Yanks should follow Rangers model – make Robertson starter

Robertson has the repertoire to succeed as a Starter

Only about a month ago we were all talking about how much pitching depth the Yankees had.  The Yanks were 7-deep at the Major League level with 5 guys ready to go in AAA.  Since then, nothing has gone right.  The starting staff is 29th in MLB with a 5.73 ERA, Michael Pineda has a labrum tear and is out for the year, and our 2 top pitching prospects have had brutal starts to their seasons in AAA.  Once a luxury, Andy Pettitte is now being depended upon to come save this staff.  But can Andy be relied on at his age  after a year off? And even if he’s effective, is it enough with both Hughes & Garcia struggling badly?

It may be time for the Yanks to think outside of the box.  I was talking to some friends last year around this time about the Yankee pitching staff and who had the best pure stuff.  We were all pretty much in agreement that the nastiest pitcher was David Robertson.  We then discussed making Robertson a starter and really couldn’t find a valid reason why it shouldn’t be attempted.  After all, you generally want to maximize ways for your better pitchers to help you and Roberston could be much more helpful throwing 200 innings a year rather than 65-70.

The Yanks need to learn from perhaps the best run team in the league - the Texas Rangers.  They have successfully turned CJ Wilson from a reliever into a top-notch starter and are doing the same with Neftali Feliz this year after getting a solid season from reliever turned starter Alexi Ogando last year.  Boston has taken notes and is using power set-up man Daniel Bard as a starter this year.

So why not Robertson?  Since the start of last season, he’s been more effective than anyone in MLB with a 0.96 ERA.  He has the repertoire to do it with 3 plus pitches and a 4th that could be plus if he had to use it more.  In relief he generally uses the Fastball and Cutter with a few Curveballs mixed in.  DRob also throws a change-up from time to time and it could be a very effective pitch as a starter.  He has perfect mechanics – using his legs and mid-section to generate most of his power.  His mechanics are very unique but if I had to compare him to a couple of pitchers I’d say Tim Lincecum and to a lesser extent, Pedro Martinez.  Both are multi-Cy Young winning starters despite being under 6’0″.

The Questions?

The first problem is Robertson has never been a starter in his pro career so there would be a big increase in his workload.  He’s never thrown more than 85 innings in a season so it would be a big increase.  But he has perfect mechanics that don’t put a lot of stress on his arm so I think he would hold up.  The second issue is his style.  Currently as a late inning reliever he is often in full-blown strikeout mode.  With no room for error and often pitching with men on base, he goes for the K and has done it better than anyone in the A.L. with a 13.4 K/9 since last April.  This has led to him averaging 18 pitches per inning where the average starting pitcher is around 15 pitches per inning.  This would be a small adjustment in my opinion as he could afford pitching to a bit more contact with some wiggle room that he doesn’t enjoy in his current role.

The other con is how do you replace him in his current role as the best set-up man in baseball?  Well, the Yanks already have Rafael Soriano and David Aardsma should be back in the 2nd half to help as well.  But what I would do is put Phil Hughes back in that role.  Hughes was awesome in the pen in 2009, going 5-1 with a 1.40 ERA – 0.85 whip – 11.4 k/9 and  .456 OPS against.  Phil is currently struggling as a starter because he lacks the secondary pitches to start.  Robertson has those secondary pitches.

It would not be ideal to make this switch during the regular season which I brought up to YFU poster Ballpark the other day.  But as he mentioned, it is still early enough to give it a try.  Robertson could be sent down to the minors for however long it took to get lengthened out. With Pettitte on his way up, the Yanks could afford to be patient getting DRob ready.  Even if he wasn’t ready until mid-season, we really need him for the 2nd half and playoffs.  A rotation of CC, Pettitte, Nova, Robertson & Kuroda would be pretty impressive.  If Robertson doesn’t take well to starting, he can always be put back into the pen.  It really seems like low risk, potential very high reward.  So what do you guys think? Would Robertson be a good starter?

