In the history of baseball, 45 pitchers have pitched in 9 games with 5 starts, some of them spectacularly, like the 19 year old Rick Ankiel in 1999. Two of them pitched for the Braves in 2020, neither spectacularly. One of them, Huascar Ynoa, did all of his work with the Braves. The other, Robbie Erlin, split his season between Pittsburgh (2 games, no starts, 5.40 ERA) and Atlanta (7 games, 5 starts, 8.49 ERA). The Braves acquired Erlin when Pittsburgh waived him on August 7, and he hung around for 5 weeks before being released on September 14th.
Pittsburgh was 3-11 when they let Robbie go. There are two ways to think about this:
- (a) A player who can’t help a 3-11 team isn’t a very good player
- (b) A team that’s 3-11 may not be a very good judge of who’s a good player.
Alex Anthopolous went with theory (b). I want to be fair about this decision. Mike Soroka had gone down on August 3, and Anthopolous was probably still in shock. I know I was. There were no other starting pitchers signed by anyone between August 4 and August 7.
So I’m just assuming that AA watched the waiver wire and thought: “I’m taking anyone on the waiver wire who’s had over 30 career starts” Robbie just happened to be the guy who popped up. In favor of theory (a), though, after Erlin left the Pirates were 16-30, so there seemed to be improvement by subtraction. Not a lot of improvement, mind you, but this is the Pirates we’re talking about – baby steps.
His initial appearance was an appearance in relief against Philadelphia after Sean Newcomb had given up 8 runs. Erlin gave up three homers in 43 pitches. To be fair, that was his worst appearance. His next performance was his only good one: four shutout innings against the Marlins. But in only two of his seven appearances, none of which went beyond 4 innings, did he not yield a homer, and he ended up with a less-than-sterling Atlanta line: 1.457 WHIP, -0.5 WAR, a 0.983 OPS yielded. Think about that: the average player he faced hit like Mark McGwire. It could have been worse, though. A lot of you wanted the Braves to spend a bunch of money on MadBum in the last offseason. Robbie’s season wasn’t that much worse than his, and Erlin was a lot cheaper; so there’s that.
To be fair again, the Braves were 4-3 in games in which Robbie appeared. To be cruel, that is only one more game over 0.500 than in the games in which I appeared, and I’m 64 years old. And he had no decisions, not even in that first game. But while he had no decisions, I’m not undecided: he was pretty much worthless. Robbie did not have the worst season ever for a guy appearing in 9 games and starting five. That would be Wee Willie Sudhoff who put up a 30 ERA+ for the 1906 Washington Senators in the last year of his 9 year career. Robbie was twice as good as that at 60. I wish him luck. (Robbie, not Willie, who died in 1917.)