Are Mitre and Aceves really making their cases for fifth starter?


What happens when rusty pitchers face rusty hitters? It’s tough to say, which is why I don’t put stock in the results. That doesn’t mean that these performances go unnoticed. After all, if jobs are actually won and lost in spring training the coaching staff has to base their decisions on something. I’m just not sure that traditional statistics tell us what we need to know when the players are not only rusty, but also working on specific aspects of their games.

One of the few Yankees camp competitions involves the fifth starter spot. As the team tells it, the job is completely up for grabs. Sergio Mitre, Chad Gaudin, Al Aceves, Phil Hughes, and Joba Chamberlain all have an equal shot. But while the Yankees might say that publicly, many of us doubt that they’ll pick anyone but Chamberlain or Hughes, their most promising young pitchers. Yet the performances of two presumed also-rans might have changed the story.

Both Sergio Mitre and Al Aceves have pitched well so far this spring, neither allowing a run. Mitre has allowed just two hits and has walked one in five innings, while Aceves has been perfect with four strikeouts through six. We don’t know what kind of impression this has made on the Yankees’ brass, but the media has jumped on the story. Could one of these two break camp as the No. 5 starter, relegating both Hughes and Chamberlain to the bullpen?

It’s not as far-fetched as you might think. On Mike Francessa’s show last Wednesday, Brian Cashman admitted that the optimal 2010 Yankees team has both young pitchers in the bullpen blowing away guys. The idea is that they’d help save games for all five starters, avoiding losses when lesser relievers might blow the game. I’m not sure if I buy it — I’ve always advocated having your top five pitchers in the rotation and not worrying about a numerical designation — but if it’s coming from the general manager I suppose it has a chance of happening.

Just after talking about the optimal 2010 team, Cashman also said what we all know to be true. The future of the franchise is better served by having one or both young pitchers in the rotation. This is why I think the Mitre and Aceves stories are non-starters. The Yankees might have to replace two starting pitchers next year. While a few free agent options exist, the team probably wants to fill one of those spots with one of its own, young, cost-controlled arms. They’d be better served in 2011, then, by having at least one of Hughes and Chamberlain starting in 2010.

If the improbable does happen, if Mitre or Aceves impresses enough this spring that the team wants to use him in the rotation, I doubt both Hughes and Chamberlain will go to the bullpen from the start. In that unlikely scenario, chances are one will go to Scranton to stay fresh while the other pitches out of the bullpen. While sending Hughes to Scranton might be a waste, it might be a necessary action at that point. After all, we’ve seen many top spring training performers flop when the game start to count. It would benefit the Yankees, then, to have someone in Scranton ready to jump into the rotation.

Again, I don’t envision this happening. If Mitre continues pitching well perhaps the Yankees trade him at the end of spring training. If Aceves continues pitching well maybe he’ll get higher leverage innings out of the pen. Neither, I expect, will start the season in the rotation. The Yankees want to get the most out of Hughes and Chamberlain, and that probably means having one in the rotation all year.

Photo credit: Nati Harnik/AP

Categories : Pitching


  1. Mike HC says:

    The job is still Joba’s to lose in my opinion. As long as he keeps progressing throughout spring training, and looks good in his last couple of starts, the job is his. If his fastball is sitting at 90 mph and he is getting rocked, then maybe one of those other guys can sneak in, but I doubt that happens.

  2. Drew says:

    Even though you mentioned it, it bears repeating.

    “The future of the franchise is better served by having one or both young pitchers in the rotation.”

    Cash was very clear in that helping the club in the short term places both Joba and Hughes in the pen. Helping us in the long term places them(one or both) in the rotation.

    • Charlie says:

      the thing about the short term being better with joba and hughes in the pen isn’t even true though. mitre would come no where fucking near what either of them would do in the rotation. He sucks and Aceves/Gaudin are better suited for the bullpen. It’s really upsetting that this is even in discussion. If Joba or Hughes are actually both not in the rotation, then the yankees’ thinking is as severely flawed as the media’s

      • Drew says:

        Well, you’re looking at the current roster as concrete. Who’s saying that we can’t get average 5th starter production outside(or within) of the organization?

  3. A.D. says:

    Key for anyone winning (outside of Hughes and Joba) the key is both Mitre & co pitching well, and both of these guys pitching so poorly that they actively lose the job.

    Otherwise I agree best case everyone pitches well, they can trade someone, and else Mitre & co can pitch well out of the pen.

    • Drew says:

      It’s a shame we can never get max value out of guys like Mitre, Ace and Gaudin.. Russo, Miranda and other players as well. Thes guys can’t show off their true value because they’re blocked by other, better players.

      • Salty Buggah says:

        Yea, I thought about that too but then I realize it’s an awesome problem to have.