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About fishjam25

Was a 4-yr Pitcher and Communications Major at Seton Hall University in the 90s. His knowledge & opinion of the game comes from his background as a player and ardent lifetime Yankee fan. However, Fishjam also incorporates sabermetrics and statistical support to form a well-rounded view of the game.

Posted on April 26, 2012, in Personal Opinion, Player Analysis. Bookmark the permalink. 31 Comments.

  1. Well Ballpark would be a much happier fan if they gave this a try. With what the Yankees have now they really have nothing to lose in trying this. As presently contructed this team will not win enough to be relevent in October.

    • Yeah, i wrote ths for Ballpark. We’ve alldiscussed it going back to last year and it is starting to make more sense. The stuff and mechanics are there so it’s just a matter of getting him conditioned to throwing 100 pitches every 5th day. Not an easy change for someone who is used to 20-30 pitch outings all the time but the potential upside makes it worth a try. He can always go back to the pen if it doesn’t work.

      • I agree Fish. I’m really tired of this awful regime “deciding” what guys are before they are even 25 years old. Teams like Texas and Tampa just keep rolling out the hot young talent and developing it and they are not afraid to try something to see if it works. What’s the downside of Drob starting if it doesn’t work?
        Quite frankly I can’t see him being ready to close next year if Mariano retires anyway. He can’t allow as many walks and baserunners as he does while pitching the 8th.
        Actually, the way he pitches is more suited to being a starter.
        If it doesn’t work? Then back to the pen.

        • You have to remember these players those organizations are rolling out year after year come after years of being awful and high draft picks. Lets see how they do after being in the playoffs for 20 years. I’m not saying they arent to be commended because they most certainly are. They have done a fantastic job. Comparing the Yankees to them isnt really fair. It would be more fair to compare what other winning teams have turned out of their farm systems with bottom 10 picks every year. Comparing the Yankees to Atlanta is probably the closest comparison, as the Braves have been almost as consistent as the Yankees. The Braves dont sign all the FA’s the Yankees do so they should have had significantly more picks.

          The other issue is that after George regained control of the organization, after Gene Micheal had rebuilt the farm system, the Yankees went back to the FA model at the complete expense of the minor leagues. Its only in the last 3 or 4 years that the Yankees began rebuilding its system. It could be very possible that they are learning how to develop pitchers on the fly or learning which people need to be replaced in an on going effort to become a top flight minor league system. Either way I dont trust this current regime with starting pitchers either. Hopefully, they get better at it sooner rather than later.

  2. I disagree Robertson troughs to many pitches per inning now, he would be lucky to reach the 5th or 6Th inning as a starter keep him as Mos replacement.

    • Papa – that is a valid concern but DRob doesn’t need to limit his pitches in his current role. DRob throws 18 pitches per inning while CC and other regular starters are usually around 15. His role as a late inning guy who is always pitching with the game on the line forces him to go for strikeouts. There is no reason why he wouldn’t be able to reduce from 18 to 15 pitches per inning as a starter with less need to be perfect with every pitch.

      For comparison sake, last yr Lincecum averaged 16.6 pitches per inning and Robertson averaged 18.1. The difference was 1.5 pitches per inning which Robertson could def shave off pitching to more contact as a starter. Also, Phil Hughes averages 21.1 per IP this yr and around 17-18 for his career. I have no doubt Robertson would throw less pitches than Hughes as a starter.

  3. My question is wouldn’t Robertson need to develop a consistent 3rd pitch to start?

    • Matthew,
      It might look like he’s only throwing 2 pitches but he’s throwing 4 pitches right now except he doesn’e use the ChangeUp much because he doesn’t need to. However, of the few Changes he’s thrown over the yrs, it has been very effective vs LH hitters.

