Why David Robertson’s Days as a Closer Should Be Over
Photo Courtesy of ESPN-David Robertson Player Profile
Welcome back to the MLB 100. Today, for part III, I look at two struggling relievers.
I call this one the tale of two washed up relievers. One: a brilliant set-up man, who turned into a past prime closer. Another: a two-time World Series champion, turned Tommy John victim, who simply lost a passion for the game. This season has certainly proved to be a story of the Has Been’s for both David Robertson (CP, CWS) and Ryan Madson (CP, OAK) alike.
Let’s take a look at both of their numbers from 2011-2016:
For David Robertson, the question I beg to ask is: Why is it that some people are surprised by his lackluster performance? When you compare Robertson’s last three years as a set-up man in New York to his three years as a closer, the numbers do not line up at all, aside from WHIP (constant at 1.11). Robertson’s ERA jumped from 1.91 to 3.51 as he changed roles.
Obviously, ERA isn’t the most accurate portrayal of his performance; but even when you compare Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) it’s a large jump from 2.31 to 2.98. Want to talk Total WAR over that period? Robertson was worth 2.1 Total WAR more as a set up man from 2011-2013 than he has been as a closer.
(Note: FIP is a statistic that attempts to measure how well a pitcher prevents runs from scoring regardless of the performance of the defense behind him. For a more detailed explanation of how FIP is calculated, please visit the Fangraphs glossary: http://www.fangraphs.com/library/pitching/fip/ )
So, of the above statistics we’re keeping close tabs on for Robertson, which of them are highly correlated with his WAR over the last six years? Let’s take a look:
The near perfect correlation between FIP and WAR obviously does not come as a surprise if you understand how the statistics work. But, the one thing that stands out is that Robertson just can’t seem to keep the ball in the park these days. From 2011-2013, David Robertson allowed just 11 home runs in 205 appearances. As a closer, Robertson has allowed 20 in 164 appearances. With the very low correlation between Robertson’s BB/9 and WAR, it is pretty clear the control is still there overall, but Robertson is just losing his edge over opposing hitters.
At the old age of 35, can anyone really say they expected Madson to be a lights out closer? Probably not; but, after a dominant regular season as the Royals 7th inning man and a strong showing in the 2015 World Series, can we really say we expected him to be this bad?
Let’s be honest—at this point, Madson may not be worth as long of a case study as David Robertson. This isn’t a former all-star set up man with huge expectations as the second highest paid reliever in baseball at a contract with $11.5 million AAV. Yes, Madson will collect $22 million from 2016-2018, but there will always be a high market value for a two-time World Series champion with only 3 ER allowed in 11 IP across 12 appearances.
However, unlike Robertson, the regression for Madson is simply undeniable. Madson is posting a career low WAR and certainly is not looking like the closer he was for the 2011 Phillies. The 2011 campaign would be Madson’s last season before undergoing a brutal Tommy John surgery in 2012 that led a three-year hiatus from the game of baseball.
With age, Madson is losing his command and his edge. His fastball velocity, 94.86 MPH, is still fully intact and well above the league average of 92.93 MPH. But, clearly the league has figured Madson out and the confidence is running out fast.
While both may serve as solid set-up options for a contending team, it is clear at this point that their days as closers are numbered. Some may argue Madson or Robertson could have serve as a better closer than existing options for teams like the Texas Rangers; but, among all closers with 15 or more saves, Robertson and Madson have the two lowest WAR numbers. I think the Nationals did the right thing going to Pittsburgh to acquire Mark Melancon (CP, PIT/WAS) as a rental, rather than taking a gamble on Robertson or Madson and paying their salaries moving forward. (Read about the Melancon trade: http://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/17180166/mark-melancon-traded-washington-nationals-pittsburgh-pirates )
On Deck: Surprise, Surprise: New Faces—Relief Pitcher Edition
In the Hole: Biggest Busts: Head Scratchers—Outfielder Edition