Monday, January 31, 2011

Meat Tray and Intergalactic Gas - It Might Work

Casual (and no so casual) observers have sat around this off season watching the New York Yankees pass on every pitcher on the board. It's almost like once they couldn't get Cliff Lee (who, of course, signed with the Phillies), nobody else looked good enough. They passed on Webb, Duchsherer, Young, Pavano, Capuano and Francis. What's left out there doesn't inspire anyone (Millwood, Garcia, etc). And so it looks like the Yankees are looking at Sergio Mitre and Ivan Nova as their fourth and fifth starters.

The only sure thing for the Yankees is Sabathia. He'll do what he always does and put up consistent and sometimes dominating numbers. Phil Hughes at times looks unhittable and at others, vulnerable. A. J. Burnett is a huge question mark. So it's not like the top three of the rotation looks all that stable. This puts even more pressure on Mitre and Nova to somehow make it work. Let's look at the two individually and then collectively.

Mitre, or "Meat Tray" as he is unaffectionately called by Yankee fans, doesn't inspire confidence of any of those fans. Mitre is the guy the Yankees would bring in the game (in 2010) when it was the eighth or ninth inning and it wasn't a close game. His counting stats look good for 2010 but they are a mirage. His still gave up more than a homer per nine innings just like always, but on batted balls overall, Mitre gave up a .226 batting average. There is no way to sustain that kind of luck. The other thing about Mitre is that he simply doesn't strike out enough batters. His 4.83 is soft and again, it's hard to sustain that kind of strikeout rate and stay competitive.

So, yeah, Mitre had a good ERA last year at 3.33. But his FIP was 4.69 and that isn't that great. The one positive about Mitre is that he throws many more ground balls than fly balls. That's a plus in a homer heavy park. Last year, the Yankees' infield wasn't very rangy, but they didn't make any errors either. If they can repeat that kind of fielding at least, ground balls are a good thing for the Yankees.

And then there is the intergalactic gas of Ivan Nova. The gas isn't for his fastball, but the heartburn most Yankee fans feel as him being counted on so heavily. Nova had some good moments in his brief stint in 2010 and he did finish with a positive WAR. His FIP of 4.40 was lover than his actual ERA of 4.50. But the two things that are bothersome about him are his immaturity and his lowish strikeout rate. Nova displayed some negative behavior in games that did not go well in 2010 and was unhappy when getting pulled from the game. He upset one team for head hunting after that team hit a homer against him. And then there is his strikeout rate of 5.57. That's better than Mitre, but it isn't great, especially in light of giving up 3.6 walks per nine innings. The Fan would be fine with this if he showed good strikeout rates in the minors, but he didn't. He did just about what he did for the big club.

And yet Nova has an upside. He, like Mitre, throws more ground balls than fly balls and unlike Mitre, Nova has a professional history of keeping the ball in the park, which carried over into the majors. His curveball was rated his best pitch in 2010 by Fangraphs. All of his other pitches came in slightly under zero on their scale. The other element that is interesting about Nova is that he tended to breeze through the batting order the first time and then ran into trouble the second time. If he can get through the batting order a second time and get some depth to his games, then he will be effective.

The fact that Mitre and Nova are ground ball pitchers makes their rotation status a bit more palatable...much more so than if they were fly ball pitchers. But still, it's no the kind of back end of a rotation that inspires any kind of confidence.With that said, you have to wonder why the Yankees let so many high risk (but also high reward) free agent pitchers go by without offers high enough to win their services.

It's going to be an interesting year in the Bronx.

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