      His pitch break down so far this yr is:
      4-seam FB – 22.5%
      Cutter – 62.6%
      Curve – 13.6%
      Change – 1.4%

      Last yr it was:
      4-Seam FB – 49.6%
      Cutter – 26.5%
      Curve – 20.4%
      Change – 1.8%

      So, he def has 4 pitches. He just doesn’t need to throw his offspeed stuff much when facing hitters 1 time because his FB & Cutter are so devestating. If he had to go through the lineup multiple times, he would incorporate the Curve & Change much more. He definitely has a deeper repertoire than Phil Hughes and his secondary pitches are much better. Hughes makes more sense in the pen throwing his FB/Cutter while DRob makes more sense starting throwing all 4 pitches. His mechanics are clean and his throwing motion is repeated perfectly every time.

  4. I’m worried about making Robertson a starter. We tried that with Phil Hughes and it’s not working out well. We also tried that with Joba Chamberlain and that didn’t work out very well either. I just don’t want to see Robertson struggle like the other 2 pitchers have.

    • Delia, your concerns are justified because Joba & Hughes have struggled as starters. Hughes struggles because his offspeed stuff stinks and his command isn’t good. All the more reason to swap Hughes & Robertson.

      Joba didn’t really fail as a starter he just was constantly jerked around. Plus, Joba’s mechanics are/were terrible so he woud wear down easily.

      It’s very easy to put a pitcher back into the bullpen if it doesn’t work out. The potential upside is immense. What if Robertson can successfully transition to a 6-7 inning pitcher with his stuff and success? the guy has a 0.96 ERA since the start of last year and is nearly un-hittable. Pitching is pitching whether throwing 1 ining every day or 7 innings every 5 days….you need good stuff to get hitters out. Robertson has great stuff, better than everyone on the team with possibe exception of CC’s.

  5. Fish u mentioned Robertson’s mechanics are like Linceum’s. I remember reading a lot of scouts think Linceum’s mechanics will eventually lead to arm trouble. Maybe I am remembering wrong though.

    • There were concerns about Lincecum but he has had an awesome career so far. If Robertson can replicate Lincecum’s last 4 years as a starter and then got hurt, I’d sign up for that today.

  6. I love this idea in theory. I think we and probably the Yankees have seen about enough of Hughes to see the writing on the wall. One more 2-4 inning start and I think the Yankees almost have to replace him, same with Garcia. I think Hughes would be a very good 7th/8th inning guy as he has been in the past. His fastball would probably sit 94-96 and he wouldnt need the secondary ptiches nearly as much. I dont think the Yankees would loose much replacing Roberston with Hughes in the pen.

    I have a couple issues with it though. If they did this would they then incorporate Joba rules? The Yankees results have been, frankly awful with young pitchers, and I worry they ruin Robertson or he gets hurt. I would have much more faith with the Rangers or Rays making this decision and then implementing it if they decided to make him a starter. Lets say they do this and it works out, would he even be available for the postseason? Wouldnt a guy who has a high of 85 innings in his career run out of innings towards the end of August?

    In the end if the Yankees were going to do this, I guess it would be better to do it sooner than later. It would allow Robertson to get innings under his belt this year, and pitch a full season next year. I just really dont trust the Yankees staff to make this transition and would probably rather see him stay the monster he is, in the pen and get a chance to replace Rivera.

    • Great points Fin. The Yanks do not have a good track record developing pitchers and the Joba rules were nauseating although well-intentioned. They learned from that though and were a little less restricting with Hughes. As far as Robertson is concerned, he’s 27 yrs old so I don’t think they’d have to baby him like they did with 22 year old Joba and Hughes. I think once he’s stretched out, they could let him go.

      • I’m more than concerned with just how Joba worked out. I’m concerned with what they did with Pineda. Pineda was a miserable and complete failure by the Cashman and the organization. They didnt know what he was told to do by the M’s in the offseason. They didnt know he had was told to rest and completely shut it down and planed to report in January and work himself into ship over the next 3 months. Then Cashman went on a negative press streak in which he said Pineda was out of shape, didnt know if he even threw a ball in the offseason, that they had traded away Cabrera for a guy who needed to learn a changeup to make the trade worth it and finally that he had to earn his spot in the rotation. THis all lead to a media feeding frenzy and the Yankees bascially making him earn his rotation spot based on his last ST outing. We all know how that turned out. I am not saying this in hindsight, and there were plenty of people concerned with the pressure the Yankees were putting on Pineda in ST.

