The Mitre/Tomko debate


In discussing baseball games, we often talk about the fallacy of the predetermined outcome. In a nutshell, the logic is as follows: If something bad happens — a caught stealing — followed by something good — say, a home run — then the Yankees are out a run because, had the caught stealing not happened, the home run would have been a two-run shot. Life and baseball simply do not work that way, and the outcome — the home run — probably doesn’t happen under differing circumstances.

Right now, the Yankees, in their search for a fifth ninth starter, are suffering through a debate over the predetermined outcome. Exhibit A is Brett Tomko in Oakland. On July 22, in order to make room for Sergio Mitre, the Yankees designated Tomko for assignment. He cleared waivers and was released on July 29.

At the time, Tomko had been awful for the Yanks. Pitching in long relief, he threw 15 games for 20.2 innings. He sported a 5.23 ERA and had allowed 26 base runners and 5 home run while striking out just 11. No one — not the Yankees, not their fans — was sad to see him go.

Since joining the A’s in mid-August and pitching as a starter, Tomko has been revelation. He topped off a stellar month on Monday night by tossing a complete game shut out against the Wild Card pretender Texas Rangers. In six starts, he is 4-1 with a 2.95 ERA. He has allowed 31 hits in 36.2 innings and has walked just six. He’s struck out 22 with his K/9 IP at 5.4, up a tick from the 4.8 mark he sported in the Bronx. Why, asked Peter Abraham, can’t the Yankees get players like that?

On the other hand, the Yankees are currently supporting the decline and fall of Sergio Mitre. After last night’s outing, Sergio Mitre’s numbers are horrendous. He is 3-3 with a 7.63 ERA and a 1.761 WHIP. He has thrown 46 innings and has allowed 81 base runners. This isn’t just bad; it’s Kei Igawa bad.

There is the possibility that Mitre hasn’t been as bad as those numbers indicate. As Jamal argued last night, Mitre has a 4.63 ERA in the five starts he has made against non-Toronto teams and a 10.59 mark against the Blue Jays. His FIP against non-Toronto teams stands at 3.55. Overall — and this is a key number — his FIP stands at 5.83.

With these numbers before us, it would seem that the Yanks jettisoned someone who is better than Sergio Mitre in favor of Sergio Mitre. They made a mistake. That’s only half the story because Tomko’s numbers are masking some trends. Brett Tomko’s BABIP while in Oakland is .226; Sergio Mitre’s in New York is .347. Tomko’s Oakland FIP is 5.05. He is currently enjoying an ERA two runs lower than how he is pitching.

The Yankees discarded Tomko because he is a 36-year-old journeyman with a below-average record and a 92 ERA+. That he is having a string of decent starts in Oakland shouldn’t convince us that the Yanks made a mistake. Sure, Oakland is catching lightning in a bottle. Sure, Sergio Mitre has been really bad. But it’s illogical to assume that Tomko would have pitched this far above his career norm in New York.

In a few days, the Yankees will clinch a playoff spot. A few days after that, the team will wrap up the division. Neither Sergio Mitre nor Brett Tomko will come close to the playoffs, and that is that.

Categories : Pitching


  1. Mike Axisa says:

    It’s amazing that you even had to write this post, Ben. Tomko was awful, and a change had to be made. Just because Mitre is awful as well doesn’t mean it wasn’t the right move.

  2. the artist formerly known as (sic) says:

    You hear that, Pete Abe?

  3. Bo says:

    How could any talent evaluator look at Mitres stuff and say he could succeed in the Al East? I can see a spot start here and there. maybe a long man in the pen. But for him to actually make double digit starts is crazy. But it shows you just how good this team is that they dont even blink.

    We all saw Tomko. Some pitchers cannot succeed in NY. No matter how good they look in places like Oakland. He had his shot here. He didnt step up and take it. You have to take advantage when the opportunity is handed to you. You earn it. He didn’t.

