For the first time in close to two decades, the New York Yankees have a huge question mark at the back-end of their bullpen. Yes, the Yankees have said David Robertson will be the closer in 2014. There is no guarantee however, that Mariano Rivera‘s former setup man will succeed in that role. There is no denying that Robertson has the stuff to be a very good closer. He has three “plus pitches”, and is not afraid to throw his fastball in a breaking ball count. His numbers over the last few seasons speak for themselves. Since 2011, he has a 258/72 K/BB ratio in 193.2 innings. Over that same time span, Robertson has a 1.93 ERA.
Being an effective closer in the Major Leagues requires more than just having good stuff. As most of us know, those select few who dominate the ninth inning have a different mental makeup than their middle inning counterparts. The pressure is unlike anything other relievers face. The game is on the line, and the closer will be the one who dictates the result. The ability to excel under these circumstances is what separates the Mariano Rivera’s from the field.
Whether or not David Robertson -or anyone else on the Yankees roster- can succeed under these circumstances remains to be seen. There aren’t a heck of a lot of options if Robertson fails. The Yanks did not shop the closer market this off-season. Matt Thornton was the sole reliever the Yankees signed. He has been effective throughout his career, but is probably going to be a seventh inning/lefty specialist king of guy. Shawn Kelly will likely get first crack at the eighth inning. Kelly has no closing experience. Preston Claiborne showed some signs of being an effective reliever, but is more of a middle inning pitcher.
The guy that I will be paying a lot of attention to in Spring Training is Dellin Betances. Not long ago Betances along with Manny Banuelos were the future of the Yankees rotation. Banuelos has not pitched since 2012. Betances started off 2013 terribly, before being converted to a reliever. The Washington Heights native thrived as a reliever, striking out 93 in 65.2 innings. He held batters to a .185 average. The solid relief work led to a big league call up in September. Betances struggled against Major League batters. His ERA was 10.80 in just five innings of work, but he did strike out ten and walked only two. If Dellin Betances can regain his form from 2013 and shows the ability to locate his pitches as well as make big leaguers swing and miss, he could crack the Opening Day roster. I don’t want to put the cart before the horse, by saying he will be the future closer, but he undoubtedly has the physical tools to do so. I guess we’ll have to see about the mental makeup part of it.