David Robertson nails down his first save since Mariano Rivera was injured. Is his tightrope thinner as a closer? (Image: Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE)

Does David Robertson's tightrope get thinner in the ninth inning?

New York Yankees reliever David Robertson is affectionately nicknamed Houdini because of his ability to get out of tough jams brought on both by his teammates and himself. Should Yankees’ fans be concerned that his tightrope act is going to go sour in the ninth inning should he take a majority of the save chances now that Mariano Rivera is out for the season?

It is not uncommon to see Robertson escape bases loaded situations without allowing a run. He’s done this continually over the last couple seasons predominately as the set-up man to Rivera. Last night he put himself into the position and was able to maintain his composure, making Tampa Bay Rays DH Carlos Pena look insignificant at the same time.

The YES Network broadcasters were wondering, out loud of course, whether Robertson’s propensity for adventure was going to be the doom of some Yankees’ ninth innings. They also provided this nugget of information, and I paraphrase, ‘ninth inning outs are more important than those in any other inning”. Really?

Look, there are 27 outs to be recorded by the winning team in a regulation nine-inning baseball game. The outs to start the game, those in the fifth inning and the final out all count the same. There are plenty of ninth innings where the final outs are fairly easy to nail down.

Even if we took the YES commentators words to mean ‘ninth inning outs in save situations’ they’d still be wrong. The closer role has been glorified by the save stat itself. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting anyone can fill the role. But, I am saying that there are many more players capable of doing so than the 30 or so pitchers employed by teams at the present time to complete the task.

The outs a pitcher records despite the part of the game is equally as important as another. If the starter comes out and fails to record an out after five men have come to the plate and he’s now down 3-0, don’t you think first out is pretty darn important? How about the next two to end the inning?

When Robertson would come in during the seventh or eighth innings in the last couple seasons and work some magic, weren’t those outs extremely important? Games can be won and lost well before the ninth inning.

The notion that the closer has to deal with the toughest outs in the game is one of the larger farces in baseball. Closers’ work is magnified because the game is “on the line” and plenty of teams pay (overpay) exorbitant amounts of money for the player put in the position.

Some teams are shying away from putting their most effective pitcher with runners on base in the role of closer; because often times the closer comes into the game at the start of the ninth. The Washington Nationals are a recent example of this. When Drew Storen was hurt, Tyler Clippard was assumed to be next in line for saves. But, the team decided that Clippard was more valuable at getting outs in pressure situations in the sixth, seventh or eighth innings, than he was to get the final three outs of a game.

Right or wrong, it does show that the importance of an out is not related simply to when they are recorded. There can be tough outs at numerous times throughout a game. This is one reason why some teams will use a committee to save games. They simply want to have the option available to them to use any particular pitcher in the right circumstance.

So, is Robertson walking a thinner line in the ninth inning? Nope. Do you want him loading the bases in a tie game in the eighth? Definitely not. The situation determines the pressure, not the inning. Fans have been brainwashed to think that a game is lost in the ninth on a walk-off hit. Yes, literally, it is. But, why wasn’t the tying run scored in the seventh inning just as important? There is no good reason, because it was important and clearly played a part in the loss.

David Robertson performs well under pressure. He creates issues for himself at times, which could easily help to lose games in the eighth inning just as well as the ninth. He walks across the same line with the same net under him each time he takes the mound in a pressure situation. A run or out in the eighth inning count the same as they do in the ninth. Pitchers want outs, not runs each time out. The thickness of Robertson’s tightrope is the same as it ever was; how he walks it makes the difference.

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Tags: Carlos Pena Closers David Robertson Drew Storen Houdini Act Joe Girardi Mariano Rivera New York Yankees Rafael Soriano Relievers Tyler Clippard Washington Nationals Yankees YES Network

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