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Do the Yankees need David Robertson insurance?
But is that wise?
Robertson has many qualities that make him an ideal candidate for the ninth inning. He’s striking out 10.87 batters per nine innings this season and has a career 11.84 K/9. He rarely allows home runs, giving up 0.63 HR/9 lifetime. His 2.77 ERA in six seasons with the Yankees is stellar; his 1.81 ERA this season even more so.
Take Monday night against the Angels, for example, when Robertson earned the save with 0.2 innings pitched – but allowed an inherited runner to score and loaded the bases before wiggling out of the jam.
Scenarios like that have become all too frequent for Robertson, who’s earned the nickname "Houdini." That nickname may be fun for fans, but it’s not a good thing. It means that Robertson is getting into jams in the first place. Eventually his luck getting out of them is likely to run out.
Robertson has stranded 90.3 percent of his runners allowed this season, which is up from his career mark of 80.9 percent and appears unsustainable given that AL relievers are stranding just 74.5 percent on average.
He’s also benefiting from a low .263 batting average on balls in play. Robertson’s lifetime rate is .313, and AL relievers have a BABIP of .291 this season. Those numbers make sense – pitchers will tend to post a BABIP around .300. Robertson’s .263 seems destined to rise.
There’s also anecdotal evidence that he gets the “yips” in save situations. In 15 career save opportunities, Robertson has converted six and blown nine, just a 40 percent success rate. In five opportunities in 2012, he nailed down only two. He’s 1-for-2 this year.
Luckily for the Yankees, there are alternatives slated to hit the free-agent market:
1. Grant Balfour, 36 – The Good: 1.96 ERA and 30 saves for the Athletics. The Concern: 90.5 percent strand rate, .243 BABIP. Balfour, however, has consistently posted below-average BABIP numbers for his career. He's also played in front of some very good defenses in Oakland and Tampa Bay. The Yankees tend to be a different story.
2. Joaquin Benoit, 36 – The Good: 1.53 ERA, .289 BABIP and 14 saves for the Tigers. The Concern: 88.7 percent strand rate. During Benoit's resurgence during the past four seasons, his strand rate has skewed higher than his 72.7 percent career rate.
3. Edward Mujica, 30 – The Good: 1.81 ERA and 31 saves for the Cardinals. The Concern: 90.3 percent strand rate, .223 BABIP. Mujica has a career .283 BABIP and 73.4 strand rate. But Mujica has become a somewhat different pitcher this season. He's throwing his splitter 53.1 percent of the time, up from a career rate of 31.9 percent. He's also stopped walking batters almost altogether. Mujica's walked just two hitters in 49.2 innings and has a 20.00 K/BB ratio. He's throwing strikes 74.5 percent of the time, up from a 68.5 career percentage and throws a first-pitch strike 75.3 percent of the time, up from 66.1 percent.
To put that in context: Robertson is throwing 63.6 percent of his pitches for strikes this year and has a 63 percent career strike percentage. He throws a first-pitch strike 54.9 percent of the time, down from a career percentage of 57.3.
4. Fernando Rodney, 37 – The Good: He has a 4.24 ERA but .330 BABIP, 70.8 percent strand rate and 27 saves for the Rays. His ERA is actually likely to rebound as he's been a bit unlucky this season.
While no one can replace the seeming ease with which Rivera navigates the ninth inning, signing a veteran to push Robertson or take over in the case of ineffectiveness could prove prescient.