No one will replace Mariano Rivera. In 2009, the top-10 relievers in WAR with a minimum of 20 saves were Jonathan Broxton, Andrew Bailey, Brian Wilson, Jonathan Papelbon, Rivera, Joe Nathan, Rafael Soriano, Heath Bell, David Aardsma, and Joakim Soria. In 2013, only Nathan of those players rejoined Rivera in the top-10. Six others no longer close. And that is just since 2009. Rivera was already an established, consistent closer a decade before.
That unprecedented track record of consistent effectiveness makes big shoes for an heir to fill. David Robertson has already suffered from those unreasonable expectations. After taking over for Rivera following his season-ending knee injury in 2012, Robertson’s quick blown save started the discussion of his lack of a closer mentality. Within the week, Robertson strained an oblique muscle, and he never had another chance to close as veteran Rafael Soriano took the job and ran with it.
The Soriano situation neatly demonstrates the risk that Robertson still carries, even with Soriano and Rivera now gone. Whether or not it’s justified—and it isn’t—Robertson has a reputation as a shaky closer. If the Yankees add a starter that pushes them over the luxury tax threshold, it becomes trivial for them to add someone with more experience. It may even be the prudent thing to do considering their lack of depth behind Robertson in the bullpen.
All that said, I expect Robertson to be the best value at the position in 2014. He is the embodiment of the mantra draft skills not jobs. Prior to 2012, Robertson battled his control, but over the last two seasons, he has walked fewer than three batters per nine. In both 2012 and 2013, Robertson struck out more than 75 batters while maintaining an ERA below 2.70 and a WHIP below 1.20. Here are the relievers from 2013 who joined him:
|Relievers with ERA < 2.70, WHIP < 1.20, Strikeouts >= 75 in 2013|
Of the 10 names, six were in the top-eight in Zach Sanders’ year-end reliever rankings. Trevor Rosenthal is everyone’s favorite to join them this season. Luke Hochevar is blocked by one of them. Drew Smyly is expected to join the Tigers’ rotation. That just leaves Robertson. And despite his additional year of elite production and lack of competition for the job—Rosenthal has an army of elite Cardinals prospects as well as former elite closer Jason Motte to contend with—Robertson looks to be going five or more rounds later than Rosenthal and outside the top-15 at the position.
Do not let the narrative scare you. Robertson has exceptional stuff, a two-year track record of elite production, and a reverse platoon split—he has 3.32 FIP versus right-handed batters and a 2.19 FIP versus left-handed batters in his career. He is the perfect candidate to replace Rivera.
Scott Spratt is a fantasy sports writer for FanGraphs and Pro Football Focus. He is a Sloan Sports Conference Research Paper Competition and FSWA award winner. Feel free to ask him questions on Twitter – @Scott_Spratt