Sergio Mitre cleaning up starters’ messes

A historical look at the Yankees' 2010 draft selections
Series Preview: Yankees at Twins
Photo credit: Seth Wenig/AP

A sure sign that you’re the mop-up man in the bullpen: you’ve pitched in just two winning efforts all year. That pretty much defines the season for Sergio Mitre. He’s the long man and spot starter, which means he comes in only in the direst of situations. When Andy Pettitte had to miss a start, Mitre was the man. When a rain delay caused a schedule kerfuffle, Mitre took a turn. When the Yanks are down big, or when the starter doesn’t go long, Mitre’s the guy. He’s done rather well in these roles, perhaps well enough to earn himself a spot in higher leverage situations.

Mitre’s most recent appearances, both against the Mets this weekend, have impressed for a number of reasons. First, he held the Mets to just one hit in three innings, striking out two and walking none. Second, he didn’t allow them to make quality contact, as none of the hitters he faced hit the ball on a line. Third, he was replacing pitchers who had seen little luck facing the same hitters. On Saturday both Phil Hughes and Chan Ho Park allowed many more baserunners than innings pitched and each let the Mets extend their lead. On Sunday, after the Mets rocked CC Sabathia, Mitre tamed them with two perfect innings.

These performances have me wondering if Mitre might be an option of sorts for short relief. The Yankees have had some bullpen troubles, and could certainly use an effective arm. Why not ride the Mitre wave? He’s been a bit lucky so far — he won’t sustain his current .193 BABIP — but part of effective bullpen management is finding the pitcher who has everything working. That appears to be Mitre right now. Hitters just aren’t making great contact off him.

The biggest concern would be with his propensity to allow home runs. He has allowed three so far this year in 22 IP. That might be an improvement over his 2009 rate, but it’s still far too many for a high-leverage reliever. The mitigating circumstance here is that two out of the three came during starts, one of them coming off the bat of Justin Morneau on what appeared to be a decent pitch. The first, off the bat of a super-hot Ty Wigginton, came during Mitre’s third inning of work. While this doesn’t eliminate the home run threat, it certainly puts it in a bit more context. In high-leverage, short stints perhaps it wouldn’t be much of a problem.

We just don’t know, though, how Mitre would respond to high leverage at-bats. His pLI — the average Leverage Index (LI) of his appearances — is just 0.51. Of the 86 batters he has faced, only one has been in a high leverage situation. He did retire that batter on a grounder, but that’s meaningless in determining how Mitre would perform when faced with more of these situations. The only way to tell is by putting him into those situations in live games.

Will Girardi give him a shot? I doubt it. He clearly values having a long man in the pen, as he expressed when he explained why the team skipped Javier Vazquez‘s start last week. I’d like to see him get a shot, though. Mitre went through some tough times last year, but this year he has done his job and done it admirably. While some of the other guys struggle, and while Al Aceves sits on the DL, maybe the Yankees could find strength in their bullpen by using Mitre in short relief.

A historical look at the Yankees' 2010 draft selections
Series Preview: Yankees at Twins
  • mike c

    he’s definitely pitched well enough to earn the spot, at least while aceves is on the DL

    • mike c

      also re: mitre’s 2009 numbers, he was coming off TJ surgery as well. if i was girardi, i’d be cautiously optimistic regarding the use of this guy, especially given the condition of the alternatives at the moment

  • ADam

    I’d like to see Mitre get some opps as a set up guy this year. Yanks should try and bring up Redding or sign Gaudin to be the long man if Aceves is not the same and CHP continues to get lit up like a Christmas tree

    • Zack

      Yankees should not try and bring up Tim Redding, ever.

      • Templeton “Brendog” Peck


      • ADam

        Well whoever is has an arm in AAA that can eat up innings in games that are out of reach. If Mitre can be effective in short relief their is no reason to keep him on for mop up duty

      • Tom Zig

        The Tim Redding experiment ended years ago. Pass.

    • ClayBuchholzLovesLaptops

      I like this idea. If he has success, maybe we can trade him to Arizona to get IPK.


  • Brad Toughy

    Keeping Mitre over Gaudin has worked out so far. I know he took his licks last year, but he was coming off major surgery.

  • JohnC

    Gaudin got released by the A’s. What does that tell you about him?

    • Jammy Jammers

      He must have broken an unwritten rule.

  • Mike

    I think that Mitre should be given a shot to pitch in more important inning. I have been plessantly suprised how well he has pitch this year and Girardi deserves a lot of credit for having faith in Mitre. I like the stuff we have seen from Mitre so far because he has shown that even though he only throws about 89-91 mph that if you have good movement and command of your pitches then you can be effective.