      • andrew says:

        Yea, I’m not a the biggest fan of Mitre, but at least with Ace, Joba and Hughes, I feel like no matter who we put in the bullpen, they won’t be contributing as much as they could be. A good problem to have, though.

      • ROBTEN says:

        True, although it does tell us about their true value for the Yankees: as backups, safety-nets, or “break-glass-in-case-of-emergency” players. They’re blocked by better players because we have better players to block them. If we didn’t they’d play more. At the same time, they’re not necessarily good enough to bring back players in a trade that would help us right now as much as they might. This is not to say that they’d never be traded–especially Mitre or Gaudin–but other teams are probably not blowing up Cashman’s phone looking to acquire them either.

        I agree, though, that for those types of players it must be a difficult and frustrating catch-22: they play too well to be traded, but not good enough to get any serious time (or really be worth trading, except perhaps for roster space, at which point their ship has probably sailed).

  4. Warren says:

    Lots of nice trading chips Cashman is piling up for the year.

  5. Lucas A. says:

    I don’t have the exact quote, but during the YES telecast on Friday, I remember Cashman saying that it wouldn’t the best thing for the organization to send both Hughes and Chamberlain to the pen. To me, that seemed like kind of a giveaway that Chamberlain or Hughes would get the starting job this year.

    • ROBTEN says:

      I think that when Cashman told Francessa that the Yankees would be a better team in 2010 with Hughes and Joba in the pen he was just being kind, as one is with that older relative who, no matter how many times you’ve explain it over the past thirty years, is still not able to set the time on a VCR.

      • Michael says:

        I think that’s true. They’d be better for us in the pen, but as we’ve seen, the Yankees make it up as they go along.

      • Mike Axisa says:

        There’s your problem right there, VCR’s are a dead technology. It’s literally two buttons on a DVR. Guide, then record.

      • Bo says:

        Who still uses a vcr?

        • ROBTEN says:

          Um…really? Do you not realize that it’s part of the joke?

          I mean, come on, perhaps it wasn’t the funniest comment, but don’t I even get credit for trying out new forms of subtle and refined humor and not making a “stupid movie reference”?!?!?!?!?!?!?

          [To be clear, now I'm trying to use humor again to mark that no matter what anyone says, you respond in the same, predictable ways, much like Francessa and the flashing time on his VCR.]

  6. YankeesJunkie says:

    Honestly when it comes down to it I don’t think Mitre has what it takes to pitch 200 IP. Aceves defitenly might be an adequate #5 starter, however it is better for the organization for Hughes or Chamberlain to start this year and for both to start in 2011. I feel like Chamberlain will still win the job, but guys like Hughes and Aceves will get starts still. However it is not a bad thing that pitchers like Mitre and Aceves are doing well. Having Aceves being a guy that can pitch any inning of the game is truly a rarity in today’s game and in every sense of the term could be a relief ace.

  7. Jimmy says:

    If Mitre is a marginal 5th starter for the Yankees, what sort of trade value would he have? Would we get any value at all for him? I’d at least hope we get enough value to justify potentially losing Ramirez, otherwise that move looks like a loser and boils down to Mitre and Ramirez plus $1.2M for Park and ???.

  8. BigBlueAL says:

    I could maybe see Aceves as the 5th starter because of his track record starting in the Minors and his work as the long man last season. Heck he could be one of the best 5th starters in baseball.

    But please no Mitre, he has never been good in the Majors period. I still say if Joba is not the 5th starter it will be an epic fail on his part.

  9. Pete C. says:

    I remember when Don Mattingly first came up in the eighties. Nobody really knew what they had on their hands. Fortunately we found out relativelly quick. I’ve seen Al Aceves pitch, and the “Mexican gangster” as he has been described in other places can pitch. No he doesn’t have the sexy credentials of Chamberlain and Hughes but he can pitch. Wouldn’t it be something if he turns out to be way more pitcher than either of those two.
    After having said this I hope all three are successful in all endeavors Yankee.

  10. Damn, I missed that Cashman interview but still came to the same conclusion about the 2010 team.

    What I don’t buy is the notion that the development of Hughes or Joba will be stunted by facing MLB hitter out of the bullpen as opposed to blowing away AAA hitters. There are +/- to either approach, so it’s a wash. Both will be 25 next year, have no innings limits, and while I can understand not wanting to exceed innings at a young age, not wanting to go below them strikes me as silly.

    Aceves would be my #5. His stuff translates best as a starter, you have another long man in Gaudin, and I’ll get innings out of Ace, which is all I want out of my #5. He’s the safe choice.

  11. Will says:

    What’s Hughes innings limit again? I remember him saying in an interview that it was somewhere around 170. That should be enough for a 5th starter, right?

    I bring this up because I dont believe his innings limit is really working against him.

    • Patch says:

      Yeah, I saw 165, so that’s pretty close.

      I would rather have him start in AAA than in the bull pen to make sure he can pitch a full year next year.