        I’m sorry but with Cashman incharge, who I have been a supporter of, until this Pineda fiasco, I just dont see moving Roberston to the rotation going well for the Yankees or Roberston.

  7. I see where you’re going with this but I think we shouldn’t mess with David. I think he should just stay in the bullpen. HE is a very valuable piece in that bullpen and could be the future closer. Hughes probably should go back to the pen and stay there because it doesn’t seem he is cut out to be a starter.

    I feel like if the Yankees start to move Drob around they might ruin him:/ IDK so I just say leave him there. Phelps can definitely take over as the #5 starter and the rotation could be

    CC, Nova, Andy, Kuroda, and Phelps

    • Natalia, I understand your position of being hesitant to mess with a good thing. But the Yanks have always been able to find strong relief pitchers. Its just a matter of time before Hughes is back in the pen and Aardsma will be back in the 2nd half. in addition, Betances is looking more and more like a future Reliever and the Yanks have several other good power relief arms in the minors. And don’t forget Joba should be back next year so there are plenty of options.

      On the other hand, starters are struggling and once promising arms are no longer highly regarded. The Yanks have been searching for that #2 starter for years. AJ and Pineda were both suppossed to fill that role but we know where they are. Pettitte and Kuroda are vets who will help this year but who knows if either will return next year. DRob has #2 stuff and would fill a massive hole at the top of the rotation if he succeeds.

      The Yanks can replace an 8th inning reliever – they can NOT find a #2 starter.

      • Couple points for you Fish if you can answer:

        1. If they want to make D-Rob a starter wouldn’t u rather wait till a new season?

        2. If they want to make him a starter would u want him to go to the minors first to get stretched out?

        3. Curious. As you want to see D-Rob as a starter do you feel Phelps, Warren or Mitchell are not ready?

        • Matt,

          1) Yes, it would be much easier to do it at the start of the season. But if we’re going to do it next yr, why not aget a jump on it now?

          2) Yes, I’d give him some time in extended ST and the minors to build up to at least 5 innings then you can bring him up and build him up to 100 pitches in the majors.

          3) I think Phelps & Williams are ready. However, I don’t see them or anyone else on the Yankees with front of the rotation ability besides Robertson and maybe Banuelos down the road. The Yanks are stocked with mid to back end rotation pitchers but Robertson has the ability to be a front-end starter…..one they have been searching for for yrs. They tried to pay Pavano & AAJ to do it, they thought Pineda could do it….they thought maybe Betances could grow into it. All not happening. Now you have a guy with the abiity…..why not give him a shot? I don’t see the downside.

  8. I’ve thought about this before….and maybe it’s unfair to say this but I don’t think the Yankees would or should do it after seeing what happened to Hughes and Joba. Granted, Hughes and Joba are far different than D-Rob, mechanics, pitches, etc. But they both were electric out of the ‘pen when they were setting up for Mo – Joba in 07 and Hughes in 09. Granted, there’s no guaruntee they would have continued to pitch like that, but Hughes certainly was well on his way to becoming a top-notch reliever.

    D-Rob has the stuff and the capability to start, but I’m not sure is it’ll work out. The Rangers do not simply turn C.J. Wilson into an ace over-night. it takes luck as well and timing, and right now the last thing the Yankees need is moving one of the best relievers in the Majors to the rotation. if it doesn’t work out, it would be a horrific mess that D-Rob may never be able to recover from, as in pitch like he is right now.

    Interesting theory, but I don’t know if A. this is the right time or B. that it will really work out. If it does, you can call me out on it and call me wrong numerous times.

  9. Keep in mind that CJ Wilson was a starter for is first four years in the minors, and even after missing the entire 2004 season. Felix also started 54 games in the minors. So Texas didn’t turn them into starters, they started out that way in the pros.

    Meanwhile, in 362.2 innings, combining his time in the majors and minors, Robertson has not started a single game.

