We’ve been here a few times before. In at least two different seasons in recent memory, we’ve seen a young relief pitcher get hot in a short period of time and we’ve gotten delusions of grandeur. The recent examples are Brian Bruney, Jose Veras, and Edwar Ramirez; neither one of these pitchers is still on the Yankees.
With David Robertson, whose earned his stripes according to pitching coach Dave Eiland, we hope there is no repetition of history.
In 2008, Jose Veras pitched to a 3.59 ERA despite having a 1.405 WHIP and walking 4.5 men per nine. He got by on a rock solid 9.8 K/9, but it all fell apart in 2009. Edwar Ramirez had a 3.90 ERA in ’08 with a good 1.229 WHIP, 10.2 K/9, and an acceptable 3.9 BB/9. Like Veras, he couldn’t keep it up in 2009. In 2006 and 2008, Bruney wowed us in two short stints (20.2 IP and 34.1 IP respectively), but was unimpressive in 2007 and was injured and inconsistent in 2009.
Now, after a very impressive 43.2 innings in 2009 (3.30 ERA, 1.351 WHIP, 13.0 K/9, 3.05 FIP), it appears that David Robertson is ready to fill a bigger role in the 2010 Yankee bullpen. Might he turn out like Veras, Ramirez, and Bruney? Yes, it’s possible. However, I don’t think it’s likely.
There is one mountain Robertson does need to climb, though. His career 4.6 BB/9 is too high. He combats it nicely with a career 12.0 K/9 (2.61 K/BB), but it still needs to come down. In the minors, his BB/9 was lower by one full walk (3.6). The difference could be the batters Robertson is facing. Despite his incredible curveball, he is still facing major leaguers who are more likely to be able to lay off of a breaking pitch than minor leaguers. If the walks don’t decrease, Robertson could face trouble.
What makes Robertson different than those other enigmatic relievers, then? First, there’s the strikeouts. While Veras, Ramirez, and Bruney all had good stuff that struck batters out, the only one who comes close to Robertson’s strikeout numbers is Ramirez (10.6 K/9), and even he misses by almost two strikeouts. The other is that Robertson has, thus far, kept the ball in the park. His HR/9 sits at 0.9, the same as Brian Bruney. It is, however, a mark lower than Veras’s (1.2) and it dwarfs Ramirez’s (1.7). I’ll take this as the opportunity to say something: it is a bit unfair of me to lump Bruney in with Ramirez and Veras. Those two were just ineffective in ’09 and were likely flashes in the pan; Bruney, on the other hand, was injured and inconsistent and may have something left in the tank. He’s still got a chance to make something of himself. I’m only using him as an example in this post because, like Edwar and Jose, he had brief flashes of success and is no longer with the Yankees.
While Robertson walks a few (maybe one) too many guys per nine innings, his strikeout numbers are essentially epic thus far and he does a good job of keeping the ball in the park. Those two things should make him a successful reliever going forward. So, what do the projection systems say for D-Rob in 2010?
The systems project him for a season with 52 games, 56.75 innings pitched, a 3.49 ERA, a 1.304 WHIP, an 11.10 K/9, a 4.12 BB/9, a 2.69 K/BB, and a 3.25 FIP. For a late inning bullpen guy, that would be awesome.
This projection is very favorable for Robertson. Obviously, it doesn’t guarantee success and as I’ve said in the past, D-Rob’s got a good amount to prove in the majors. Hopefully, he won’t become like Ramirez, Bruney, and Veras. I don’t think he will.