    If Chan Ho Park is gonna stay on this team then he should be the mop-up guy. This guy is complete garbage and is being hit around like batting practice. This is not a suprise to me because I have always thought that his stuff is complete slop on its best day. I am still hopeful that eventually Cashman wakes up and realizes that Park is crap, get rid of him and brings up Melancon or Sanchez.

  • Lucas AA, aka don’t_bring_in_the_lefty

    I’m curious. His sinker is down about 2 mph from last year … isn’t he supposed to be getting stronger since the surgery?

    • Templeton “Brendog” Peck

      speed =/= effectiveness

      • Lucas AA, aka don’t_bring_in_the_lefty

        I’m not talking effectiveness here. It’s just that the further removed a pitcher is from arm surgery, the greater the velocity is.

        • Templeton “Brendog” Peck

          except if he isnt trying to throw it as hard because he realized he doesnt have to to be efective

          • Chris

            I doubt that it’s a conscious change. Starters moving to the bullpen rarely decide that they don’t need to throw as hard.

            In reality, I’m guessing that there is a misclassification of some of his pitches. Fangraphs has him at about 30% fastballs last season (about 60% in 2007). This year, that’s at 8%. There’s also been a noticeable shift in the movement on his fastball. It’s possible that he changed his grip/armslot/etc to actually change the pitch, but either way we’re not comparing apples to apples.

    • Steve H

      It could be a case of where he took off a little velocity to get more sink, but that’s just a guess on my part.

      • Brad Toughy

        I’d tend to agree with this. I’d imagine that the movement is more important to a sinkerballer than the velocity is. Mitre’s not trying to blow the ball by anyone, just force them to bang it into the ground.

    • Tom Zig

      But does 2MPH matter that much? Maybe last year he was overthrowing and subsequently missing spots?

  • Joe M.

    I’m going to go out on a limb and disagree with everyone here. I think Mitre’s real value is that he can go out and make spot starts. Putting him into a setup role sounds enticing given Chan Ho Park’s struggles, but that will limit how stretched out he is and his ability to make spot starts. Having that long man who can make decent spot starts has way more value than any additional setup guy.

    • CS Yankee

      Hopefully that is a good size limb because I’m out there with you. He is in the right role and is performing well. Joe has been loyal to him and we are now seeing some of those dividends.

      ChoP & Drob will likely payoff as well, but that BBoone Logan dude (no typo) is what scares me.

      • BG90027

        I agree. I get the idea that all innings aren’t equal but I don’t really understand why everyone wants to do away with the longman/spot starter role. Ramiro Mendoza was a very valuable reliver before his injuries. Mitre seems to fill this role nicely. We all accept that a 180 innings from a starter is more valuable than 60-70 innings from a setup man. If that’s true, isn’t 120 innings from Mitre as a long reliever/spot starter at least as valuable than 55-65 innings as a third, fourth or fifth option for an inning or two as a middle reliever?

        Aceves should be back soon so I’d ship Logan down when he gets back and let Marte, Drob, Park, & Aceves handle the middle innings. If Aceves or someone else ends up back on the DL, I’d consider moving Mitre to middle relief and filling the spot starter/long reliever spot with Romulo Sanchez or Ivan Nova. I wouldn’t do away with it altogher though. I think its an important role on the staff.

    • Chris

      In my opinion, if you move Mitre into higher leverage relief, then you would stretch out Park to be the long man.

  • The Captain’s Blog

    I hate to rain on the all Mitre love, but he has only pitched 22 innings this year, which doesn’t exactly erase his career record of sub-mediocrity.

    • Templeton “Brendog” Peck

      career record of sub mediocrity as a starter….just looking at it i would wager he could manage mediocrity as a reliever…..

      less times through the lineup, less dependence on lesser pitches, etc

      • Thomas

        While it is a small sample size (49 IP), but in relief Mitre has an ERA of 5.33 compared to a 5.42 ERA as a starter. He strikes out more, but has a worse K/BB rate. He does have a much better WHIP as a reliever by about .227, but his BABIP sit .094 point lower than as a starter. His FIP and xFIP this year sit slightly higher than his career averages nad his strand rate is at nearly 80% as well.

        I’d love Mitre to keep it up, but I suspect he will regress and be the mediocre pitcher he has been throughout his career.

        • Templeton “Brendog” Peck

          exactly. i said he could be a mediocre reliever.

        • mike c

          right but 2009 was a year after the surgery, and 2007 was a year before. there’s some room for improvement for the guy as the bullpen is still a relatively new place for him, especially at full health

  • Me

    Mitre to teh 8th!!111!!!11

  • Kiko Jones

    Um, of those vying for the starting rotation’s 5th spot in the Spring Training Sweepstakes it was Mitre who came out on top, numbers-wise. (Of course, we all know the brass was going to decide btwn Joba and Hughes, unless both became monuments of suck.) Just sayin’…