In a 162-game season, every major league team must scramble to find enough pitching to account for a minimum 1,377 innings (and that’s only if a team wins every road game). That’s a staggering 4,131 outs.
So consider this: Last year, Roy Halladay led the majors in innings pitched with 250.2. That means, if a super-team could somehow put five Roy Halladays on their staff, their bullpen would still need to manage 123.2 innings throughout the course of the season, or the equivalent of nearly 14 games. That’s why for so many teams, bullpen strength is a difference maker in the standings and the post-season.
In preparation for the 2011 season, the New York Yankees thought that their bullpen may have been one of their strongest assets. Brian Cashman countered unproven starting pitching with former Tampa Bay Rays reliever Rafael Soriano, who was still waiting for the ink to dry on his blockbuster 3-year, $35 million deal.
On May 14, the Yankees confidence in their bullpen was shaken when Soriano was placed on the 15-day disabled list with soreness in his right elbow. To make matters worse, legendary closer Mariano Rivera blew two saves in a week, bringing his blown save total to three for the season.
The Yankees are now saying that Soriano may not be available until the beginning of July.
Quietly, David Robertson has been the Yankees answer to this problem. In the absence of Soriano, Robertson has stepped up his game significantly, cutting his ERA from last season in half while striking out nearly two batters per inning.
People around the clubhouse talk very highly of Robertson and admire his work ethic and demeanor. Rivera raves about him. The rest of the country is busy admiring his fastball.
In 21.1 innings of work so far this season, Robertson has a career best 1.27 ERA. In 24 appearances he’s been dazzling when brought in to games with runners on base, surrendering only four runs so far this season. Better yet, he’s already struck out 35 batters.
They say the faster the ball goes in, the faster it goes out. Not the case with Robertson. The 26-year old right-hander has yet to surrender a homer this season, and has only allowed 16 hits.
And the best part for the Yankees? He’s only making $460,000 this year.
It’s been a long road for Robertson, a Birmingham, Alabama native who played his college ball for Alabama. He was drafted in the 17th round by the Yankees in 2006 and he spent 2008 and 2009 bouncing between the majors and the minors.
Last season was his first full year with the Yankees and he pitched well, posting a respectable 3.82 ERA in 61.1 innings. Maybe it took the southern boy some time to get acclimated to the big apple but, for whatever reason, Robertson has been pitching on another level this season.
This all bodes well for Cashman, who has been conscientious about paying more attention to the minor leagues in recent years. His investments in the future may already be paying dividends. Robertson has been a key component of the Yankees bullpen this year but the Yanks front office is already peering back down into their ranks to watch Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos, who are turning heads down in Double-A, Trenton.
If the Yankees continue to march young talent out of the farm system, their old-age problems could quickly fade. Remember, objects in the rear-view may be closer than they appear.
To read more of Mike McMaster's work, visit Six Pack Sportz