      • pete says:

        yep. I would prefer if this were Andy’s last year, and I’d rather not be forced into getting Lee (which is not to say I oppose a Lee signing, but I do oppose a throw-out-the-budget-for-an-over-30-starter-who-tops-out-at-92mph Lee signing). Having Hughes and Joba as full season-ready starters will go a long way in terms of leverage and keeping an even head on the Yanks’ FO’s shoulders next offseason.

  12. craggy (formerly crapula) says:

    I can’t see them wasting both Phil and Joba in the pen since one or both are going to starters fairly soon. I like Ace and think he is very valuable to keep. I like Mitre but def think he’s a trading card.

    • Bo says:

      Wasting in the pen is a total fallacy. Like Hughes didnt pitch important innings last yr or something.

      • Big Juan says:

        You know that’s not what he means, Bo.

        Nobody denies that Hughes put important innings in the pen and pitched them extremely well.

        He (and others) thinks it’s a waste to have a capable starting pitcher throwing one or two innings at a time.

  13. Zack says:

    “We don’t know what kind of impression this has made on the Yankees’ brass”
    None, because it’s 5 and 6 innings.

    And putting Joba and Hughes is one of the worst choices that you can do with them. Regardless of what he said to Mike, all of Mike’s baseball interviews include Mike asking and re-asking the Joba to the bullpen question until the person just gives in.

  14. Bo says:

    Why would they go thru all the crap with Joba last yr just to put him in the pen to start the yr? Unless he completely implodes he has to start out as the 5th starter. They can transition him to the pen at any point.
    You cannot put too much faith in spring stats especially from pitchers.

    • Big Juan says:


    • A.D. says:

      And if he completely implodes, do you even want him in the pen then?

      • Templeton "Brendog" Peck says:

        i will bet you aq hundred dollars that mitre will easily pitch 200 innings in the next 4 yeears combined.depending on how long it takes him to implode wouldnt he have to be put through waivers to get sent down? so if that is the case yes, the pen is where he shall be. but, fingers crossed, he at least produces as a 4th or 5th starter

    • Steve H says:

      Completely agree. Joba made 30+ starts last year, and even if he puts up identical numbers, he’s a sufficient 5th starter in the AL East. If he improves, which he is likely to do, even better. And if he doesn’t hit the wall like he did last year, he just might end up as their #3.

      • king of fruitless hypotheticals says:

        wasnt that wall around his previous year’s innings total? i know verducci is about injury, but it seems like it should translate somewhat to performance too.

  15. larryf says:

    Frank Viola was on XM/Sirius yesterday and, when asked, said Joba should be in the pen and Phil should be starting. Just one baseball pitcher’s opinion…..

    • Steve H says:

      Frank Viola’s opinion is about as valid as everyone’s on this blog. Probably less valid, as I doubt he’s seen as many innings from these two, as well as done as much research as many people on here have.

      Had Joba not been placed in the pen in 2007, no one, I repeat, no one, would be suggesting he belongs in the pen.

      • Rose says:

        Same goes for Phil Hughes though. Had he not been in the pen last year…people wouldn’t be so easy with it either.

        In my honest opinion…I think Joba and Hughes are starters…BUT if you had to pick a starter and a reliever out of the two of them…I would put Hughes in the rotation and Joba in the bullpen. But that’s only if I had to choose between the two of them. And this also doesn’t include facts like Joba having no inning limits while Hughes does, etc. This is just if everything is even and laid out on the table.

        • Steve H says:

          If I had to choose, I’d probably prefer Joba as a starter than Hughes. His stuff and repertoire is better, which I think gives him a better chance of getting though a lineup 3 times. But like you said, the choice doesn’t have to be made, and it doesn’t sound like Viola was given a choice, he’s just a B-Jobber.

  16. Rose says:

    While a lot of people don’t put much stock in Spring Training results and/or statistics…you still have to put SOME into it.

    Pitchers are still trying to make pitches…they’re still throwing their stuff. Good pitches end with good results and bad pitches end with bad results. It’s that simple.

    Could some of these pitchers be rusty? Sure. But what is rusty? You’re practicing for quite some time…a lot of these guys played in some form of Winter Ball or practiced some how.

    Then there’s the opposite spectrum. Dice K played in the WBC and that was TOO MUCH.

    I don’t know the answer…I just think it is what it is I guess.

    • “It’s that simple.” No, it’s not. Nothing in baseball is simple.

      • Rose says:

        The IDEA of “Good pitches end with good results and bad pitches end with bad results.” is that simple.

        I didn’t mean that doing so was that simple.

        • No, it’s not that simple. Good pitches end up in the seats. Good pitches get hit off the wall. Good pitches might often end with good results, but it’s not an if-then statement.

