Jun
28

The Burnett identity

By

A.J. watches another hard hit ball go past him. (Photo Credit: Mark J. Terrill, AP)

Over the weekend, A.J. Burnett, the Yankees’ $82.5 million man, joined an semi-exclusive club of Bronx hurlers. In the Expansion Era, he is now the 62nd pitcher to throw 300 innings or more in the pinstripes. Unfortunately for the Yankees, the recent ones have been historically bad, and the team’s investment is looking shaky at best.

When Burnett failed to pitch out the fourth on Saturday, he sealed the book on a historically bad month. For June, he was 0-5 with an 11.35 ERA in just 23 innings. He allowed 35 hits and 17 walks while surrendering 9 home runs and striking out 19. Opposing hitters tattooed him to the tune of a line .357/.455/.724 line. No pitcher in Yankee history has had a month with five starts and an ERA that high, and the bad pitching didn’t just start with the new month. Going back May 9, Burnett is 2-7 with a 7.71 ERA, a 1.83 WHIP and 12 home runs allowed. Opponents are hitting .315/.405/.574. That’s better — or worse– than a lineup of nine Albert Pujols.

With these ten starts, Burnett has established himself in the annals of Expansion Era pitchers. Let’s take a look at some tables, courtesy of Baseball Reference’s Play Index. We start with those with the highest ERAs after 300 innings.

We continue with the context. Here’s how the same chart looks with ERA+. This allows us to see how these pitchers fared relative to their peers at the time. It’s a bit more of an honest look at these numbers.

Rk Player ERA+ IP
1 Mike Kekich 76 564.0
2 Andy Hawkins 76 378.2
3 Fred Talbot 78 374.1
4 Tim Leary 79 425.2
5 Sterling Hitchcock 88 402.0
6 Rollie Sheldon 90 389.1
7 Kenny Rogers 93 324.0
8 Scott Sanderson 93 401.1
9 Luis Tiant 93 332.0
10 Hideki Irabu 95 395.2
11 Chuck Cary 95 309.1
12 Shane Rawley 95 444.1
13 Dennis Rasmussen 96 597.1
14 A.J. Burnett 96 301.1
15 Greg Cadaret 97 439.0
16 Jim Abbott 98 374.1
17 Scott Kamieniecki 99 627.1
18 Bob Shirley 99 470.2

What we see here is a problem. Burnett has found himself in the company of the some of the worst pitchers to don the pinstripes over the past 50 years, and no one wanted to see that outcome so early on in Burnett’s contract.

When A.J. came to the Bronx, the Yanks knew their signing was a risky one. The team had to outbid the Braves during the winter of 2008, and Brian Cashman ended up forking over $82.5 million for five years. Year One was fine. He went 13-9 with a 4.04 ERA, but he walked too many guys and saw his K/9 IP dip from 9.4 to 8.5. However, he came through when the team needed him to.

He threw a three-hit, one-run, six-inning performance against the Twins in the ALDS. He struggled in the ALCS but roared back in the World Series. Over 7 innings against Pedro Martinez and one night after Cliff Lee outdueled CC Sabathia, Burnett gave up two runs on four hits and struck out nine to even up the World Series. That Game 2 victory is why Burnett has received a pass while Javier Vazquez was booed mercilessly and his April — bad but not as bad as Burnett’s June — was scrutinized with a fine-tooth comb.

Later this week, AJ’s narrative will run a new course. The Yanks’ pitcher has said that he leans on Dave Eiland more so than some of the team’s other pitchers, and Eiland has been absent from the team for nearly a month. He should be returning tomorrow, and Burnett is due to pitch on Friday. If anyone can fix Burnett, it will be Eiland, but considering how Burnett has 1600 big league innings under his belt and 1300 of those were without Eiland, I remain skeptical.

Instead, I see signs of decline. His K rate has gone from 9.6 and 9.4 in 2006 and 2007 to 6.9 this year. He’s allowing nearly three more hits per 9 innings than he did while with the Blue Jays, and Pitch f/x says that the fastball has lost a full mile per hour from last year and nearly three miles per hour since 2007. The Pitch f/x data isn’t the most consistent across the years, but it’s not uncommon for a 33-year-old to see his stuff decline.