  4. By the way, just to clarify my fifth/ninth starter strike-through in the post, here’s the way I see the starting rotation depth chart:

    Wang (injured)
    Hughes (bullpen)
    Aceves (bullpen)
    Kennedy (injured)

    You could make the argument that Mitre is 10th on the depth chart with Gaudin around, and you wouldn’t be wrong. You could also put Kennedy ahead of that pair as well. At the time he was pressed into service though Mitre was the 8th starter used by the Yanks this year and their 9th choice.

  5. Ed says:

    Brett Tomko’s BABIP while in Oakland is .226; Sergio Mitre’s in New York is .347.

    Career BABIP:
    Tomko – .296
    Mitre – .334

    Tomko’s will probably go up a lot, but Mitre’s probably won’t change significantly.

  6. Bo says:

    Writers that are pining for Tomko now are showing who they really are. Hacks. You can bash Cashman for plenty of things but not for getting rid of Tomko. Did they not watch him pitch when he was here and do they not check out his stats/peripherals?

  7. JohnnyC says:

    Not to sound like Lombardi but it seems as if Cashman thinks adding Freddy Guzman to the roster is slightly more significant than making reasonably sure we have a fifth starter who can approximate league average performance…and a 6 1/2 game lead with 16 games to go is no mortal lock. The debate is not about Tomko or even Washburn…these are media-friendly straw men. The issue is with Wang out for the season and Joba’s innings limit, the best alternatives we could come up with were a recovering TJS case who’s pitched worse than Kei Igawa and a refugee from the NL West who was in the midst of a losing streak going back more than 6 weeks.

  8. pat says:

    This reminds me of a lunch debate I had last week.

    Hmm do I want the shit sandwich or the turd burger?

  9. Kiersten says:

    I’ll rewrite what I tweeted last night:

    I sleep better at night knowing that Sergio Mitre will be watching the postseason from the same place I will be – the couch.

  10. Stryker says:

    we wouldn’t have this problem if the yankees weren’t so short-sighted and had kept hughes in the rotation. these mitre stinkers would logically be hughes’ starts and i can almost guarantee he would keep the team in the game better than mitre has. fact of the matter is the yankees fucked up big time here and outings like this are what we have to show for it. i’d hope mitre isn’t with the major league team, barring emergency of course, in 2010.

    but alas what’s happened happened and like they say, hindsight is 20/20. no use in complaining about it, i guess.

    • Chris says:

      On the flip side, Hughes has been more valuable to the Yankees as a reliever than he was as a starter.

      • That’s a bit specious. Had he remained a starter, or transitioned back soon enough, he might have provided more value as a starter than he has as a reliever.

        • Chris says:

          The only way you can make that argument is if you assume that his performance as a starter in June and later would be significantly better than his performance as a starter in May. That may be the case, but it’s far from certain.

          In his 1 month as a starter he was worth 2.1 RAR. In each month as a reliever, he’s been worth 5.0 RAR.

      • If Hughes had stayed in the rotation, I think he’d have been more valuable to the Yankees than he has been as a reliever. He’d definitely be more valuable than Mitre has been.

        • Moshe Mandel says:

          You might be right, but it would be pretty close between rotation Hughes and bullpen Hughes in terms of value. I’m not so sure Hughes would be any better than Joba has been, and Joba has been less valuable than Hughes in 2009.

        • Chris says:

          That’s certainly possible, but not likely. Sergio Mitre has been worth 3.1 RAR as a starter this year in roughly 2 months of work, or 1.6 RAR per month.

          Hughes’ likely replacement in the bullpen would be David Robertson. He’s averaging roughly 2.0 RAR per month (7.1 RAR in 3.5 months in the majors).

          As I mentioned above, Hughes has been worth 2.1 RAR per month as a starter and 5.0 as a reliever.

          So moving Hughes to the rotation gains you about +0.5 RAR per month. Moving him out of the bullpen loses you about -3.0 RAR per month. The net is loss of -2.5 RAR per month.

