I know that the season is just beginning,and that players are just beginning to get the feel for the game again, but what I saw from David Robertson yesterday definitely blew my mind.
Even though he only pitched one inning and struck only one hitter and walked one, I could see how every hitter looked helpless when facing him. His pitch location was perfect and his fastball was electric, that thing exploded before reaching home. Also, his movement looked incredibly fluid and his poise was just perfect.
After watching that display of absolute dominance, I remembered an article I read last year about how Robertson is the pitcher, or at least last year, who releases the ball closest to home plate in the Majors. That makes the ball appear faster than it actually is, so if the pitch is 92 MPH the hitter sees it at 94, 95 MPH and that keeps them off-pace.
To see how that could affect hitters, I decided to look at the SO/9 stat and see how good he is compared to other dominant relievers. The SO/9 innings can measure a pitcher dominance better than ERA, because it depends solely on his ability to make hitters miss the ball, or not swing at it.
Throughout his five year career (including his three innings in 2012, Robertson has a career SO/9 of 12.1, a really good number. Achieving in 2011 the highest SO/9 rate of his career with 13.5. Throughout his career, his SO/9 has never been below 10, his lowest was in 2010 with 10.4.
His only downside could be his BB/9 which is 4.7 for his career, because his HR/9 has improved in every single season since he reached the Majors. 0.9 in 2008, 0.8 in 2009, 0.7 in 2010 and 0.1 in 2010. I don't see how he can improve that, but the season is still young. Also his GB% reached his higher plateau in 2011 as well with 48, and has been below 40 only one time throughout his career.
The first player I decided to compare Robertson with is Jose Valverde, the closer who was perfect in saves opportunities converted throughout the entire 2011 season. Valverde's SO/9 last year was 8.6, his BB/9 4.2, his HR/9 0.6 and his GB% 44. No matter what the saves' column says, Robertson was more dominant than him.
Then I selected his teammate and probably the guy he is going to replace when he retires, Mariano Rivera. Rivera in my opinion is the best closer in the history of baseball, and his numbers speak for themselves, but Rivera has only been above 10 SO/9 just once in his HOF-career, 10.9 in 1996, his first as a reliever. Now, where Rivera becomes a demigod is in his BB/9, HR/9 and GB%. Last season his BB/9 was 1.2, and throughout his career his BB/9 is 2.1. His HR/9 last season was 0.4 and has been 0.5 throughout his career. His GB% last season was 48 and has been above 50 13 times throughout his 18-year career, so that's why he has been incredibly dominant.
Another candidate for comparison here could be Francisco Rodriguez, who holds the record for most saved games in a single season. K-Rod is a career 11.2 SO/9, but since 2009 only once has been above 10 in that department (10.5 in 2010). His BB/9 has been a little bit lower than Robertson's, but throughout his most dominant years that wasn't the rule. His record-setting season (2008) Rodriguez had a 10.1 SO/9, 4.5 BB/9, 0.5 HR/9 and 42 GB%. Last season he had a 9.9 SO/9, 3.3 BB/9, 0.5 HR/9 and 53 GB%.
Brad Lidge's best season, 2008 was when he achieved 41 saves in 41 opportunities. He had a 11.9 SO/9, 4.0 BB/9, 0.3 HR/9 and 48 GB%, easily comparable with Robertson's numbers.
The only reliever right now that has great SO/9 and BB/9 at the same time, at least among the ones I could think of, is Jonathan Papelbon, who had 12.2 SO/9 and 1.4 BB/9 in 2011. He also had a 0.4 HR/9 and 38 GB% last year with the Red Sox. While Papelbon's SO/BB ratio have been better than Robertson's, 8.70 against 2.86 last season, and 4.44 against 2.56 throughout their careers, Robertson has been slightly better than Papelbon keeping the ball on the ground. Robertson's HR/9 last season was 0.1 and Papelbon's 0.4, not bad, but Robertson was better. Also Robertson has had better GB% than Papelbon in all of his seasons but one, Robertson's debut season in the Majors, 2008, when Papelbon achieved the highest GB% in his career with 51.
So could Robertson be the most dominant reliever right now? Yes, I think he could be. We'll obviously have to wait and see how the season unfolds, but from what I saw yesterday, Robertson could have a hell of a season and become the most dominant reliever in the Majors.
Image by Keith Allison under the Creative Commons License.