2013 statistics: 70 games, 66.1 innings, 2.04 ERA, 199 ERA+, 1.040 WHIP, 2.4 BB/9, 10.4 K/9
2014 status: last year of arbitration
Everyone had high expectations for David Robertson coming into the 2013 season, and for good reason. Over the previous two seasons, he put up a 1.84 ERA (233 ERA+) with 12.8 K/9 in 127 innings as the primary setup man and escape artist. Unlike so many others, he did not disappoint in 2013.
Robertson scuffled just a bit in April, which is to say he was "ok" instead of "awesome." He allowed two inherited runners to score, plus one of his own, for a blown save in a game the Yankees would eventually win in Toronto. In two of his last three appearances of the month, he was touched for a home run - a solo shot by Jose Bautista on April 26, and a two-run homer by Chris Carter on April 30. Nonetheless, he allowed zero runs in eight of his 11 appearances, and opponents hit just .220/.256/.366 against him in 10.2 innings.
For the next four months, he was as good as any reliever in baseball, allowing five runs in 48 appearances. Robertson allowed just 29 hits and five walks in 46.1 innings while striking out 57. Opposing batters hit .182/.257/.252 against him, and his ERA was 0.97. Really hard to complain about anything there.
He battled shoulder tendonitis in early September, which most likely contributed to some struggles. Again, it's not like he was bad; he allowed runs in just two of his 11 appearances. On September 4, he relieved CC Sabathia with one on, one out, and a 6-1 lead over the White Sox, and for once he didn't come through. He faced five hitters, allowing three singles and a walk while getting one fly out before Mariano Rivera relieved him. He allowed two inherited runners to score, plus two of his own. He pitched a perfect inning the next day, then was shut down for five days. He came back on September 11 to pitch a scoreless inning, although he allowed two hits. Robertson came back out the next night, and allowed three runs on four hits, including a home run. He took four more days off, then came back to close out the season with six shutout innings over seven appearances.
As usual, Robertson had some great performances in high-leverage situations. On May 9 in Colorado, the Yankees led 3-1 in the bottom of the eighth, when Robertson relieved Preston Claiborne with two outs and runners on first and second. He promptly struck out Todd Helton to end the inning. On August 25, he pitched a perfect eighth and ninth in an eventual 11-inning win at Tampa Bay. He set down six pretty good hitters that afternoon, retiring Ben Zobrist, Evan Longoria, Matt Joyce, Wil Myers, James Loney and Desmond Jennings. On September 27 in Houston, he pitched a perfect ninth on just seven pitches for the save in a 3-2 win. In a 3-2 win at Kansas City on May 11, he struck out all three batters he faced as the bridge between Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera.
Regardless of whether the Yankees make Robertson the closer, or sign someone else to close while leaving him as the primary setup man, there's no reason not to expect more of the same from him next year. He'll turn 29 in April, and has cut his walk rate in half over the past two years. From 2008-11, he had a 4.7 BB/9, and was pretty consistent with that rate - it was between 4.5 and 4.8 each year. He cut that to 2.8 BB/9 in 2012, and nudged it down to 2.4 BB/9 in 2013. Although his strikeout rate has also declined the last two years, it started at 13.5 K/9, so last year's 10.4 is still great. It's possible the drop in both walk and strikeout rates are related, but I don't know that anyone can say that for sure. What I can say for sure is that while both his walk and strikeout rates have declined, his strikeout to walk ratio has improved from 2.55 K/BB from 2008-11 to 4.27 K/BB the last two years.
Robertson earned $3.1 million in 2013 and will be eligible for free agency after the 2014 season. Regardless of which role they have him in for the 2014 season, I'd love to see them sign him to an extension and keep him around for a few more years.
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