Home News Why David Robertson may be a better reliever than you think

Why David Robertson may be a better reliever than you think

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Here in this little corner of the world, we are going to try a different format. I am thinking of using it during the season. You have a voice, write in to sportsplus@nypost.com and let me know if you like this or not.

Essentially. I spend so much time thinking about baseball that I tend to have one idea or opinion or insight after another and often no place to share a good deal of them — beyond the poor sucker who unluckily gets the press box seat next to me.

One little game I play all the time, I call, “Who’s career do you got?” Essentially, I’ll see a player on the field and think of someone who is like them and ask: Better career — Player A or Player B?

If this format holds — again, send postcards, carrier pigeons or just email — I plan to offer up one mano a mano a week. And I had an idea for this week already when a bit of serendipity emerged.

My first matchup was going to be David Robertson vs. Michael Jackson — and if you were thinking that Michael Jackson, you are probably not in the right place.

I was trying to think of someone like Robertson — a durable, long-lasting righty, and sometime closer, who multiple teams trusted to pitch in big spots. Jackson came to mind.

Michael Jackson bounced around quite a bit in his 17-year career, landing in Cleveland from 1997-99.
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Then, after the Mets beat the Padres 5-2 on Wednesday, I was chatting with Adam Ottavino about Robertson and Ottavino, And Ottavino — as a way to praise and accentuate Robertson’s combination of longevity and excellence — noted, “Basically, he’s awesome. He’s about to get 1,000 strikeouts, which is quite a feat for a reliever.”

That made a curious fellow even more so. Thus, I went and looked up how many pitchers — in only the games they relieved (so, eliminating starts) — had 1,000 strikeouts. The answer is 13, and the top three are Hall of Famers: 1. Hoyt Wilhelm, 1,363. 2. Goose Gossage 1,340. 3. Lee Smith, 1,225. In fact, six of the eight Hall of Fame relievers are in the group. The others being Rollie Fingers (1,183), Mariano Rivers (1,135) and Trevor Hoffman (1,133).

The last trio to do it are the three preeminent closers of this era (all stats through Wednesday): Kenley Jansen (1,111), Craig Kimbrel (1,102) and Aroldis Chapman (1,054).

Robertson struck out two on Wednesday to climb into 16th place with 984. You know who he climbed over at 983? Yep, Michael Jackson — the very guy with whom I already was thinking of making a comparison.

The climb toward 1,000 is notable even in the age of high strikeouts and frequent bullpen usage. Even now, there aren’t others at the doorstep of doing this. The next closest among active relievers? Yep, that would be Ottavino at 725. And next after that is Jake Diekman at 665.

So who do you got in Jackson vs. Robertson? If you prefer bulk, Jackson finished with 1,188 ⅓ innings or 442 ⅔ innings more than Robertson. Another reliever I was thinking about for this comparison — John Franco — has exactly 500 more innings than Robertson. But in Robertson’s 744 ⅔ innings, his performance has been better inning for inning compared to Jackson. The 17-year veteran who pitched for eight different teams finished with 142 saves and 18.9 Wins Above Replacement (per Baseball Reference). Robertson was at 159 saves and 18.6 WAR. Robertson has a 147 ERA-plus, Jackson was 126. They both got MVP votes in one season — Jackson finished 21st in 1998 and Robertson finished 22nd in 2011, the year he made his lone All-Star Game (Jackson was never an All-Star).

Ottavino spent the bulk of his career with the Rockies before winding up with the Mets in 2022 where he posted a 6-3 record
Adam Ottavino spent the bulk of his career with the Rockies, followed by short stints with the Yankees and Red Sox before signing with the Mets in 2022, posting a 6-3 record.
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Does Robertson close the gap in overall bulk innings by performing so well in the postseason: 6-0 with a 2.78 ERA in 41 games and 45 ⅓  innings vs. Jackson, who had four saves and a 4.71 ERA in 31 games and 28 ⅔ innings?

Who do you got?

