Can Mitre succeed in the bullpen?

Open Thread: Blacked out
The "leader" of the fifth starter competition

Sergio Mitre doesn’t stand much of a chance to break camp as the Yankees’ fifth starter. After pitching well in his first few outings he came back to earth in his latest, quelling the story he had created a few weeks ago. He is once again an afterthought, a pitcher not totally taken seriously as a starting candidate for the Yankees. But, since he’s out of options, chances are he’ll head to Boston as a member of the bullpen.

Over the winter I wondered whether Kei Igawa would profile as a reliever. The idea came from The Hardball Times’s Jeff Sackmann, who identified key traits of quality relievers. These include pitching well the first time through the order (and also in the first inning of work), pitching well out of the stretch, and, less important for a righty like Mitre, strong platoon splits. If Mitre fares well in these aspects, perhaps he can survive as a short reliever. Otherwise, it’s difficult to determine his value to the team.

Mitre has a 5.56 career ERA, spanning 362.1 innings, so he’s already a prime candidate for bullpen conversion. As we often note, if you look through major league bullpens you’ll see a bevy of failed starters. That covers 90 games, 61 of which were starts. His relief numbers are actually worse than his starting numbers, a 6.44 ERA, though we can’t project much from a 36.1 inning sample. Still, perhaps there’s something in the numbers that provide an indicator.

Like most pitchers, Mitre is more effective when facing a batter for the first time. Opponents hit .260/.321/.393 off him initially, but as expected they get a bit better the second time, to the tune of .311/.367/.455. The second line is pretty horrible, and the first line doesn’t really stand out. In his 2007 season, however, Mitre did show better numbers the first time through the order. His OPS against the second and third time through were right around his career averages, but the first time through opponents hit .240/.286/.299. Unfortunately, we’re again dealing with a small sample, just 242 PA. To demonstrate what can happen in small samples, opponents hit .344/.373/.510 against Mitre the first time through in 2009, while they managed just .235/.297/.469 the second time through.

On pitches one through 25 for his career, opponents have hit .274/.337/.411 off Mitre, still not an eye-opening number. Again, he did a bit better in 2007, .248/.300/.309, but in that similarly short sample. In other words, over the only meaningful sample Mitre provides, his career numbers, he hasn’t fared too well in short bursts. Perhaps he’d change his style when relegated to the pen full-time, but that’s not something a team like the Yankees can bank on.

Worse yet, Mitre does not react well to having men on base. Pitching out of the stretch during his career he has allowed opponents to hit .323/.383/.472 over 759 PA. That is not a pitcher I want in with men in scoring position. His only saving grace in that regard is that he keeps the ball on the ground. Then again, that’s not a trait particular to having men on. He generally keeps the ball on the ground 60 percent of the time, which is the entire reason he continues to get a chance. It’s tough to ignore someone with that type of ground ball rate.

I do think that Mitre is better than he showed last season. Then he had just finished rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and surely wasn’t at his strongest. He also didn’t keep the ball on the ground quite to the rate he had earlier in his career. Given the chance I think he could be a decent fill-in starter. He pitched well in 2007 before getting hurt, and if he can rediscover that form he might provide value. I do not think, however, that it will be for the Yankees.

As I mentioned last night, the Yankees have one too many pitchers. Their choices involve optioning a good young pitcher, trading one, or designating one for assignment. The first doesn’t make much sense — unless the Yankees want to keep one pitcher stretched out at AAA (that could even be Aceves, I suppose). The second is an option for sure, but not one a team can rely on. That leaves the third. I think, though, that the Yankees would trade Mitre for peanuts before they released him. Again, he can fill a back of the rotation spot for a team in need. But given his track record, and given the construction of the Yanks roster, I don’t think it will be for them. There are just too many pitchers better than him who deserve the spot more.

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

Open Thread: Blacked out
The "leader" of the fifth starter competition
  • A.D.

    Wonder if Mitre has much to add to his stuff as a reliever? If he could add velocity, more power sinker, that could make a big difference.