          • Rose says:

            Then why do they say when a pitcher is having a stellar outing and one of his ‘good’ pitches get hit into the seats…they say “he made one bad pitch this outing” or whatever. Isn’t it automatically a bad pitch if it doesn’t do what you want it to?

            That’s like people who say it’s good luck when a seagull shits on your head. Isn’t that automatically bad luck? lol

            • Big Juan says:

              Isn’t it automatically a bad pitch if it doesn’t do what you want it to?

              No, that’s not what it means. Major league hitters are so freaking good that sometimes a great pitch ends up in the seats. Yes, the result is bad, but good pitches are not always successful — they can’t be or no one in baseball would ever get a hit.

              In the same way, bad pitches don’t always have bad results. Pitchers often get away with pitches that miss their location.

            • pete says:

              no that’s exactly what joe is saying – a good pitch is a well-executed pitch with good movement and location that is LIKELY to give you good results. Unless a particular pitch (including its location) has a 100% success rate, then that good pitch is guaranteed to have a bad result from time to time.

              similarly, if you throw an 85 mph fastball down the middle with no movement but the hitter misses it, is it a good pitch? no of course not. you just got lucky. That’s why nothing in baseball is simple – there is sooooooo much friggin luck that comes into play that to objectively analyze SSS performances based solely (or even significantly) on statistics is unwise.

            • No, it’s not automatically a bad pitch. There are two parties involved, pitcher and hitter. Even if the pitcher does everything right, and the ball does exactly what he wants it to, and the pitch, in general terms, can be deemed a good one, the batter can still square it up and hit it a mile.

    • Zack says:

      “Pitchers are still trying to make pitches…they’re still throwing their stuff.”

      But are they throwing their BEST stuff? Or are AJ and Hughes throwing change ups in new situations because it’s a pitch they both are working on? So instead of using their 1st or 2nd best pitch in a specific situation, they are forced to use their 3rd best, newly learned pitch in order to gain confidence and experience with it.

      • Rose says:

        Oh I agree…but those test pitches are still ending with a bad result more or less. Regardless of what it is…if that is in fact the case…the new pitch is ineffective. If it were effective, much better results would have been there.

        • Zack says:

          When you said results/stats were you talking about a guy’s ST ERA and game stat lines, or were you talking about the outcome of say a new pitch?

          • Rose says:

            More along the lines of the new pitch being ineffective. Had the pitcher stuck with what he was good at his results may be a lot better…but nobody really knows for sure I guess.

  17. larryf says:

    I do not like Joba’s mechanics as a starter. Too much arm/not enough body and leg=decreased longevity and increased injury risk. I predict he and his two pitches will end up in the bullpen-if not sooner-then later…

    • pete says:

      Joba’s repertoire – FB, Slider, Curveball developing changeup

      Hughes’s repertoire – FB, Curveball, developing cutter, developing changeup

      throw in the fact that with both on their games, Joba has an excellent fastball, one of the best sliders in the game, an average curve, and a slightly-below-average changeup while Hughes has a good fastball, good curveball, average cutter, and nowhere near average (yet) changeup. And yet somehow Hughes’s repertoire tells you he’s better suited to start than joba? Hmm

      • Steve H says:

        This. Joba could be a very successful starter throwing 2 pitches 95% of the time, because those two pitches are so good. Beckett/Burnett, several others are basically two pitch pitchers. Hughes’ stuff isn’t on par with Joba’s, he needs at least that 3rd pitch to become an above average starter.

  18. pete says:

    i’m still not sold on the “Hughes to the minors might be a waste” argument – how is it any more of a waste for him to be unrealistically blowing hitters away in the minors than unrealistically blowing hitters away in the majors? (Which is to say – I don’t think either are total wastes – in the minors he can stretch his arm out and be ready to handle a workload near 200 innings next year which might be necessary, and in the bullpen he can continue to hone his out-pitches which will help him get out of jams in the future).

    In my opinion, Joba needs to be the 5th starter all year this year, barring some kind of implosion (i.e. doesn’t look anywhere near ready by the END of ST – he has never been good throughout spring training so I don’t worry about his stats overall in spring), which I think would necessitate a demotion to AAA to start the year, not the bullpen. And I also think that with Mo, Robertson, Marte, Aceves, Gaudin, Mitre, and Park in the bullpen, the Yankees can afford to have Hughes start at AAA.

  19. Justin says:

    If the article is true and Joba or Hughes will get the spot whats the point of Spring Training competition why even say there’s an “open competition” when in fact we all know 1 of them will be the fifth starter. From what i have seen Aceves and Mitre have been pitching really good and Joba and Hughes have been stinkin’ it up. I think Aceves or Mitre as the 5th starter preferably Aceves than have Gaudin or Mitre long man and release one of them have joba and hughes as the 7th and 8th inning guys WOW what a bridge that would be to get to MO. but i dont think it will happen

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