There's no getting around the fact that Sunday was an absolutely horrible day in Yankeeland. The team was shut down by Phil Hughes, who, out of pinstripes, finally figured out how to not get mashed at Yankee Stadium, and though they managed to take a slim 2-1 lead to the ninth inning, closer David Robertson had perhaps the worst outing of his otherwise- superb seven-year career. While the offense definitely deserved a large portion of the blame for their third straight listless outing against an up-and-down Twins pitching staff, Robertson took the brunt of the criticism for blowing the lead on a solo homer by Josh Willingham and for giving up the go-ahead RBI double to Brian Dozier. Matt Daley and Matt Thornton put the nail in the coffin by allowing all of Robertson's baserunners to score and making it an ugly six-run ninth for the Twins, but the goat was already decided.
It was Robertson's second blown save of the season in 14 opportunities, following the two-run walk-off homer he surrendered to White Sox slugger Adam Dunn on May 23rd. (Robertson saved three games in a row after that and struck out 12 batters in 4 1/3 innings afterward, but who's counting?) Thus, impatient Yankees fans are already suggesting (or in some dark corners of the Internet, demanding) that Robertson lose his job as closer to phenom Dellin Betances, who has been absolutely dominant thus far in 2014. To say that this knee-jerk reaction is unfair is an understatement and a classic case of the eye-rolling "what have you done for me lately?" attitude held by many fans.
It was inevitable that we would run into the discussion eventually. It was unlikely that both Betances and Robertson would pitch as excellently as they had through the end of May. Robertson just happened to be the first one who faltered with a bad game. There was basically none of this talk until Robertson godforbid blew a save, like even the greatest of relievers do from time to time. Up until Sunday, Robertson had a 2.08 ERA, just one blown save, a 2.1 BB/9, a 0.923 WHIP, and a .524 OPS against. You take those numbers any day of the week from your closer and their huge jumps today to a 4.50 ERA, a 3.5 BB/9, a 1.167 WHIP, and a .639 OPS against just goes to show how fickle small sample size statistics can be when it comes to relievers. Few people actually think Robertson is that bad a pitcher. He is much closer to the guy who was one of the best relievers in baseball from 2012-13, when he pitched to a 2.34 ERA, 2.55 FIP, a 2.6 BB/9, a 1.102 WHIP, and a .608 OPS against, just to name a few stats without delving into his crazy strikeout numbers.
That's the kind of reliever you want closing out your ballgames. When "unproven closer" Mariano Rivera blew three of his first six saves as the team's new end-of-game presence in 1997, Joe Torre of course did not give up on him. Mo had already shown his mettle by running roughshod over American League hitters in '96--a few bad games did not mean he was ruined, or that former Braves closer Mike Stanton and his 0.00 ERA at the time should take over. Torre trusted the guy who had been so great for him in the previous year, and that is exactly what Joe Girardi is going to do now with Robertson.
For those expecting Betances to pitch this insanely for the rest of the season, take a step back and look at what he's done--a 1.38 ERA, a 0.86 FIP, a 15.4 K/9, a 2.5 BB/9, and a ludicrous 0.735 WHIP. Yes, Betances is likely to be a terrific reliever this year, but basically no one ever maintains those numbers, let alone in their rookie season. To expect that he's going to replicate his first two months as a full-time MLB reliever for the remainder of the season is setting expectations wayyyy too high. He wasn't even this absurd last year Triple-A when he transitioned to the bullpen, and not even reliever Craig Kimbrel posted such numbers in his outstanding Rookie of the Year-winning season. He's going to experience his own off-day or two at times, which will make his numbers look at least a little more normal. It's pointless to live in a sing-song land where relievers never falter; if Mo had his share of off-days, you can bet that Dellin will have his share of off-days, too.
Maybe the Yankees do let Robertson walk in free agency at the end of the season and let Dellin become closer then, but we are far from that point. Don't forget that Betances is still the same exact pitcher who just 12 months ago seemed like an absolute bust and who didn't have a bullpen spot secured at the start of spring training. Some people even wanted him cut altogether. Now fans want to give this very same pitcher the closer's job after only 23 games? Similarly hard-throwing reliever Brian Bruney once began a season with a 1.57 ERA and a .508 OPS against in his first 24 games of 2007 (while Rivera had a 5.94 ERA and three losses in that timespan as well). He ended the year with a 4.68 ERA and a .757 OPS against in 58 games total. A lot of things can happen between now and the end of season, and while I doubt that Dellin is due for a fall like Bruney's, his amazing start in '07 was just one example of how small sample sizes can play tricks.
I'm definitely a fan of Dellin and I was a big advocate for him to make the team in spring training, but let's not get ahead of ourselves here. Betances still needs to prove he can maintain productive numbers over the course of a full season at the big league level, something that Robertson has done for several years now. Keep Dellin in his already-productive role, trust the steady hand, and don't give up on D-Rob.