? Shawn Kelley? Adam Warren?

If Betances wasn’t so electric this season, Robertson might actually be given the benefit of the doubt when he coughs up a lead (he's blown four saves). But that’s not the case and it put Robertson in a no-win situation once Betances started throwing the eighth inning and doing it so efficiently.

Robertson was either chided for not being Rivera, or derided for not being Betances when he failed. Many have claimed that Robertson does not have a closer makeup since 2012 when Rivera was hurt, and 2013 when Rivera required rest. Part of that is that he is not a hard thrower and he’s had a tendency to allow baserunners and make his life somewhat difficult.

For many of Betances’ appearances, he either put out a fire, followed by a dominant inning or he shut down the opposition in quick order if he started the frame. This allowed us to speculate about his use as a closer. He rarely got into trouble, and if he did he could overpower opposing batters.

Robertson’s profile is not the same. He is gritty; I’m not sure many could argue with that if looking at the facts. But, if he gets into trouble, he has to grind his way out. Sure, he is very effective, his 13.27 K/9 rate this season suggests as much, but those strikeouts are combined with more baserunners allowed than Betances (1.03 WHIP versus 0.75). Robertson has seen his walk rate rise to 3.24 per nine innings in 2014 from a career-low in 2013 of 2.44. Betances has walked almost one batter less per nine innings (2.39).

Each time Robertson was sent out on the third straight day, or didn’t have it on another, fans were able to fall back on the Rivera narrative, or lean on the new storyline created as the season wore on with the emergence of Betances. Many threw both Robertson’s way.

Fair or not that’s how it has been for Robertson this year as the Yankees’ closer -- a no-win situation -- in what might be the last year he holds the role. But that’s for another post.

Photo courtesy of Keith Allison via Flicker.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.