    • Drew

      I’m a huge proponent of Mitre’s so maybe I’m viewing it through rose colored glasses but..

      I don’t think he needs to add much in terms of stuff. He’s got a 91-93 mph sinker and a really sick slider. The only thing, imo, preventing him from succeeding in any role is the ability to keep the sinker down. I thought that being further from TJS would make that happen, I still do. Unfortunately for me, I don’t think I’ll be able to see him perform to what I think are his abilities mainly because we don’t have room for him.

      • Angelo

        Drew you aren’t apart of the team, you are a fan as far as I know. Try not to say “we” or Mike Axisa will kill you. ;)

      • Bo

        how can anyone be a ‘huge proponent’ of mitre? do you also think that igawa has some promise and eric duncan is ready to take over 3rd and brackman will be a dominant ace?

        • Drew

          Good one.

  • Eirias

    You mention that “most” pitchers perform better the first time through the lineup. I can’t think of any exceptions. Who is the most notable pitcher with that reverse split?

    • Jimmy

      Jeff Sackmann of Hardball Times did a study of that in terms of how to identify which prospects are better suited for relief.

      In his study he found 60% of AAA pitchers had lower FIP for the first time through a lineup with some guys having significantly higher FIP for the first nine batters.

      It would be interesting to extend this study to all of the fringe starters in MLB.

  • BigBlueAL

    All of Mitre’s career numbers in the Major League suggests he would be a great fit in the bullpen… Scranton.

  • Bo

    Mitre is below average which is a nice way of saying hes terrible. If hes pitching in the Bronx this yr something is very wrong.

    • Rose

      Below average in what? Starting? Probably, but he’s making under a million dollars…so his production-to-cost value is actually pretty good compared to others out there. And when you put him in the bullpen where other guys like Brandon Lyon, John Grabow, Danys Baez, Ryota Igarashi, Takashi Saito, etc. making millions and millions of dollars…his production-to-cost ratio might be even a smidge better…

      • Steve H


  • Rose

    He’s a crapshoot. The reason he’s a failed starter is because he’s doesn’t have the stuff or consistency to be successful against professional hitters. Can he get through an inning unscathed here and there? Sure. I could essentially do that…but it won’t mean that I’m any good. He’s better than the average middle reliever and he’s probably worth more than he’s paid (only when based on salaries of other mid level relievers, certainly not based on talent alone).

    All bias aside, he wouldn’t be bad having around…and I say this as a guy who sits in a pile of bitten nails whenever he’s on the mound. But if he’s clogging up a spot for somebody better, he’s easily disposable.

  • theyankeewarrior

    Bullpen options:

    1) Send down Aceves, Joba or Hughes

    2) Trade Mitre or Gaudin

    3) Designate for assignment Mitre

    I like #2 (trading Mitre). Hopefully they can get a decent prospect or convince LA to let us keep Hoffmann for him.

    • Steve H

      I don’t think the decent prospect is coming, but if we convince the Dodgers that Hoffman is sticking, wouldn’t they take just about anything for him? If the Dodgers are told that there is no way they are getting Hoffman back, would they essentially take Mitre for free? Maybe they would, maybe not, but he’s cheap and he’s shown an ability to pitch in the NL.

      • Rose

        Where did you see that “the Dodgers not having a chance to get Hoffman back” info? I haven’t seen this…and why was this said?

        • A.D.

          Well the Yankees could basically say to the Dodgers: “We will keep Hoffmann on our 25 man all year, and we’re keeping him” you can either lose him for nothing, or we’ll trade you Mitre for the full rights to Hoffmann, because we’d prefer the flexibility.

  • Templeton “Brendog” Peck

    my question is, if you’re sergio mitre, why did you agree to a contract with the yankees? there are many teams that wouldve given you a roation spot…he must still be under team control

    • Steve H

      Because everyone wants to play for the Yankees and that’s why guys sign here for well below market deals?

      I think you’re right, I’m pretty sure he was under team control.

    • Joseph Pawlikowski

      Yeah. They were going to tender him a contract, I believe.

  • Slu