          The only way your argument works is if you assume that Hughes would perform significantly better as a starter in June and beyond. If that’s your opinion, that’s fine, but my opinion that he wouldn’t improve is just as valid.

          • Good breakdown. I definitely see your point.

          • Tank Foster says:

            Hughes would have been better as a starter than Mitre, for sure.

            But you end up with this domino effect with pitching staffs. There was a period of time where, when Bruney was injured and Marte not yet back, the Yankees were getting pretty crappy relief pitching from everyone not named Rivera and Aceves. This leads to leaving the starters in there longer, or overusing the few good guys you have, in order to try to lock down the games you are winning. Hughes has been so good in the bullpen he not only settled things down in May/June, but he has been lights out and has saved other bullpen arms.

            The Yankees have so much hitting that they’ve been able to tolerate having lousy back end starters.

            I reeeeeeally wanted Hughes starting this entire season, but I’m actually glad the way it worked out. Now, if they don’t transition him back to being a starter next year, I’se gonna be pissed.

            • Chris says:

              Now, if they don’t transition him back to being a starter next year, I’se gonna be pissed.

              I agree completely. And from what I read, Cashman agrees as well.

    • Kiersten says:

      The Yankees have the best record in baseball with Mitre/Gaudin in the rotation. Why should they have Hughes starting instead of Mitre? I know generally fifth starters are more valuable than relievers, but right now Hughes is more valuable out of the pen.

      Whether Hughes should be starting instead of Joba though is a whole other issue.

      • Hmm, guess my comment got lost so here goes again:

        Hughes should be starting over Mitre because:
        1. He’s probably a better pitcher.
        2. His future with the Yankees is much brighter and he needs the innings to build up arm strength/stamina, gain experience and develop his pitches.

        Hughes may have value now, but had he been soaking up more innings, he’d probably be more valuable to the Yankees than he would out of the ‘pen (especially considering how sparingly he’s been used).

        And, Hughes and Chamberlain should be starting for as long as possible.

        • yankeegirl49 says:

          I’m with you Matt..agreed 100%.

        • Kiersten says:

          Well basically my point is that it doesn’t matter. Obviously he’s a better pitcher, and yes it does matter in terms of his long-term development, but in terms of the 2009 Yankees, he is more valuable out of the pen since, once again, the fifth starter does not even matter even a little bit. I could go out there and pitch every 5 days and the Yankees will still be playing in October.

    • sangreal says:

      Fucked up big time? We have a winning record when Mitre starts (5-4) — even if you really believe that Bruney pitching the late innings in close games wouldn’t cost us those 4 games, it still hasn’t had any serious impact on the season.

      We were 4-3 in games started by Hughes, and 3-6 in games started by CMW btw.

  11. It’s too bad that the best fifth starter option is still in the bullpen.

  12. Jake H says:

    While Mitre has sucked Tomko was terrible.

  13. Makavelli says:

    What I don’t like is Boston’s (new current) 4 man rotation for the ALCS compared to ours.

    Lester = Sabathia
    Beckett = Burnett
    Buchholz = Pettitte (though lately, Buchholz has been better)
    Last nights Dice K > Joba Chamberlain (since Aug 6)

    • Chris says:

      Dice-K wasn’t really much better than Joba. He had 3 BB, 5 K and a 6:4:6 FB:GB:LD ratio.

      For comparison, since Aug 6, in every 6 innings Joba has averaged 3.3 BB, 4.5 K, and 7:10:6 FB:GB:LD

      • Yes, but who got the win? And what era were they playing in?

      • Makavelli says:

        Regardless of the interior numbers Joba has been leaving (that may look decent)…his starts are still VERY bad. Dissecting each start to try and “look on the bright side” of things only works for so long. Sooner or later you realize that…regardless of these positive numbers…he’s still a liability and while we’re winning some of his 3 inning starts…he’s not contributing much in them.

        • while we’re winning some of his 3 inning starts…he’s not contributing much in them.

          That’s by design, Makavelli. Can’t fault Joba for that.

