CLEARWATER, Fla. — In an offseason where the Phillies have added a former National League hits leader, a former NL Most Valuable player, the guy widely considered the best catcher in baseball and maybe still Bryce Harper and his generational talent, it’s easy to overlook the addition of David Robertson.
The veteran reliever has had a tremendous career in the American League. Over the last eight seasons with the New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox, he has averaged 65 appearances, a 2.59 ERA, a 1.07 WHIP and more than 12 strikeouts per nine innings.
Overlook him at your own risk. Hitters certainly don’t.
The Phillies went into the offseason looking for improved offense and defense at shortstop, left field and catcher and they got that with the additions of Jean Segura (the NL hits leader in 2016), Andrew McCutchen (the 2013 NL MVP) and Realmuto, the game’s top catcher.
One of the Phillies’ other offseason goals was to find a bullpen weapon to combat left-handed hitters. They picked up lefty relievers James Pazos and Jose Alvarez in trades, but the big acquisition in this area was Robertson. For a right-hander, he has had almost freakish success against lefty hitters, holding them to a .188 batting average and a .546 OPS in his career. Robertson has also been pretty darn good against righty hitters, holding them to a .222 batting average and a .667 OPS in his career.
“I don’t have anything I can put my finger on,” Robertson said when asked about his success against left-handed hitters. “For me, I think it’s more of I don’t really care who’s hitting. If it’s a left-hander or a right-hander, I’m just trying to get outs.”
Robertson’s main weapons against lefty hitters are his cutter, which he can get in on the hands, and a sharp-breaking curveball that is simply fun to watch.
Even as a kid, Robertson, who will turn 34 in April, had natural cutting movement on his fastball. He refined the pitch on his way to the majors then added some polish during his time with the master of the cutter — Yankees Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera.
“Watching Mariano, talking to him and playing catch with him definitely helped,” Robertson said. “I never had the control of the pitch that he had. He could live and die with it where I had a breaking ball in my back pocket.
“Mariano was pretty amazing to watch. He had that aura. When he was pitching, you knew you were finished. I feel honored to be able to have played with him and be on those teams. A piece of me will always be there because that’s where I pitched for the better part of a decade.”
Robertson pitched against the Phillies in the 2009 World Series. The Yankees won that one in six games.
Robertson actually succeeded Rivera as Yankees closer in 2014. He saved 39 games that season, one of three times he’s recorded 34 or more saves. The Phillies have not tabbed a set closer for the start of the season and there’s a good chance they won’t. Robertson will join Hector Neris and Seranthony Dominguez in getting high-leverage work late in games and that’s all Robertson seems to care about.
“As long as I get opportunities to pitch at the back end — sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth — I’m happy,” he said in January, on the day he signed a two-year, $23 million deal with the Phillies.
Robertson served as his own agent this winter. He says he did talk to the Yankees about returning, but in January admitted, “It was just time to go somewhere else and play.” The Yanks ended up signing free-agent reliever Adam Ottavino.
Robertson’s relationship with the Yankees may have suffered late last season when he chaired a players-only meeting that resulted in some members of the Yankees baseball support staff being shorted or denied postseason bonuses. The matter hit the papers in November and Robertson wore the backlash and criticism.
“I didn’t understand why that was written about me when it was a vote that reflected the numbers,” he said Friday. “I put them down and turned them in. Everyone signed off on the sheet to turn it in. We did our best to be fair.
“I don’t really have much more to say about it. I just feel like it was unfortunate.”
Robertson was asked whether he believed the issue factored into the Yankees’ decision to not bring him back.
“I would hope not,” he said.
And now, all his attention is focused on getting outs for the Phillies.
“I’m excited to be here,” Robertson said. “There’s a great vibe here.”