This is Christmas, the season of perpetual hope. I don’t care if I have to get out on your runway and hitchhike. If it costs me everything I own, if I have to sell my soul to the devil himself, I am going to
get home to my son fix this Indians bullpen.
Kate McAllister, Home Alone I Gage Will, Bullpen in Shambles I
Everyone has had the same thought – How could the McAllister family forget Kevin at home one year and then lose track of him at the airport the next without involving Child Protective Services? If it was up to me, Home Alone III would have been Kevin moving in with foster parents. Heck, it probably would have been a tad more entertaining. Either way, it seems egregious that parents could be so negligent in addressing one of the core functions of their family. Almost as egregious as say, a major league ballclub that is a contender for the World Series refusing to address a spectacularly poor bullpen in free agency for a second straight year.
Sure, there is plenty of offseason left, but it is at least a little bit concerning that we have not heard a peep about Indians’ interest in any of the free agent pitchers. Perhaps they are waiting for the market to crater. Perhaps they are waiting for the dominos to fall from a potential Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer trade. There are a few reasonable explanations. Whatever that explanation may be, they are probably doing their due diligence on David Robertson. And with Robertson representing himself in free agency, maybe you can poach him with promises of high leverage work on a team that has one of the best chances of seeing October baseball across the league.
Robertson is 34 years old and his arm has some mileage. His ability to provide stability in an area packed with instability is a major selling point. If one were to travel back in time to the last time he pitched under 60 innings in a season, they would see Kerry Wood working the ninth inning for the Indians.
Bullpen arms are fickle beasts thanks to limited opportunities and shifting roles. Look no further than the bottom falling out of Andrew Miller and Cody Allen this past season. Whatever Robertson has found to keep himself healthy and effective may vanish at any time at his age, but it is a risk worth exploring. After all, the intelligent prognosticators over at Fangraphs are projecting a two-year deal. Robertson, of course, is seeking a third year but it is a little tough to imagine teams are going to be lining up to pay him through his age 36 season.
When considering David Robertson as an option, it is important to note that he has some command imperfections. On an otherwise spotless resume, his walk rate can get a little erratic. This slight issue can be masked, however, by a consistent strikeout rate, which he has maintained in spades. The source of the command irregularities and unwavering strikeout numbers is his sweeping breaking ball package, which debuted a slider last season. His ability to generate elite swing and miss rates is a byproduct of being heavily dependent upon an above average bender. In 2018, he loaded up on these breaking balls throwing them nearly six out of every ten pitches. Loading up on your most favorable pitches from a weighted pitch value standpoint is a novel concept that works wonderfully.
Unlike Andrew Miller, Robertson has not seen his velocity tick down at all. In fact, last year featured his highest average velocity on his fastball since 2012. Coupled with the usage shift to heavy breaking balls, this is encouraging. His steady movement away from his fastball, though it not a sign of depreciation on the pitch, and gravitation towards breaking balls means he is paying attention to the numbers. The numbers back an onslaught of breaking balls, which still yield much better batted ball portfolios than the fastball.
As he has gotten older, Robertson has found a way to keep balls on the ground more than the average pitcher. This is another promising venture. All data points direct us to not betting on pitchers on the wrong side of 30 but it is increasingly difficult to acquire those types as front offices get smarter about asset allocation, as evidenced by Cleveland’s asset costs for the acquisitions of Andrew Miller and Brad Hand. When you aren’t as deep with prospects of the ilk of Clint Frazier and Francisco Mejia, risk management becomes a tougher proposition. As far as 34-year-old relievers go, I would much rather bet on the guy who hasn’t lost a step on his fastball, has maintained elite strikeout rates, has a picture-perfect health record, and knows how to keep batted balls on the ground.
The cost may seem steep, projected to settle in north of ten million per year over a couple years, but it is just the type of play that needs to be made. David Robertson would be the perfect accomplice for Brad Hand in 2019, and his addition would likely make the Indians bullpen a stronger entity than it was just a couple months ago despite the departure of two of its headliners. After dumping a handful of expensive contracts, its time to invest that money to shore up the bullpen. Learn from last year’s mistake – don’t be the McAllisters.