If the screaming fans at Yankee Stadium clamoring for the guy who’d blown three straight saves didn’t get the point across on Tuesday, the New York Yankees are by no means ready to say goodbye to Mariano Rivera.
Then again, David Robertson didn’t exactly help things, either.
Getting a chance to record his first save of the 2013 season because the team had given Mo the day off, Robertson made bit of a mess of a two-run lead he was given, handing out two free passes (one of them intentional to load the bases) with a run-scoring double (it was an inherited run) mixed in between before settling down, striking out a pair of Los Angeles Angels batters to earn the handshake in a 2-1 win for the Yankees.
It ended with a flourish, though it was hardly what you’d call an auspicious first save for the righty.
Perhaps it was because of the added pressure; after all, there had been a trio of blown saves that he had to redeem his team for, and though it was his first save opportunity of the season, it might also be his last in a year where the Yankees are surely watching his progress as the de facto favourite to take over the ninth inning role for Rivera come next season.
And while one shaky outing does not a season make, one should never count out the importance of situational impression to a Yankees team that goes by a gut feelings as much as it does numbers when it comes to these things.
The numbers, of course, tell only one story: that of Robertson as an elite reliever, and someone who has been exactly that for years.
In fact, the number will say that with a 10.87 K/9, 2.72 BB/9, and a .191 BAA to go with a 1.81 ERA, the 28-year-old should not only be the Yankees’ closer of the future, he should be that guy … right now. In just about nearly every statistical category there is to evaluate pitching prowess, Robertson has simply been a better pitcher, and has contributed the most to the team’s suggest among relievers with 1.2 fWAR.
Yet, there’s no doubt why it’s Rivera that the team will continue trotting out in his swansong (and maybe even if it wasn’t), even if he blows another save for the fourth in a row for the first time ever.
Why? Because he’s the closer. The concept is widely scoff at by many stat-centric folks these days due to the fact that the save stat is relatively meaningless at evaluating pitchers, but that’s not the Yankees’ way of doing things. This is, after all, the team who decided to go with the more experienced Rafael Soriano for 42 saves in 2012 when Rivera was out, even when it was Robertson who led the bullpen with better numbers and a 1.7 fWAR.
Success in the ninth inning is not an exact science, and perhaps no MLB franchise believes this more than the Yankees.
Yet, this is also a team in transition, trying as much as they can (while appeasing the fans) to cut payroll to get underneath the luxury tax threshold, so it’s not like the Yankees are just going to take on Jonathan Papelbon‘s contract either. Will their financial goals align with the team’s philosophy when it finally comes to naming a new closer for 2014?
Or will they yet again pursue a veteran at the end of their deal (Joe Nathan, perhaps?), leaving Robertson stuck in the setup role because he’s that guy, and because he happens to be one of the league’s best at it?
There’s no question that the Yankees should give Robertson the job next season, simply based on past performance. Whether they will finally be able to make that leap of relative faith, though, might say a lot about the Yankees’ direction and whether their financial focus will mean a serious shift in their franchise philosophy going forward.