The Yanks won’t skip any Burnett starts. Rather, they need to straighten him out. They know he can pull off a 4-1 month with an ERA under 2.00 as he did in April, and they seem to be waiting out this horrendous cold streak. But lurking in the not-so-dark recesses of my mind is the fear that the AJ we know is the AJ we have. He’ll have some good stretches and then he’ll be awful. He’ll be paid handsomely by the Yanks through his age 36 season, and I’d be lying if I said I were looking forward to it.

Categories : Pitching
  • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

    I guess Mike Kekich’s wife was trading up in that swap, eh?

    http://www.instantrimshot.com

    • Thomas

      Yeah, but it was easier for her to score playing with Kekich.

  • Scout

    Burnett may be reaching the age when, as his stuff declines, he needs to become more of a pitcher and less of a thrower. That is, to be effective, he’ll have to learn to change speeds on his fastball, learn an effective change-up, improve command at lower velocity to spot his pitches. Others have done so (look how effective Mussina was at the end of his career when he couldn’t hit 90 anymore), but it is no sure thing. And Burnett won’t make the transition until it is clear to HIM that he has to do it — so assume it won’t happen until at least next spring training.

    • Pete

      did you write this in 2005?

  • Rose

    Instead, I see signs of decline.

    Perhaps…but no decline is this drastic, bad, and spontaneous. You would think there would be a gradual decline or at least relatively gradual. This is really just beyond awful. He went from a 1.99 ERA, walking 2.45 batters per 9 on average and a 1.20 WHIP to a 7.71 ERA and 1.83 WHIP. Now he’s walking almost everybody…and when he’s not…they’re either hitting the gaps or taking it yard (for the most part). But his strike outs are up since April! Pointless…

  • nsalem

    unless he got old in 2 months it may not be about decline but rather
    career long inability to focus. I think he will be okay again soon
    (for how long who knows).

  • al

    This is sort of what we signed up for. HOWEVER… I think we can’t forget what he’s capable of on any given night. Granted, it would be nice for AJ to have a little more Andy in him and be able to battle without his best stuff, but he’s never been that kind of pitcher.

    Still – come October – he gives the Yankees the hope for a shutdown power pitcher who can dominate the game. As long as that pitcher surfaces at some point in October, you have to ride the crests and troughs of the season. Good AJ. Bad AJ. Let’s hope Good AJ surfaces in October. If he doesn’t – well… CC, Phil, Andy, Javy – you could do worse.

    • whozat

      It’s not being wthout his best stuff that’s the problem, it’s being without his best command.

  • Bret

    Unfortunately I think it is worse than you made it seem if that is possible. Two of Burnett’s great starts were against the O’s who are in position to be the 2003 Detroit Tigers with fewer runs scored. In his first two starts against them he gave up 0 earned runs. He had the one good 5 inning start in Minnesota but otherwise he has been much worse than what his stats indicate. All games count in the big leagues but the Yanks schedule is going to get harder, many more games against the Rays, few against the O’s plus they are done with a huge interleague soft spot where Burnett was supposed to get on track. Against patient teams that force him to throw strikes he is going to be in real trouble – I’m not so sure putting him in the bullpen and going after Cliff Lee wouldn’t be the best move for everyone.

    • Guest

      I am not saying you’re wrong here Bret, but the idea of an 82 million dollar bullpen arm…the mind boggles (looks like the Cubs are going to have deal with that with Zambrano, but they’re the Cubs and we’re the Yankees).

      Plus, I just don’t think we should trade for Lee. His value is as high as it could possibly be right now and the Mariners are going to want the sun, the moon, and the stars if they have to trade him within the AL. He will be a free agent in two months (Lee has given absolutely no indication that he isn’t planning on testing those waters). Just like we did when we waited on CC back in 2008, we should wait on Lee and sign him in the off-season if we really want him. Let some other team give up the farm for the last two months of 2010.

      Our rotation, as it stands, is good enough to get us into the playoffs and do some serious damage/win it all once/if we get there.

      • nsalem

        true

    • Rose

      Well you could say the same thing for Vazquez who has turned it around against the Orioles, Mets (twice), Astros, Blue Jays and Tigers. The Twins and Diamondbacks beat him up a little bit during that span.

