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.