Will Burnett work in more changeups this season?

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We can count on a few stories to pop up multiple times every spring. Some players show up in the best shapes of their lives. While that’s probably the most common spring cliche, pitchers developing new pitches over the off-season ranks pretty close. The attached assumption is that another pitch means another weapon. Many pitchers, however, never implement this new pitch. They can work on it all off-season, but until they start throwing it in games they won’t really know how it works. And since throwing it in games can cost runs, some pitchers shy away.

We won’t know until April whether A.J. Burnett will use his changeup more in 2010, but he certainly worked on it this off-season. In fact, as Carig tells us, he worked on it harder than in any previous off-season. Adding a dependable changeup to his arsenal could keep hitters even more off-balance when his curveball is working well, and could provide a backup plan on days where his curveball falls flat. But even given his hard works and the effect it could have on his success, Burnett won’t commit to mixing it in more often. “Whether I throw it or not, I don’t know,” he said.

To help him better develop the changeup, Burnett sought out 40-year-old Reds reliever Arthur Rhodes. It sounds perfectly normal for pitchers to seek advice from their elders, especially when they live nearby in the off-season. Rhodes has been a fine pitcher over his 18-year career, striking out nearly a batter an inning while maintaining a 4.15 ERA (107 ERA+). Without the 82 innings he’s pitched against the Yankees, though, that would be a 3.88 ERA. He has also allowed eight runs in 6 playoff innings against the Yankees, though seven of those runs came during two games in the 2000 ALCS.

I’d love to see Burnett work in a third pitch, but it’s not a simple process. I assume he’ll throw it a bit more often once the spring games start to see if he can get a feel for it. But even then he might not have enough confidence, no matter how much progress he’s making. Without full confidence in a pitch we can’t expect a pitcher to use it, no matter how much it could potentially improve his arsenal. With Burnett, I’ll expect another season of fastball-curveball, and take any further changeup usage as a bonus.

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

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  • Accent Shallow

    It could happen, but Burnett is 33. I’d be very surprised if he changes much of anything.

  • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

    Even if he does work in a change, I don’t see it having a huge impact for AJ. Generally you only throw a change against a LHB for a RHP, and vice versa. AJ for his career has been essentially been equal against both LHB and RHB, so it’s not like lefties have hurt him or even hit him better, which is rare. In fact, last year AJ thoroughly dominated LHB and struggled against RHB. It’s not a bad idea to add a 3rd pitch, but AJ’s stuff isn’t really the issue. He could have a Dice-K arsenal and still look like Sidd Finch some days, and Sidney Ponson others.

    • http://none Michael

      He looked great against us in 08.

      I think the issue is Jorge Posada. I love Jorge’s bat, but anyone that’s watched the way he handles pitchers that he’s not familiar with, knows that he’s probably the issue in that partnership.

      Cervelli will probably start to catch AJ after he gets lit up in April.

      • Tom Zig

        I don’t think there is enough evidence to suggest your conclusion.

        • http://none Michael

          I think because Jorge has been pretty decent at throwing out runners, fans have a perception that he’s a good catcher.

          AJ is inconsistent, but Jorge is consistently bad when catching guys he’s not familiar with.

          • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

            How can you determine that Jorge is bad and not the pitcher? Jorge is not a good defender, but he does not throw the pitches. Using AJ Burnett as your example is very flawed, since AJ has been utterly inconsistent his whole career, regardless of who was catching.

      • Andy (different one) in chilly NYC

        How many times do we have to hear this?

        Sorry, but A.J. pitched great games to Jorge, and “bad A.J.” games to Molina. Just look at the two bad games in last year’s post-season, both to Molina.

        Can you say, “Small sample size”?

        • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

          You can even take away the SSS issued and look at the large sample size that is AJ’s career. He has been completely inconsistent from day 1. This “Good AJ”, “Bad AJ” thing didn’t develop when he got to the Yankees and started pitching to Posada and Molina. Blame the pitcher.

          • Andy (different one) in chilly NYC

            Right.
            I was simply speaking to the smaller part of his statement which incorrectly blames Jorge. He has his defensive issues, but it’s wrong to blame him for A.J’s bad games.

            And the “small sample size” thing was actually meant to refer to how he seemed not to have a single bad game against us in 2008. :-)

            • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

              He also dominated the Red Sox in 2008 and didn’t in 2009.

              The reason: Jorge Posada.

              SSS ftw!

        • http://none Michael

          You’re only going to have to hear it until Jorge is no longer catching.
          Then, it will stop.

          • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

            You specifically said Jorge is probably the problem in the partnership. Do you reallly think AJ is great otherwise? He has been inconsistent with every catcher who he has pitched to in his whole career, it’s not a new phenomenon.

          • bexarama

            You don’t seem to understand the concept of small sample size. Andy Pettitte has an .861 OPS-against when Cervelli’s catching him and a .736 OPS-against when Posada’s catching him. Nobody is claiming that this means Cervelli can’t catch Andy.

          • Tom Zig

            We should sign/trade for Paul Bako then

            h/t Mike Axisa

      • pete

        posada is a pretty shitty fielding catcher, that’s not really in question. But a guy like AJ knows what pitches to throw when and where. Jorge doesn’t have all that much to do with it

  • A.D.

    Ohhh the spring training storylines.

    Would nice to even just have a show me change to keep a few batters honest on the power stuff.

  • Chris

    I’m really interested to get a few more years of Pitch f/x data. Until now, it’s been very difficult to track whether a pitcher has changed his repertoire, lost velocity, etc. It’s possible that pitchers adding new pitches isn’t as strange as one would initially think.

  • CountryClub

    Well, he did throw it almost 10% of the time in his last NL season. So, you never know.

  • http://dontbringinthelefty.blogspot.com Lucas A.

    If I’m not mistaken, Burnett’s changeup usually sits in the upper 80s. Due to the small difference in velocity from his fastball, I think that his changeup would be most effectively used as a groundball pitch.

  • J.R.

    Remember a few years ago when Mo was working with a changeup?

    • Thomas

      I’ve heard Rivera’s cutter is actually the worst of his 26.7 pitches (the change is the 12th best). However, he doesn’t see any challenge in using his better pitches.

    • J.R.
      • Rob D.

        He even threw it in spring training a few times. He dropped one on Josh Hamilton (IIRC) that was just dirty.

        • bexarama

          IIRC it was Morneau, he struck out, and he just burst out laughing afterward. I could be wrong about who it was though.

    • Templeton “Brendog” Peck

      maybe he doesnt plan on busting it out til he cant get by on cutter alone. i mean that could prolong his career by anywhere from a yr to any number as long as he can still get people out. and a new pitch, if he can master it, would do that.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WvVZQnELQ9s nyyankeefanforever

    The action on AJ’s fastball is one of the craziest things AL batters face all year and say so. Only problem is it surprises Posada and AJ where it goes as much as the batters, and that’s his go-to pitch in deep counts. So he walks too many guys and gets forced into pitching from the stretch early in innings, which takes something off the fastball. If he picks up a change-up he can control, it would be lights-out deadly with two strikes at any count, and make his fastball even scarier. AJ’s gonna rock this year, I’ll bet!

    For even more Yankee fun, see the musical comedy vid “Joe’s Job – The Ballad of Terry Francona” at

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WvVZQnELQ9s

    It’s must-see fun Yankee and Red Suks fans alike!

  • BurnedGoblinEarHair

    A good third pitch would do wonders for AJ.