Last year I wrote a post comparing Mark Melancon with David Robertson, and argued that despite popular opinion, Robertson was the better pitching prospect. Recently, I've done some more digging on Robertson and came up with a very surprising comparable player.
I'm sure there are several Braves fans out there thinking, "Oh, wow, Joey Devine. Too bad he was the worst pitcher ever" or something like that, because we Braves fans only know the Joey Devine from 2006 who gave up a couple of grand slams at all the wrong moments, and then was quietly shipped off to Oakland the following year. But, all the Oakland fans are sitting there thinking, "Oh, wow, Joey Devine. He just finished 2008 with the lowest ERA (0.59) for a pitcher with at least 40 innings pitched in the history of the game" or something like that. And they would be right.
Devine posted some insane stats last year, and was only 24 years old at the time. I looked through some stats from the last few years for relief pitchers, and there were only a handful of young pitchers that came close to Devine's numbers at his age. At 24 years old, Francisco Rodriguez posted a 1.73 ERA, Joakim Soria posted a 1.60 ERA last year at the age of 24, and Rafael Soriano posted a 1.53 ERA as a 23 year old in 2003. That's some outstanding company for Devine.
So, depending on what you remember about Joey Devine, the fact that David Robertson compares so well to him should raise a few eye brows, especially among Yankees fans. But what I really like about Robertson is that not only does he compare well to Devine, but he is actually better than Devine. Robertson possesses a phenomenal ground ball rate, and in 138 minor league innings, he gave up just 1 home run. Devine on the other hand gave up 7 home runs in just 116 innings in the minors.
But, Yankees fans are probably saying right now, "Yeah, but Robertson had a 5.34 ERA last year, and he gave up 3 home runs to boot. That doesn't seem very Devine-like to me". And they would be right. Robertson had some rough patches in '08 with the Yanks, and that could be cause for concern, but it doesn't bother me. Even Devine went through some growing pains with the Braves. Any time a pitcher comes up, he has a learning curve to go through, and Robertson was no exception. But among those growing pains are glimpses of the future, as Robertson posted a 1.46 ERA though his first 11 appearances in '08.
There's no guarantee that Robertson will repeat the sub-1.00 ERA Devine posted last year, but I think he could be very good, and has a very good chance of becoming a very dominant relief pitcher, and maybe the closer of the future for the Yankees.