    So although I understand the question of turning him, it’s not like what the Rangers did. And with Rivera on his way out I don’t think it would be a good idea to mess with somebody that looks like the next closer. If Robertson remains a middle reliever for another year or so after Mo retires, then okay… give it a shot. But until we have Mo’s heir I wouldn’t mess with things.

  10. This is a panic move at best on the fans part, luckily major league teams don’t panic after 20 games in a season. The pitching has started out poorly, but let’s give them some more time to turn it around. After all they are only one game out of first, and Pujols the best player in baseball is hitting .230 with no HRs. This is not the time to panic, the next guy may be worse the the one you have at this point.

    • Doug, I don’t see this as a panic move at all. how much more of Phi Hughes do you need to see as a starter to realize he doesn’t have the pitches? Since June of 2010, he has a 5.62 ERA and has given up a whopping 1.60 HR/9. With the exception of 2 good months in early 2010, he has been terribe as a starter and his only success has been in the pen. That’s where his stuff plays.

      Moving Robertson to the rotation is for the future of the team. Who is capable of being the #2 starter beyond this season? Pineda & Betances have had serious setbacks, Hughes shows he can’t start. Nova is excellent but he’s rock solid as a mid-rotation guy but realy not a #2. Robertson has the stuff and the Yanks have arms to pitch in the pen. I think this is a solid move for the future of this team for when/if Andy & Kuroda leave net yr.

  11. fishjam, if the Yanks were going to make Robby a starter they would have done it in spring training, not after 20 games in the season. This is normal with starters, the Yanks won 97 games last year without a #2 starter. The Yanks can win with these starters because they have the best pen in baseball, you want to take a strength and make it a weakness, just because someone else did it. Sounds like a big gamble to me, and it will never happen. Pitching is the most unpredictable thing in sports. You thinking that you know how to predict how a reliever who has never started is going to do, just doesn’t make sense. The Yanks have scouts and coaches who have spent their lives in baseball, I think they know alot better than you what should be done with Robertson. I could see the Yanks going to Phelps or Mitchell down the road as a #5 starter instead of Hughes. Pettite will replace Garcia in the next few weeks, after that it will be next starter up.

    • Doug, this is a Yankee blog. We are all here to give opinions and thoughts. I don’t understand your comment about how could I think I know more than the Yankee coaches. Doug, where did I say that? We are all here to question things so I don’t understand your point. Are we suppossed to just not question any move that is made?

      Where is the big risk in trying Robertson as a starter? You constantly quote that pitching is the biggest part of the game so what’s wrong with trying to put your pitcher with the best stuff in the rotation.

      If you don’t think its the right move than fine. Opinions are like assholes – we all have them. I just don’t understand you telling me that my opinion is wrong bc the Yankee coaches couldn’t possibly be wrong.

      • fishjam, I just thought it was a big reach on your part, do you really think the Yanks are going to put Robertson in the rotation? It just hit me as way out of leftfield.

        • We’ve been talking about it for over a year so for some of us it’s been tossed around for a while now.

          • george, if you have been talking about it for a year than you realize it is probably not going to happen.

            • If it does not happen it’s just another indictment of the Yankees defunct organization. There is nothing likeable about this regime anymore.

        • Do I think the Yanks WILL do it? No, they rarely think outside of the box. Do I think they SHOULD do it? Yes, I do. Hughes and Soriano and later Aardsma (and Joba next yr) could take Robertson’s spot in the pen. IMO, Robertson has the 4 pitches to succeed as a starter and a#2 starter is much more valuable than an 8th inning reliever that can be replaced. the Yanks have searched in vain for a #2 starter for years while never having trouble finding 8th inning guys.

          As George has mentioned, it’s something we’ve talked about since last April when it was clear Robertson’s stuff had matured to a dominate level. Does it make you feel better to know that River Ave Blues also explored this possibility in the offseason? here’s the link:

          http://riveraveblues.com/2011/12/imagining-david-robertson-as-a-starter-60511/

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