      It’s all relative.

      • Chris

        Here’s how those teams rank in runs scored and OPS:

        Orioles: 27th / 26th
        Mets: 14th / 18th
        Astros: 28th / 30th
        Blue Jays: 13th / 9th
        Tigers: 18th / 6th
        Diamondbacks: 9th / 8th
        Twins: 15th / 7th

        So… the Orioles and Astros suck, but the other teams are all decent offenses.

        • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

          And I think when we played the Blue Jays they were on a ridiculous hot tear and were like #2 or 3 in runs scored. Same with the Tigers.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      Unfortunately I think it is worse than you made it seem if that is possible. Two of Burnett’s great starts were against the O’s who are in position to be the 2003 Detroit Tigers with fewer runs scored. In his first two starts against them he gave up 0 earned runs. He had the one good 5 inning start in Minnesota but otherwise he has been much worse than what his stats indicate. All games count in the big leagues but the Yanks schedule is going to get harder, many more games against the Rays, few against the O’s plus they are done with a huge interleague soft spot where Burnett was supposed to get on track. Against patient teams that force him to throw strikes he is going to be in real trouble –

      Agreed. Well said.

      – I’m not so sure putting him in the bullpen and going after Cliff Lee wouldn’t be the best move for everyone.

      Batshit insane.

      • Chris

        So far this year, against playoff caliber opponents he has 2 good starts against Minnesota, one good start against the Rays, one good start against Texas, and four bad starts (BOS, BOS, TBR, and PHI). I don’t think there’s a real indication that he can’t beat good teams. When he pitches poorly he can’t beat good teams, but when he pitches poorly he can’t even beat bad teams.

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

          I was throwing him a bone.

  • Frank

    I don’t think it’s physical decline at all (at least not yet). AJ still brings it 95 with the nasty hook. His problem may be due in part to mechanics, but for the most, it’s rooted between his ears. That said, coupled with Hughes facing an innings limit and to a lesser degree, an inconsistent Vazquez, I wouldn’t rule out the Yanks going after Lee. While they certainly don’t want to give up top prospects for a player they will be faviored to sign in the off-season, they may have no choice unless they pull a rabbit out of their hat from the minors, or trade for a lower profile starter, say someone like Lilly. But right now, AJ can’t be counted on in a must win situation. Fortunately, there is still time to straighten him out. But if this continues for another month, they will definitely be exploring a trade.

  • vin

    As awful as he’s been, I’m not really worried. He still has tremendous movement, and the velocity is down only slightly from last year. That tells me that he’s not injured, and is problem(s) is either mechanical or mental.

    His k/9 is down because he’s leaving balls out over the plate. What we’ve seen the last month, is exactly what he did against the Angels and Phillies in game 5. Pitches are either right down the middle, or a foot and a half outside. If he can’t command the FB, no one will care about the curveball because he’s never been able to consistently throw that for strikes.

    My guess is that Eiland’s return will help AJ, but who knows? The important thing is that he’s healthy – his problems are correctable.

  • john doe

    The rumor is Mejia and Pagan for Lee. The basic idea being they want to beat the 2 supplemental picks they would get for letting Lee go. I would think trading Vazquez (Type A free agent) picking up some of his salary plus a couple of prospects like Laird and a pitcher maybe McCalister would get this done. Burnett would then be your 5th starter. I hope Aceves comes back to be his caddy.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      No.

      To all of this.

    • Tampa Yankee

      Burnett would then be your 5th starter.

      Here’s the great thing about the Yankees staff, it seems like when 1 of the 5 is struggling, the other 4 pick up their game. So, with Burnett struggling, he’s basically our #5. If he is still struggling at the end of the year, then I am more than comfortable running CC, Hughes, Andy, Javy out there in the playoffs.

  • Ghost of Scott Brosius

    Burnett’s problems right now scream not decline or telling statistical change, but rather temporary breakdown- he just does not have control of his pitches. While the effects of a breakdown like this are more immediately noticable and upsetting than a general slow decline, it scares me less, because it can most likely be corrected. We’ve seen stuff like this from Burnett before, and we’ve also seen him turn it around.