Got my attention: Since I referenced Chapman among the 1,000-strikeout performers, I was thinking, could the veteran lefty do enough between now and Aug. 2 that a contender would overlook his history and offer a decent enough prospect to motivate the Royals to trade him?

Chapman, in the low-pressure Kansas City environment, was dominant in his first five outings. Back averaging 100.1 mph with his fastball, Chapman had allowed one hit and one walk in five innings while striking out nine of the 17 batters he had faced.

Now, keep in mind that last year with the Yankees — in what would be the worst season of his career — Chapman did not allow a run in his first 11 appearances (10 ⅓ innings), holding hitters to a .111 batting average. But he already was having trouble with his control and that would lead to him losing his confidence and soon after his closing job, and not long after that all standing with the Yankees.

He would pitch to a 6.23 ERA after that. He would go on the IL twice after that, the second time due to an infection from getting a tattoo. Chapman was iffy to make the postseason roster and, the Yankees said, he wanted certainty in that area. Without it, he did not show up for a pre-Division Series workout. The Yankees, at that point, basically banished him from the team. Of course, it should be noted that on one hand, Chapman helped the Cubs win the 2016 World Series, but also has famously given up three of the biggest homers in postseason history — to Rajai Davis, Mike Brosseau and Jose Altuve.

Chapman, the record holder for fastest thrown pitch in MLB history at 105.8 mph, signed with the Royals on a one-year deal before the season
Aroldis Chapman, the record holder for fastest thrown pitch in MLB history at 105.8 mph, signed with the Royals on a one-year deal before the season.
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In addition, Chapman served a 30-game suspension in 2016 for violating MLB’s domestic violence edicts.

So while Jansen signed a two-year, $32 million free-agent deal with the Red Sox, and Kimbrel — off of his worst season and being left off the Dodgers postseason roster — inked a one-year, $10 million free-agent pact with the Phillies, Chapman got just a one-year, $3.75 million deal far off main street with the Royals.

In a vacuum, a pedigreed lefty throwing 100 and getting outs would be enticing to bullpen-short teams even now to inquire. But how many potential contenders would simply wipe Chapman’s name off a consideration list due to past actions?

Awards watch: On the subject of Chapmans, have you seen how Matt is doing?

Matt Chapman has been a stellar defensive third baseman with above-average offensive numbers hurt by his strikeout penchant — 30.5 percent from 2020-22, the fourth highest among those with at least 1,000 plate appearances. 

But in 2023, the Blue Jays slugger was at a 19.2 percent clip through Wednesday (he did not play Thursday with a viral illness), while leading the AL in hits (23), doubles (8), batting average (.489), on-base percentage (.523) and Wins Above Replacement (1.1, per Baseball Reference).

This will also be a weekly feature — taking a look at one or more of the awards races. Think of this like the New Hampshire primary or the Iowa Caucus. It will provide tracking (if not traction) as the season goes along to follow the ebbs and flows.

Entering his sixth season with the Angels, Ohtani is off to a hot start
Entering his sixth season with the Angels, Shohei Ohtani is off to a hot start.
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Though it’s early, it may be time to ask if there will even be ebbs and flows in the AL MVP race, or will everyone else just be playing for second place? Because entering the weekend, Shohei Ohtani was hitting .300 with three homers and a .979 OPS while having a 0.47 ERA in three starts. And what often could be held against Ohtani in the past is not true now. At least not yet. For the Angels are contenders, 7-5 and tied for first in the AL West as of Thursday morning. Now, the Angels played well early last season before collapsing, but they addressed a huge issue of depth since then.

So the first AL MVP snapshot: 1. Ohtani. 2. Chapman. 3. Wander Franco, Rays. 4. Adley Rutschman, Orioles. 5. Gleyber Torres, Yankees.

But let’s not run away from Chapman. If you might have noticed, Ian Happ signed a three-year, $61 million extension this week with the Cubs. In the first week of the season, Rhys Hoskins tore an ACL and was lost for the season. It means that Happ will not be part of the upcoming free-agent class and Hoskins will be looked at quite differently than if he played a fully healthy season.