        • Chris says:

          My point wasn’t that Joba has been good since August 6th – he hasn’t been.

          My point is that Dice-K wasn’t good last night either – just lucky.

          • Well couldn’t you argue he’s been lucky since last year? I mean, the high strikeout rate and low hit rate definitely help offset the high walk rate, but the latter is still not desirable.

            • Chris says:

              You could argue he was lucky all of last year. I don’t think you could argue that it extended to this year at all. In 2007 his peripherals were better but his performance was worse, so his luck was about neutral.

              It’s possible that this guy is a statistical aberration. Just not likely.

              • jsbrendog says:

                so far, historically (SSS) japanese pitchers come in and can experience a few years of odminance but then get either figured out or lose it (see: hideo nomo)

                there has yet to be a japanese starter who can sustain success through a career in the us.

                Dice-K is about due for that free fall in a year or two.

                (there is a chance he becomes the one to break the norm of this model but with his peripherals one can guess that not bloody likely)

                • Chris says:

                  In defense of Japanese pitchers, most of them come over in their late 20′s or early 30′s. It shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone that they’re good for the first couple of years and then start to struggle.

    • Tank Foster says:

      The Yankees’ and Red Sox pitching has been pretty similar, on balance, this year. The Red Sox might have a slight advantage in terms of playoff rotations, as you point out, but it isn’t a huge one. And it might not even be an advantage, especially since Dice-K and Buchholz could both be crappy in the playoffs; they’re far from sure things. Yankee bullpen is probably a titch better – deeper – now, too, and that matters a bit more in the playoffs.

      Hitting? Well, good pitching beats good hitting, I know, but the Yankees hitting this year is other-worldly.

  14. Frank says:

    It seems to me there is more to worry about than a 5th starter. Right now, this staff consists of CC, Pettitte(tired shoulder), and a very inconsistent Burnett and Joba as the 3rd and 4th starters. If Pettitte’s shoulder turns out to be a serious issue, and AJ doesn’t pitch better and get deeper into games, this team could get whacked again in the first round. And lets not assume this division is a lock. Boston has been playing well and are only 5 back in the loss column. By this time next week, this race could be much, much closer.

  15. Tom Zig says:

    Do you know who would be a better 5th starter?

    Justin Verlander


  16. I am just mad that Tomko never got a fair shake at being a starter.

    I’m not saying I know he would have produced like he’s doing for the A’s, but he never even got the chance…

  17. miketotheg says:

    mitre/tomko debate?
    mitre sucks.
    tomko is gone and trying to cash in on free agent money in the al west.

    what debate?

    where’s the rumble in the jungle post?

    i think that pitcher carlson elbowed posada, not the other way around. who backs up the catcher, between the lines, on the 1st base side??

  18. Makavelli says:

    A debate about a 5th starter at the end of September is kind of moot at this point, no? This subject might have been better debated in July or August…but neither of these guys would have anything to do with the playoffs what-so-ever. We’re basically arguing about which guy could do a better “mop-up” job at the end of the season where we’re more than likely going to finish with the best record in baseball…which will be quite nice.

  19. mryankee says:

    Hi there all I am sure I will be bashed in about 10 seconds, I actually agree that getting rid of Tomko was the right move. Tomko was not pitching well here and he has thrived in a non playoff picthers ballpark scenario. I give him credit my issue is with the choosing of Mitre and/or sticking with him this long. I guess I don’t quite understand the thinking and I am sure the wiser more knowledgeable posters will help me. When Chien Mien Wang went down for the season and the pitching program for Joba Chamberlain was set in order. Why did Cashman not get a more quality more depandable starter. 2 reasons 1: at that point of the season the outcome of a playoff spot was still in doubt. 2: the other teams in the americal leagus clearly had (or the ones we will face) more dependable rotations 1-5. I say dependable not meaning great not meaning lights out.

    • I guess I don’t quite understand the thinking and I am sure the wiser more knowledgeable posters will help me.