    Also, please let’s not use the Burnett situation to rationalize a nonsensical Cliff Lee trade. Getting Lee now means further depleting a bottom ten farm system, plus another huge contract. If we really need Lee to win a World Series this year, I’d rather take an LDS or LCS loss this year and go after another title next year, with Lee signed and our system intact. Reckless pursuit of a title every year will end up costing titles down the line.

    • Guest

      Co-sign.

      We’ve done the reckless mid-season trade thing before. It was called the 80′s. Didn’t work out too well.

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

        If Burnett is a total traveshamockery and needs to be phantom DL’d for the year because he’s totally lost it, I support trading for a new starting pitcher to take his place in the 2010 rotation.

        Just not Cliff Lee. That’s f#$%&ing ridiculous. I’ll sell high on Brandon Laird and Eduardo Nuñez or some other non-elite prospects for Jake Westbrook/Ted Lilly/Livan Hernandez/Ben Sheets/Justin Duchscherer/etc. and call it a day.

        We don’t need to replace Burnett with a Cy Young winner, we just need a 105ish ERA+.

        • jsbrendog (returns)

          2 words. sidney. ponson.

          • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

            He’d bring beer. That’s a plus.

    • wilcymoore27

      I agree 100% with Ghost on this.

    • john doe

      I do not understand- does a Vazquez trade for Lee ruin the system- I do not see how a guy like laird ever plays a big part on the mmajor league team- Would the people on this site not trade Vazquez (Two Type A’s) Laird and lets say McCalister for Lee- I doubt the Yanks even offer Vazques the arbitration necessary to get the two picks

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

        A.) The Mariners aren’t trading Cliff Lee for Javy Vazquez and prospects. That deal just flat out doesn’t make sense. This idea is a nonstarter. If they move Lee, it’d be for real prospects, not marginal ones like Laird and ZMac + two draft picks. If the anchor of their strategy is to rely on the two draft picks, they’d want to get them from letting Lee walk and not Javy, because Javy would get a far lower Elias ranking and you’d run the risk of only getting a second rounder for him if someone signs Javy + another Type A free agent. Lee’s guaranteed to be the #1 Type A available and get you a pick somewhere in the 20-30 range.

        B.) We don’t need to trade Vazquez for Lee. Javy Vazquez isn’t our problem. AJ Burnett is. I fail to see how this Vazquez + prospects for Lee idea solves the Burnett problem.

        C.) Mix in some proper punctuation, please. It helps the conversation flow much easier. Thanks in advance.

        • Ghost of Scott Brosius

          Bingo. What people need to realize is that the problem isn’t that Burnett’s not pitching like an ace- we have other aces. It’s that he’s not pitching like a capable starting pitcher- which is why we might need a capable starting pitcher to replace him. NOT a fucking top 5 pitcher in baseball.

        • john doe

          I apologize about the punctuation. I am on a lunch break at my job. You should try getting a job.

          • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

            I have a job. At that job I’m required to speak and write in proper English, because my communication is reflective of the competency of my office.

  • http://theyanhkeeu.com Moshe Mandel

    I think it’s hard to argue with the idea that Burnett has pitched poorly or that it’s possible that he is declining. One very minor quibble:

    “Burnett has found himself in the company of the some of the worst pitchers to don the pinstripes over the past 50 years.”

    I’d think the worst pitchers tend not to get to 300 innings and would not make this sample.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      That’s a shot at Kei Igawa.

      • vin

        Fun fact of the day:

        Igawa has now thrown over 400 innings in Scranton.

  • nolan

    Does Burnett have a no trade clause?

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      Yes.

      Not that you should care to ask. A pitcher pitching as bad as he is with a 16.5M salary has a de facto no trade clause, whether or not one is actually in his contract.

      • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

        y-you mean we’re not getting Cliff Lee for AJ Burnett straight up??? (sob)

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

          If A.J. was in the last year of the deal, yeah, maybe someone would bite on swapping his bad deal for one of their own.

          He’s got 3.5 years and almost 60M left in contractual obligations. He’s going nowhere, unless he starts pitching like an ace, in which case we wouldn’t be interested in trading him anyway.

