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Getting to Know David Robertson

The Mets fortified their bullpen by adding the veteran right-hander, who is no stranger to New York.

MLB: World Series-Philadelphia Phillies at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Mets, seeking bullpen help last season, were closely connected with David Robertson, who was pitching in Chicago at the time. Things didn’t work out, and he ended up on the eventual NL Champion Phillies. He finally became a Met this offseason, when the Mets signed him to a one-year, $10 million deal to join their bullpen.

Robertson is no stranger to New York. The Birmingham, Alabama native was drafted in the 17th round of the 2006 MLB Draft by the New York Yankees, and he quickly shot up their minor league system, debuting on June 29, 2008 against the Mets. As a fun note, his debut happened to be the final Subway Series game played between the two teams at Shea Stadium, making him one of the few active major leaguers who can say they played a game at Shea Stadium. Robertson gave up up one earned run over two innings in a losing effort for his club. His first year was nothing to write home about—he finished with a 5.34 ERA but a much more respectable 3.53 FIP in 30 13 innings across 25 relief outings—but he finished 2009 and 2010 with a 3.30 ERA and a 3.82 ERA, respectively, as he became a dependable late-inning reliever.

It was 2011 when Robertson blossomed into a star, posting a 1.08 ERA and a 1.84 FIP with 100 strikeouts in 66 23 innings. He was selected to the AL All Star Team, a rarity for relief pitchers who aren’t closers, but it speaks to how spectacular his season was. He led all AL relievers in ERA, FIP, K/9 (13.50), and bWAR (3,7). He finished 11th in AL Cy Young voting and 22nd in AL MVP voting. He didn’t quite match that output in 2012 and 2013, but he was still a dependable set-up man to Mariano Rivera, posting ERAs of 2.67 and 2.04 in those two years.

When Rivera retired following the 2013 season, Robertson took over as the closer for the Bronx Bombers. While taking over for a franchise (and major league) icon isn’t easy, Robertson excelled, recording 39 saves (third in the AL) and pitching to a 3.08 ERA, a 2.68 FIP, a 1.06 WHIP, and 96 strikeouts in 64 13 innings. He declined the team’s qualifying offer that winter, becoming a free agent for the first time in his career. He turned his successful run in New York into a four-year, $46 million contract with the White Sox, where he would serve as closer over the course of his tenure on the South Side.

Robertson was good during his run in Chicago, but he couldn’t help the floundering White Sox succeed. In 2015, Robertson finished the year with 34 saves, a 3.41 ERA, a 2.52 FIP, a 0.93 WHIP, and 86 strikeouts in 63 13 innings. He followed that up in 2016 with 37 saves, a 3.47 ERA, a 3.58 FIP, a 1.36 WHIP, and 75 strikeouts in 62 13 innings. They went from 73 wins in 2014 to 76 in 2015 to 78 in 2016. He pitched well for the White Sox in 2017, but with his team going nowhere, he was shipped back to the Bronx, along with Tommy Kahnle and Toms River’s own Todd Frazier, for Tyler Clippard, Blake Rutherford, Ian Clarkin, and Tito Polo.

Back in the Bronx, Robertson returned to form, posting a 1.03 ERA in 35 innings with the Yankees as they ended up making it all the way to the ALCS. He finished 2017 with a 1.84 ERA, a 2.57 FIP, a career-best 0.85 WHIP, and 98 strikeouts in 98 13 innings. It was the closest he would come to replicating the success of his 2011 All Star campaign. He finished off his four-year contract with the Yankees in 2018, pitching to a 3.23 ERA, a 2.97 FIP, and a 1.03 WHIP with 91 strikeouts in 69 23 innings.

Now 34 years old, Robertson found himself as a free agent for the second time in his career and signed with Philadelphia on a two-year, $23 million deal. He would only appear in seven games over the length of that contract, as he underwent Tommy John Surgery on August 17, 2019, effectively ending his year and his (first) tenure in Philadelphia. He pitched to a 5.40 ERA in 6 23 innings, and a setback in August 2020 ended any hopes of a return. For a while, it looked like his major league career may be done. He pitched with the High Point Rockers of the Atlantic League in 2021 in preparation for the Summer Olympics, and the Rays gave him a chance later in the summer. He appeared in 12 games for Tampa Bay, posting a 4.50 ERA, a 3.67 FIP, a 1.25 WHIP, and 16 strikeouts in 12 innings, including his first (and, to date, only) major league start.

With his foot back in the door, 2022 ended up being his best major league season since his 2017 campaign. He signed a one-year deal with the Cubs during the offseason and recorded 14 saves while posting a 2.23 ERA, a 3.51 FIP, and a 1.04 WHIP, with 51 strikeouts in 40 13 innings. Now re-established as a late-inning threat, he was one of the most highly sought-after trade deadline options before ending up back with the Phillies. He posted a 2.70 ERA, a 3.71 FIP, and a 1.37 WHIP with 30 strikeouts in 23 13 innings.

Robertson will likely take over Adam Ottavino’s role as Edwin Díaz’s set-up man—the Mets have expressed interest in a reunion with Ottavino, though it’s unclear if Robertson ends that possibility. Despite his advanced age—he will turn 38 on April 9—he is on the other side of his Tommy John surgery and has shown he can still be an effective shut-down option. His strikeout numbers haven’t declined too much, either, as he finished 2021 with a 12.00 K/9 and 2022 with a 11.45 K/9. The Mets still have a lot of work to do to complete their bullpen, but signing Robertson is a solid move by the club looking for some late-inning relief help.