As you probably already know, D.J. Mitchell was part of the Ichiro trade. If you read this site regularly, you know that I am not a big fan of D.J. Mitchell. Since the trade, he has been good for Tacoma, with a 3.33 FIP. In the Yankees AAA, he wasn’t bad, with a 3.96 FIP and 3.92 SIERA. So what are the reasons for not being high on Mitchell. Most of it lies on his fastball. Simply, he sits at 87-88 mph.
On Saturday against the Cardinals AAA affiliate, Mitchell had a start riddled with bad luck (2.74 FIP but 12.46 ERA). He struck out just 4 and walked 2. His sinker/fastball got hit hard a few times despite being located down and away. Mitchell’s off-speed got him some whiffs, especially his change-up. His curve was located pretty well, and he showed that he could throw it for strikes. While, he had some good luck (when he gave up a hard line drive right at Catricala for an out), he gave up several ground-balls that barely made it out of the infield. Guillermo Quiroz also had a rough day behind the plate, letting a few balls get through. There were a few balls that were hit pretty hard off Mitchell, but when he left the game with 2 runners on base, Steven Hensley promptly let them score.
So what about Mitchell’s long term prospects? Here is the list of qualified right-handed MLB starters that have an average fastball of 87-88 MPH: No one. Jered Weaver is awesome (3.59 FIP), and averages just 88.3 MPH. Jason Marquis averages 88.5 MPH on his fastball. Tim Hudson averages 88.9 MPH, as does Carlos Zambrano. Dan Haren has averaged 88.6 MPH this year, but that is quite a bit down from what it was last year (and he is struggling much more than he has in the past). Pitchers like Tom Milone, Jason Vargas, and Paul Maholm average between 87-88 MPH on their fastballs, but they are left-handed. The lowest 3 (qualified) pitchers in average fastball velocity are all right-handed. R.A. Dickey is a knuckleballer, Derek Lowe was DFA’d by the Indians this year (but signed by the Yankees), and Bronson Arroyo has been solid this year, but has been extremely hittable in the past.
Many have suggested that Mitchell’s future is in the bullpen, and I believe they are right. If we assume he adds 1-2 MPH on his fastball in the bullpen (bumping him up to 88-89 MPH), the only 2 qualified righties in the bullpen are Huston Street (2.95 FIP in his career) and Kameron Loe (3.36 ERA over the last 3 years). So it is not a high number of pitchers he compares with (on fastball alone), but they are quality pitchers. While Mitchell’s splits aren’t bad (his BB% and LD% are actually higher against right-handers), it appears that his sinker is easier to drive, even when it is way off the plate, for lefties. His plan against lefties, and it seems to be working, is to just throw a ton of off-speed pitches. The only problem with this is that mistakes could be absolutely crushed by power lefties. While it seems that Mitchell makes less mistakes than the average AAA pitcher, good left-handed hitters can destroy curveballs when they know it is coming.
There just isn’t a great history of guys like D.J. Mitchell succeeding in the big leagues. Even with the Mariners loaded bullpen, Mitchell will get his chance soon enough if he keeps putting up the numbers he is in Tacoma. When rosters expand to 40 in September, you can almost guarantee that Mitchell will be up with Seattle. My guess is that he will pitch exclusively out of the bullpen for the Mariners this year and be given a shot at a rotation job in 2013. My guess on the eventual role for Mitchell will be low-leverage long-man type reliever along with occasional spot starts. Despite what some of his numbers say, I am just not ready to believe in him yet.