  • wilcymoore27

    I think the article is too pessimistic. I don’t see a decline here, I see a really bad slump. A. J. will get out of it, but he’ll have more slumps in the future. For whatever reason he’s an inherently inconsistent pitcher. Thus, “Good A.J./Bad A.J.”

    The Yanks knew this when they got him. No need to get all panicky over it.

  • http://twitter.com/j_sprouse2213 (The Real) James

    I will not excuse the HORRID month that AJ had. The worst in Yankees history, which is the main reason he finds himself on that list.

    But 2 things that need to be said and repeated, IMO.

    1) The Yankees don’t win the 2009 World Series without AJ Burnett. I think people have grossly undervalued how big game 2 of the World Series was for the Yankees. If they lose that game they are going to Philly down 2-0 vs the defending champs with a former WS MVP staring them in the face. It’s not just a “pass”…it’s showing a guy respect that played a HUGE role in helping the team win a world championship.

    2) If you want to bitch and whine about AJ’s Burnett’s contract then go right ahead. But i can tell you that i will sleep very well at night knowing the Yankees didn’t sign Derek Lowe over AJ Burnett…even if game 2 of the 2009 WS is all AJ has to show for the rest of his days in NY.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      The Yankees don’t win the 2009 World Series without AJ Burnett.

      That’s not true. That assumes that if we hadn’t signed A.J. Burnett to a 5 year, 82.5M deal in the winter of 2008-2009, we wouldn’t have filled his rotation slot with anybody else and wouldn’t have altered any other strategies or roster decisions. You can’t make that assumption.

      I helped my friend move into his apartment a month ago. I can’t assume that if I was never his friend, he never moves into that apartment. Way too many variables and moving parts.

      There’s literally infinite hypothetical scenarios where the Yankees don’t sign A.J. Burnett but still assemble a team good enough to win the 2009 World Series.

      • http://twitter.com/j_sprouse2213 (The Real) James

        i think thats taking my statement WAYYYY to literal.

        I completely understand what your saying but i think you’re taking it too far to argue my point of the Yankees needing AJ in that game 2.. heck its possible under your thinking that the..say…2001 D-Backs could have won the WS without Randy Johnson signing RJ in and Curt Schilling…etc etc.

        • http://twitter.com/j_sprouse2213 (The Real) James

          without the D-backs signing*

          • http://twitter.com/j_sprouse2213 (The Real) James

            and trading for Curt Schilling…damn its monday. heh

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

          You’re making a literal statement, though. You’re claiming that AJ should be given more leeway because we couldn’t have won the title without him.

          That’s just not true, though.

          • http://twitter.com/j_sprouse2213 (The Real) James

            Is this more of a fair statement, “the Yankees won the 2009 WS in part because AJ Burnett pitched a great game 2.” ?

            • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

              Yes. That’s fine. It’s fine to say “AJ Burnett helped us win a title in 2009″ or “AJ Burnett was a big part of our title run” or things like that.

              It’s more dubious (but probably okay in the big picture) to even imply causation, saying that AJ Burnett’s presence on the team CAUSED us to win a title in 2009. That’s more logical grey area, but I wouldn’t quibble with it.

              When you start to assume negative causation, however, that’s when you’ve ventured beyond sound logic. AJ Burnett’s presence on the roster may have caused us to win the 2009 title, but his absence from the roster would not have necessarily precluded us from winning the 2009 title. That’s an alternate reality where numerous other routes to the same outcome are possible.

              • http://twitter.com/j_sprouse2213 (The Real) James

                understandable. But you say (for the sake of arguement lol) “the yankees won because of AJ” and i say “the yankees wouldn’t have won without AJ because he was there.”…are we not looking at the samething but from different angles?

                • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

                  It seems that way at first, but if you think about it, you’ll realize they’re very different statements.

                  My paycheck from my job allowed me to buy a new car. If I didn’t have my job, though, I might still have bought the same car… because I would assuredly have found another job that would pay me another paycheck.

                  • http://twitter.com/j_sprouse2213 (The Real) James

                    But is not one of the “numerous other routes” that you wouldn’t have found another job and you wouldn’t have bought that car and instead had to buy a 10-speed bicycle or scooter?

                    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

                      It is.

                      That’s only one of the numerous routes, though. That’s the problem. Not having AJ Burnett might mean we don’t win the 2009 title, yes. Not having him might mean we still win it anyway.

