Believe it or not, David Robertson’s 2018 season has not been all bad. Sure, it may feel that way, especially considering one of our earliest memories is a Justin Smoak grand slam off of D-Rob in the Yankees’ first ugly loss of the year. Struggling through an awful May also hasn’t helped the current perception of Robertson.
Still, there was a time in April when Robertson pitched like his usual self. After surrendering the Smoak slam, the veteran reliever responded by tossing 5.2 perfect innings in a row, and went seven-straight outings without allowing a run. Then the calendar turned to May and Robertson hit a wall.
In 7.2 innings so far in May, he has surrendered seven earned runs, highlighted by a crushing loss to the Rangers on Wednesday night. That was when Robertson and CC Sabathia wasted a 10-run effort by the Yankees’ offense.
So, what has changed between April and May? The answer isn’t hard to find. In almost half of his total workload in April, Robertson has walked twice as many batters in May (six). All six of those free passes have been issued in his last four outings, a span of just 3.2 innings. He has been allowing far too many base runners of late due to a lack of command and is paying a heavy price.
Robertson’s steady dose of curveballs is still forcing weak contact and high groundball percentages. His groundball rate sits at 52.4 percent in May, five percent higher than his April mark. His hard contact percentage is five percent lower in May than it was in April, yet here we are. The fact is, Robertson has been his usual self in terms of velocity and movement, but his lack of control makes the rest very hard to see.
Robertson’s walk rate in May is double his career average. His increased groundball rate suggests that he should be capitalizing on some double-play balls to escape jams like he usually does, but what if those ground balls are just finding holes right now? With runners constantly on base, infielders could be holding runners on, making groundball singles more likely. Robertson could be getting a little unlucky this month, as his .333 BABIP shows (compared to .212 in April), but he is also responsible for his own bad luck, and needs to find his command to cure it.
An occasional seeing-eye single would barely register as a blip on the radar if the bases are empty. Robertson is currently magnifying his own misfortunes by putting runners on base. As the graph shows, hitters aren’t biting for the curveball, and Robertson is paying the price. The stuff is still there; the location just needs to return. With Tommy Kahnle and Adam Warren still on the mend, the Yankees would love that location to return sooner than later.