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

Open Thread: Yanks take both games

The day didn’t start off so well for Javy Vazquez. On his first pitch of the afternoon, his first live pitch of the spring, Jimmy Rollins took him deep. Perhaps he should compare notes with A.J. Burnett. Thankfully, things went pretty well after that. Vazquez retired the next six hitters he faced, striking out four. Jon Albaladejo pitched a scoreless frame, though not without allowing three hits. David Robertson got a bit roughed up, allowing two runs in .2 innings.

While starter Kyle Kendrick pitched well for the Phillies, old friend Jose Contreras got rocked, allowing six runs in 1.2 innings. Swisher doubled off him twice, and Kevin Russo did once.

Over in Bredenton, Al Aceves was even more impressive, throwing four no-hit innings in a 6-0 victory. Ivan Nova, Jason Hirsh, and Zach McAllister followed with shutout innings of their own, with Nova allowing the only hit of the game.

Now for this evening’s open thread. Basketball is the theme of the evening. The Hawks visit the Knicks, while ESPN will have college hoops.

Cervelli cleared to resume activities tomorrow

Via LoHud, a neurologist has cleared Frankie Cervelli to resume physical activities tomorrow following his hit-by-pitch incident over the weekend. All of the tests came back clean, which is especially good considering Frankie suffered a head injury in winter ball as well. I’m sure the Yankees will take it easy with their backup catcher and give him some time off before getting him back into game action. Just glad everything’s okay. I hear the brain is important later on in life.

Report: A-Rod was treated by Dr. Galea

Via the AP, Alex Rodriguez received treatment from Dr. Anthony Galea for his hip last spring. Galea is currently under investigation for supplying human growth hormone to athletes, though he maintains that he prescribed nothing more than anti-inflammatories for A-Rod‘s troublesome hip. The Yanks’ third baseman has already said he’ll cooperate with federal authorities, and I suspect this will get made into a bigger story than it really is. What else is new in the world of Alex Rodriguez.

Link Dump: Park, IPK, Jeter, BP Rankings

These links have a lower Spring Training ERA than Jon Albaladejo … combined.

Chan Ho hurts his hiney

Doing his best Carl Pavano impression, Chan Ho Park suffered what was called a “sore glute” while getting his running in today. The Yankees canceled his planned live batting practice session this afternoon as a precaution, and he’ll throw tomorrow instead. Park, along with Mariano Rivera and Damaso Marte, should get into their first Spring Training game in a week or so.

Moving to the NL doesn’t guarantee Ian Kennedy success

When the Yankees sent Ian Kennedy to Arizona as part of the Curtis Granderson trade, the immediate thought was that the former first round pick would enjoy some immediate success in the senior circuit. Surely, the lack of a DH and the the three pitcher’s parks in the NL West would be kinder than the AL East, but as our own Joe P. mentions at FanGraphs, IPK’s fly ball tendencies don’t fit to well with Chase Field, where he’ll do the majority of his pitching in 2010 (presumably).

With Brandon Webb likely to start the season on the DL, the Diamondbacks currently have IPK penciled into their third starter’s spot. Yikes.

Could Derek Jeter become the greatest Yankee ever?

I’m inclined to say no, but Anthony McCarron of the Daily News makes a long and convincing case. For what it’s worth, Jeter is 60th all-time with 68.7 career WAR. Babe Ruth? Try 172.0 career WAR. I’d call that an uphill battle.

Baseball Prospectus’ Organization Rankings

As prospect season comes to a close, the last set of rankings we’ll see are BP’s rankings of the thirty farm systems (subs. req’d). The bottom half was posted today, and the Yankees came in at number 26 overall. While the presence of Jesus Montero gives the team a bonafide superstar prospect, the knock against them is that none of their upper level pitchers have high ceilings, and they don’t have any position players close to contributing (besides Montero). They do note, however, that the team has several prospects in the lower minors that could take a big step forward this season.

Kevin Russo just trying to stay healthy

Chances are, Kevin Russo won’t make the Yankees. The Yankees need a backup infielder who can play every position, and Russo has played just six games at shortstop during his minor league career. Beyond that, he has played just 161 games over the last two seasons due to injuries. While the Yankees thought well enough of him to place him on the 40-man roster and protect him from the Rule 5 draft, he probably needs another year of seasoning before he’s considered for a major league roster spot. You can get to know Russo a bit better, before he heads to the minors, in this article by Donnie Collins of the Times-Tribune, Chad Jennings’s former paper. A healthy season could open a few more eyes in New York.

Spring Training Game Thread: What do you mean, split squad?

Ah the joys of Spring Training. We’ve got our first split squad game of the preseason today, as half the team will be in Bradenton playing the Pirates this afternoon while the other half will be home in Tampa to take on the Phillies. We’re getting the home game of course, and for the first time since 2004, Javy Vazquez will be pitching in a Yankee uniform.

Vazquez is last starter to throw in some form of game action following Andy Pettitte‘s simulated game yesterday. I’m sure he’ll be held to the same 35 pitch limit the other starters were held to their first time out, and chances are he won’t be throwing much more than his fastball and a handful of breaking balls.  Thankfully, he won’t be matched up against Roy Halladay.

Here’s the starting lineup…

Gardner, CF
Johnson, DH
Teixeira, 1B
Posada, C
Cano, 2B
Swisher, RF
Thames, LF
Russo, 3B
Pena, SS

Scheduled Pitchers: Javy Vazquez, Mark Melancon, Royce Ring, David Robertson

Jesus Montero is scheduled to take over behind the dish once Posada gets a few at-bats. First pitch is set for 1:05pm, and you can watch on either YES or MLB Network. Enjoy the game.

Photo Credit: Kathy Willens, AP