                      They’re both equally valid possibilities.

    • nolan

      Can you use past performance as a REASON to not worry/complain about and discuss trading a player vastly under-performing? If so then we never should have gotten rid of Bernie and we will let Jeter play shortstop until he’s 90. Burnett was great in 09 but he’s legitimately awful this year. If he can’t get back on track than the yankees SHOULD look to move him as its their job to put the best team on the field…not to put the best team on the field that has helped us win a world series.

      FYI turns out Burnett has a PARTIAL no trade clause that allows him to block being traded to 10 teams each year.

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

        Co-sign. Don’t throw good money after bad, as they say in poker.

        That being said, AJ Burnett is going nowhere. He’s untradeable, and we’d be selling low anyway.

      • http://twitter.com/j_sprouse2213 (The Real) James

        i never said anything about not trading AJ. Or getting him off the team. Or anything of the sort.

      • http://twitter.com/j_sprouse2213 (The Real) James

        not really sure why you replied to me…

  • mike c

    one day the little lightbulb is going to turn on in AJ’s head and he’ll be the best pitcher in baseball. maybe meeting jesus will be the inspiration he needs

    • mike c

      also, at least we didn’t sign josh beckett

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

        Or John Lackey.

        • mike c

          they say he’s a bulldog but he looks more like a pug to me

          • http://cid-e3a022289d65b5c0.skydrive.live.com/self.aspx/Assorted/foul.jpg Andy in NYC aka the Other Oofys

            Chihuahua.

            • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

              He’s a cross between a bulldog and a shih-tzu.

    • Pete

      no. this is the problem. everyone somehow seems to think that a guy who has, for his entire career, had two pitches and control problems, could suddenly have great control (thus enabling him to throw/command a third pitch) and be one of the best pitchers in baseball.

      It doesn’t work that way. Burnett is who he is, and will continue to be that same guy, albeit with marginally declining stuff throughout his contract. And that’s fine. The yankees didn’t sign him to be one of the best pitchers in baseball. They signed him to be AJ Burnett, since that is all he can be, and all he will ever be. If you want to debate the wisdom of his contract, go right ahead, but even if he doesn’t live up to the dollar value, he’ll still be as productive, or slightly less productive, as he has been his whole career.

      Just stop expecting him to suddenly become a better pitcher. He won’t.

      /rant

      • mike c

        with the raw talent there, the expectations will always be there too, no matter how unrealistic they may seem

        • Pete

          you’re absolutely right that they’ll be there, but it’s still irritating that they are. For whatever reason, people don’t seem to realize that control is a raw talent as well. Command comes with repetition, but the ability to control your arm as it throws a baseball as hard as it can is no more learnable (which is not to say that it is not improvable – just not drastically so) than the ability to throw 95mph.

  • YankeesJunkie

    Honestly, before these last five starts, Burnett has done a very nice job for the Yankees, except against the Sox in Fenway. If it were not for these last five starts, Burnett would have been an above average pitcher with an ERA+ around 108 which is his career average. Burnett is a lot better than this pitcher we have seen, and I expect that he will turn it around and give the Yankees more of the quality pitcher that they signed. There is no reason to believe that AJ can pitch this bad much longer. I did see some signs of hope on Saturday using his curve more, it will just be expanding on it.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      Burnett in April and May (before his 5-start stretch of abominable pitching):

      11 starts, 71.1 IP (6.4 IP/S), 3.28 ERA, .260/.332/.381 against, 53/24 K/BB

  • Klemy

    When I first looked at the list of pitchers in the article, I was thinking, “Where is Carl Pavano in this list?” Then I remembered you needed 300 innings…then I lol’d.

  • Pete

    wake me up in October when Burnett finishes the season with 200 innings of 4.10 ERA baseball

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      Jerome, Jerome, the metronome.

      /GattacaQuote’d

    • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

      For Burnett to reach both of those benchmarks, he’d have to throw 105.2 innings with a 3.06 ERA. Do you think that’s possible? I don’t.

