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David Robertson: Best Setup Season in Yankees History?

By Mike Silva ~ September 9th, 2011. Filed under: New York Yankees.

Joel Sherman discussed the importance of David Robertson in a column in yesterday’s New York Post. Robertson is having a breakout year (1.23 ERA, 13.7 K/9), which is conjuring up memories of Mariano Rivera‘s dominant 1996 season. Despite John Wetteland winning the World Series MVP, it was Rivera and a host of middle relievers that were the difference in that first World Championship. You can argue that Robertson is having the best season for any Yankees setup man since ’96 Rivera posted a 2.09 ERA in 107 innings. Tom Gordon might be the only one that comes close as he had an outstanding 2004 season where he posted a 2.09 ERA in 96 innings. Here are the top five setup men in Yankees history according to Baseball-Reference Wins Above Replacement.

1 Mariano Rivera 5.4 1996 61 0 14 8 3 5 107.2 73 25 25 34 130 2.09 240 1
6 Tom Gordon 4.0 2004 80 0 15 9 4 4 89.2 56 23 22 23 96 2.21 204 5
21 David Robertson 3.1 2011 61 0 7 3 0 1 58.1 37 9 8 31 89 1.23 353 1
33 Mike Stanton 2.7 2001 76 0 16 9 4 0 80.1 80 25 23 29 78 2.58 175 4
34 Mike Stanton 2.7 1997 64 0 15 6 1 3 66.2 50 19 19 34 70 2.56 176 3
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/9/2011.

I don’t want to get into an argument over the value of WAR. I used the stat just to help me sort the players for comparisoN. Robertson has the best ERA+ of the group, highest strikeout rate, and lowest ERA. The huge difference between ’96 Rivera and Robertson is the significant innings pitched difference. Joe Torre used Rivera for multiple innings in 42 of his 61 appearances. To date, Joe Girardi has usE. Robertson multiple innings in only 10 of his 61 appearances. Of course, Robertson will surpass Rivera’s ’96 game total sometime this weekend. Different eras, different managers, and different situations make it interesting to compare, but Rivera was a failed starter turned reliever who could go multiple innings, while Robertson was groomed out of the bullpen throughout his minor league career. Mike Stanton’s 2001 might be underrated as he had to take on additional responsibility as Jeff Nelson departed for Seattle that year.

My only concern with Robertson is the high walk rate (4.8/9). It’s offset by the insane strikeout rate, but walks in late inning postseason games usually lead to trouble. What made Rivera so great in 1996 is he missed bats, didn’t walk anyone, and was able to go multiple innings. Maybe experience will help mitigate the walk rate, but it’s been an issue since his first year of pro ball in 2007.

The real test will come in a month when the Yankees call on him to get big outs in the eighth inning. Rivera got the job done at a high rate in ‘96, giving up only 1 run in 14.1 innings. On the other hand, Tom Gordon was torched in the ’04 postseason by Boston. As Sherman points out, Rivera’s increasing age makes it hard to go to him for 2 innings. In the past, Joe Girardi showed no trust in Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes to bridge the eighth inning to Rivera. Will he trust Robertson? That remains to be seen. So Will Robertson turn out to be 1996 Rivera or 2004 Tom Gordon in the postseason? Looks like the Yankees need the former if they hope to go deep into October. I still predict in an important postseason moment it will be Rivera on the mound for multiple innings despite the success of Robertson. All habits don’t die, and it would be a huge second guess on Girardi if Robertson coughed up the lead in the eighth while Rivera sat in the bullpen.

Regardless, Robertson is putting together one of the finest middle relief seasons in team history. You could argue it’s as good as Rivera’s ’96 edition

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Mike Silva has hosted sports shows on 107.1 FM Champions ESPN Radio Long Island ,1240 AM WGBB , Blog Talk Radio and live from Mickey Mantle’s Restaurant. He’s also built and maintained two popular social media hubs: New York Baseball Digest and Sports Media Watchdog. Mike has broken national and local stories, as well as been mentioned on the YES Network, SNY.tv, WFAN, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, NY Daily News, New York Magazine, Journal News and the NY Post. Contact Mike professionally at mikesilvamedia.com

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3 Responses to David Robertson: Best Setup Season in Yankees History?

  1. Pizza Man

    How quickly we forget how dominant he was in the 2009 playoffs. But OH HE WASN’T GOOD LAST YEAR HE NEEDS TO PROVE HIMSELF DURRRRRRR

  2. chilipalmer

    According to Baseball Ref. Rivera had 42 multi inning appearances in 1996 not 35 as you state. The 2 pitchers’ multi inning appearances are nowhere near comparable so your headline and closing sentence don’t make sense. In 1996 reg. season Rivera pitched 3 innings in 8 games, 2.2 innings in 2 games, 2.1IP in 3G, 2.0IP in 22G, 1.2 3G, and 1.1 3G. Robertson has never pitched 3 innings, pitched 2 innings only once, 1.2 twice, and 1.1IP 5 games. Rivera had 8 wins and 5 saves. Robertson so far has 3 wins and 1 save. You note Rivera had 130 K’s. With that number he broke Gossage’s record (122) for single season K’s as a Yankee reliever. This stat from Joel Sherman’s book, Birth of a Dynasty, page 28.

  3. Mike Silva


    Thanks for the heads up- I sorted the multiple games, and forgot to add games where he went multiple innings, but didn’t retire the batter. Those should count, which skewed the numbers.

    I agree that ’96 Rivera was dominant, and it would be hard for Robertson to match that. You have to admit he is doing a great job – no? Multi-innings or not.

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