The ink is dry, and David Robertson is now a member of the Phillies. The righty’s addition to an already-respectable relief corps pushes the bullpen squarely into the “Best in the Division” conversation, and maybe even beyond that.
You might be familiar with what the veteran reliever brings to the table, but just in case you aren’t, here’s a crash course on Robertson and what you can expect from him as a member of the Phils.
Robertson turns 34 shortly after Opening Day, but he’s certainly not showing any signs of slowing down. He mostly features a cutter and (a beautiful) curveball, along with a slider. He’ll also occasionally flash a straight fastball and changeup, but mostly ditched those pitches last season.
Let’s take a look at his July 14, 2018 outing in Cleveland for a sampling of his offerings.
The cutter sits 92-93 with a gentle tail that adds a bit of two-plane break to the litany of things an opposing hitter has to look out for. Instead of simply darting horizontally, Robertson’s cutter acts more as a type of smoothed slider. He’ll start a lot of PAs with it, but he’ll also use it to get back in counts, like we see with Cleveland’s Francisco Mejia in the gif above. Robertson used his cutter 53 percent of the time when behind in the count against lefties (like Mejia) and 60 percent of the time when behind against righties.
Opposing hitters slashed far better against the cutter in 2018 than they had previously (.542 SLG allowed, with a drop in whiff rate from 23.4 to 17.3 year-over-year. Without a clear drop in velocity, movement, or even spin rate (which actually went up), it’s possible this was an aberration.
I mean, no need to twist my arm too hard into believing it was.
The curve is beautiful. It’s so dang pretty. I could spend an entire post just posting gifs of David Robertson curves hitting various spots of the zone and they’d all be fantastic. The one above isn’t a knee-buckler, but it comes real close. Yan Gomes, even at 2-2, sees that thing coming toward the lower half of the zone looking like a fastball and can’t hold up by the time he realizes it’s about to spike the dirt.
The curve normally hovers around the mid-80s - 83-84 - but on occasion, as with the pitch above, can be harder, touching 86 or 87. It’s Robertson’s hammer pitch, and he’ll use it with abandon while the count advantage is his. It’s a heavy swing-and-miss pitch, and Robertson does an exceptional job of avoiding hangers.
This is where things start getting a little tricky. Robertson’s slider just started emerging as a separate classification in July 2017. Whether it truly is an entirely different pitch is probably debatable - it’s faster, spins more than his curve, and often has a detectable hump from the center field camera’s perspective - but however you classify it, it’s a wrinkle. You’ll never see this “slider” against left-handed hitters, which lends some credence to it being a distinct pitch.
Here’s where things get interesting.
We know Gabe Kapler has a proclivity for wraparound appearances, one in which a reliever finishes an inning and stays in to start the next. The Phillies had 145 multi-inning appearances - that is to say, ones in which the pitcher threw at least one pitch in two consecutive innings, not that he finished one or or more of those innings - which was sixth-most in the National League last season.
Robertson has made 10-plus multi-inning appearances in a season five different times in his career, including each of the past two years. Pitching in the American League helps things there. Add in Robertson’s above average inherited runner strand rate (37 percent to the 2018 MLB average of 31 percent) and, friends, I do believe we have a guy to put out some fires and chew up some bonus outs afterward.
It’s nothing short of remarkable that Robertson has been as good as he’s been for as long as he has. He’s done every single one of the following things in each of his last eight seasons:
- 60-plus innings pitched
- 60-plus appearances
- ERA+ of 115 or better
- 10.4 or better K/9
- 28-plus K%
- 1.0 HR/9 or lower
- Sub-.700 opponents’ OPS (including six seasons of sub-.600)
Put it this way: The Phillies have only had three pitchers (Neris, Giles, Papelbon) accomplish all of that in even one season over the last eight, let alone each and every one of those eight. He’s a rare beast in this neck of the woods.
Yep, the high red socks suit him.
Robertson is, to borrow a phrase, a Prime Time Performer.
He’s allowed opponents just a .575 OPS in high-leverage situations throughout his entire career (consisting of more than 300 such appearances), and the last three years have been superb in that department.
- 2016: .171/.278/.248
- 2017: .172/.252/.343
- 2018: .158/.238/.368
You’ll find that each of the prior six seasons before 2016 also feature Robertson holding opponents below a .700 OPS in high-leverage spots. The man’s consistent, people.
He also features reverse platoon splits, with left-handed hitters posting a career OPS more than .120 points lower than the one righties have posted (.667 to .546). Odd for a right-handed reliever, but pretty much in step for a team looking to eliminate as much platoon disparity on both sides of the ball as it can.
The contract is a win-win. In securing two years and $21 million, Robertson gets a guaranteed multi-year deal that can evade some mid-30s relievers. In securing a third-year club option, the Phillies have flexibility to retain Robertson’s services, should his famous consistency continue holding up through what would amount to an entire decade’s worth of work. The buyout on the option pushes Robertson’s guarantees from day one to $23 million. Hard to find a lot of fault on either side here.
David Robertson has been a really good Major League pitcher for a real long time. He’ll turn 34 in early April, but very, very little about his game shows signs of slowing down. His fastball velocity and strikeout rates are holding steady. He throws two highly effective curveballs. He’s a specialist in wraparound, multi-inning appearances, and thrives in high-leverage spots.
This is exactly the kind of guy you want in your bullpen, and Robertson’s steady, low-variance output is a prime addition.