Thus, Chapman potentially is facing less competition in the upcoming free-agent market if a team is seeking a bat. And, already, the potential top third baseman in the class, Rafael Devers, signed a 10-year, $313.5 million extension with the Red Sox in January. That makes Chapman far and away the best third baseman scheduled to be a free agent this coming offseason — unless you have a thing for Josh Donaldson, Isiah Kiner-Falefa or Eduardo Escobar. In actuality, Brian Anderson might be the next best if his first two weeks with the Brewers are an indicator of a rebound campaign.

The 29-year-old third baseman already has 3 home runs, 15 RBI and second in the league in batting average at .489
The 29-year-old third baseman Matt Chapman already has 3 home runs, 15 RBI and is second in the league in batting average at .489.
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Of course, if a team is seeking just a bat and not a third baseman, then Chapman would be finishing behind Ohtani in that as well.

Things that make me go … Spencer Jones, the Yankees’ first-round pick in 2022 (No. 25 overall), had seven extra-base hits in his first 21 at-bats at High-A, including three homers. He was batting .455 in those five games. Jones is the 6-foot-7 kid from Vanderbilt who the Yankees are hoping follows the Tall Guys Can Play path of Aaron Judge. Jones had not fully tapped into his power in college, but the Yankees believed it would come in pro ball.

In the Yankees’ greatest dreams (you know, the ones that don’t often happen), one day Jones and Jasson Dominguez will play alongside Judge in the outfield. After all these years of not having enough impact lefty-hitting in the Yankees order, could the switch-hitting Dominguez and lefty Jones change that at some point?

After a blistering spring training by Dominguez that reignited hype around The Martian, his first five minor league games (at Double-A) were quite different from Jones. He was 0-for-16 with nine strikeouts.

New York Yankees Infielder Trey Sweeney (89) and outfielder Spencer Jones (50) watch the game from the top step during the MLB Spring Training game between the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays on February 28, 2023 at The Stadium at the ESPN Wide World of Sports in Orlando, FL.
Spencer Jones (far right) led the SEC with 21 doubles in his junior year at Vanderbilt in 2022.
Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Beware of spring numbers. Beware of early-season numbers.

Roster stuff maybe only I notice: Just two weeks into the season, only three teams had used just 26 players (the normal roster size): the Astros, Rockies and Dodgers. Los Angeles and the Yankees actually had begun the year with the most players on the injured list with nine.

The most players used already was 31, by the Braves and Giants.

Last licks: Anyone else notice how much Judge and Francisco Lindor have been striking out early this season? It was the same percentage: 32.7 through Wednesday. That was tied with one other qualified hitter — Kyle Schwarber. You might remember that last season Judge led every American League player ever with 62 homers while Schwarber led the NL in 2022 only with 46.

Schwarber has settled in as a low-average, high-strikeout power force. Judge, even while striking out in about a quarter of his plate appearances annually, still maintained a high average. This year, while he’s been striking out at a career-high pace, he still had reached base safely in all 12 Yankees games and was hitting .318 with a .404 on-base percentage and four homers.

The 2022 AL MVP agreed to a massive 9-year, $360 million deal in December and started the 2023 season with a 1.017 OPS
The 2022 AL MVP agreed to a massive 9-year, $360 million deal in December and started the 2023 season with a 1.017 OPS
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Schwarber began the season 1-for-17 with no homers and seven strikeouts, following that by hitting .258 with three homers in 35 plate appearances (10 strikeouts). That speaks to his streakiness.

Lindor has never struck out more than the 18.8 percent he did last season. He was hitting just .227 in the Mets’ first 13 games this year and there were times his swing played big — as if he were selling out for homers. Lindor is a player who should be able to capitalize on restricted shift rules to produce more hits and, once on base, use liberalized rules to generate more steals to excel in that area as well.

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