      Nah, we’re kinda tired of educating you on everything all the time. We’re starting to get comfortable with just letting you wallow in your own ignorance, like a pig wallows in his own filth.

      • mryankee says:

        Well personally I would rather do that than be a f-ing jerk like you.

        • I’m an f–ing jerk. And you’re a broken record who wants shit explained to him that’s already been explained to him in crystal clear detail several dozen times before.

          I’d rather be an asshole than dumb.

          • mryankee says:

            Difference between you and I. I dont attack people or ridicule them when they post. I dont care if you disagree with my posts or dont like my toughts. You want to compare me to a pig in filth-I take exception to that. You dont like my posts dont respond.

            • I dont attack people or ridicule them when they post.

              Neither do I.

              I attack and ridicule people when they post the same tired questions over and over again that have already been answered and explained to them ad nauseam. We addressed these issues with you before, mryankee. We showed you how you were wrong time and time again. We did it patiently and without snark.

              You have lost your right to patience and snark-free responses. Because you keep pressing your agenda, even though it’s been universally discredited.

              You say that “some of the wiser more knowledgeable posters will help me.” We don’t want to help you because you don’t want to be helped.

              • mryankee says:

                I have not nor ever had an agenda as you put it. I have only posted what was on my mind. Some of the things I have said(like concern about the Yankees lead) have been talk about in prior posts without my pushing the agenda. Somethings I have been wrong about and been corrected and some things I see one way you see another. If someone wants to respond to me or treat me with respect I will do the same to him-her. If not then that is ok to. Yes and sometimes or a lot of times I have gone off topic because I react to what I am thining or feeling at that time.

                • I’m sure you don’t think you have an agenda, but you do. And, no, “what I am thining or feeling at that time” is not valid justification for going off topic, especially when you’ve already been spoken to about that transgression as well.

                  Whatevs. Maybe you’ll learn eventually, maybe not. I give up on you, you’re a lost cause.

                  Enjoy your wallowing.

                • mryankee says:

                  Well i will try to go on without you as a “posting” pal and you know what you want to call me a pig then thats on you.

    • Rick in Boston says:

      By dependable you mean cannon fodder, right? Because that’s all any team in the AL has for 4/5 starters at this point. Heck, until the deadline, the Tigers only had two pitchers.

      Cashman could have upgraded, but he chose not to for two major reasons: One, he believed that the talent on hand was going to be as good in the AL East as anything he could bring in. Two, the price tag on the pitchers he was after was a lot higher than the perceived value was. Hence, Cashman played the cards he was dealt. He could have upgraded the roster with better internal pieces, but as discussed above, injuries and the need to improve the bullpen meant that the number 10 option is now pitching in the #5 spot.

      • mryankee says:

        You know what I think your right. I just hate to see the lead falling off day by day as it has the last few days. However in the playoffs I think it wont matter as much. As there will only be a need for starters 1-4-and the bullpen has been very good.

        • Rick in Boston says:

          But it hasn’t been falling that much – over the last 10 games, both the Yankees and teh Red Sox are 7-3. Yes, it’s gone down from where it was the other day, but the Sox have to be historically great and the Yankees have to be historically awful over the next couple of weeks for the lead to disappear.

          • mryankee says:

            The only concern I have in that regard is the west coast trip. 1: they might see Felix Hernandez one day (i dont know if pitching matchups have been announced) 2: they are historically bad at Anaheim Stadium. The red sox again have been hot-now could they cool down of course. I am just saying as we sit here today there is osme cause for concern. I said some.

  20. Charlie says:

    wow, non-toronto starts. thats just ridiculous. if you take out starts against certain teams, you can make a lot of bad pitchers look okay. his FIP is awful, too. i do agree there was nothing wrong with releasing tomko, him and mitre both suck.

  21. [...] He hadn’t thrown 114 pitches in a game since May of 2006. So much for that whole Mitre/Tomko debate we had on Wednesday. Posted on Friday, September 18th, 2009 at 1:15 pm in Asides, Injuries. [...]

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