      • mike c

        possible, yes– not especially likely but definitely in the realm of possibilities

      • Pete

        sorry, you’re right – this recent stretch will skew the numbers past the point where that’s realistic. So I’ll hedge it: he’ll still get to 200 innings, but his ERA will be 4.42. And I’m fine with that. I don’t like that the yankees are paying $16.5 million for it, but I have no problem with that being in our rotation, especially if it’s outperformed by at least three other pitchers

      • Pete

        also, while not particularly likely, AJ Burnett posting a 3.06 ERA over half a season is nowhere near impossible. I would say that it’s more likely than Andy Pettitte throwing half a season of sub-3.00 ERA, anyway. All it would take would be a month of sub-2.00 (AJ’s done that plenty of times) and then two months of 3.75 (also possible)

    • Mike HC

      I would not bet on that if I were you.

  • Ross

    Maybe I’m missing something, but wouldn’t a sign of decline be much more than a 1 mph loss of velocity? And we’re not talking about going from 90 to 89, Burnett has gone (I’m assuming) from hitting 96-97 to 95-96. This is still plenty fast to miss bats. The problem is his location, he isn’t hitting corners and he’s falling behind in counts forcing him to throw more 2 and 4 seam meatballs. Meatballs are bad enough, when the batter knows it’s coming you get… well you get his past 5 starts.

    Again, maybe I’m missing something, but Burnett’s stuff is still there, it’s the same story with him now that it’s been his whole career – about him hitting the spots.

    • Mike HC

      As I wrote below, you can maybe rationalize the one mph difference from last year, but losing three mph’s over the past three years is clearly concerning. That is an obvious trend, and it is not going in the right direction. I hope he can turn it around, or stabilizes, but it is not a great sign.

  • Tank Foster

    Stating the obvious….the Yankees overpaid for Burnett. The Yankees overpay for LOTS of (most?) free agents, though, but that’s how the business works.

    I never expected AJ to be a bargain, or to even be a front line, stopper-type pitcher. I expected him to perform like he has most of his career: Inconsistently. Flashes of brilliance, flashes or horrible incompetence, and alot of the in-between.

    He will be fine. He has stayed healthy since coming to NY, and has for the most part lived up to his promise in terms of pitching alot of innings.

    I don’t think it’s fair to write off his early season success to weak opponents. Five games is too little to be confident in that idea….poor teams can have good days, and vice versa, and there is no reason to believe he wouldn’t have had the same success against better opponents than Baltimore.

    I probably over-simplify, but AJ has one problem that, when he doesn’t control it, ruins everything for him: Lousy control. He has such good movement on his pitches, when he is around the strike zone, he is very, very tough to hit.

    But it’s a double edged sword, since his ball breaks so much, he seems unable to control it.

    So, he starts with this death spiral of walking batters, then being forced to steer the ball or otherwise back off in order to throw strikes, and then they hammer him.

    Whether it’s physical or mental, none of us know, but my money’s on mental….I thought his interview a couple of weeks ago with the YES folks was telling. He sounded almost like he was saying “I give up: I’m just a .500 pitcher, and as much as I hate it, it is what it is.”

    He probably gets down on himself, and then starts unraveling with thoughts like “WTF, I’m just going to throw and see if they can hit it” and “I hate this – just get me out of here,” etc.

    He’s probably too old and established to make a major change, but I’m sure the right kind of pitching coach, really working him over and shaping him, could improve his results quite a bit. But he’s probably too much of a head case at this point to expect miracles.

    Still….a .500 caliber pitcher who can throw 180+ innings per year, league average ERA+, is a good thing for the New York Yankees. There are lots of worse pitchers.

    • YankeesJunkie

      The first point made it absolutely correct the Yankees overpaid and gave to many years to Burnett. I think if Burnett were to perform similar to his 2009 season and is able to stay healthy for the rest of his contract people won’t complain about him other than being overpaid as #3 starter caliber.

    • Mike HC

      Agreed on most of this.

      But, I don’t think we “expected” the drop in MPH on his fastball. “Pitch f/x says that the fastball has lost a full mile per hour from last year and nearly three miles per hour since 2007.” You can maybe rationalize the one mph difference from this year, but the 3 mph drop over three years is impossible to overlook. That is a clear decline.

      You never know with these things though. He has pitched a ton over the past 2-3 years, so maybe it is a bit of a “dead-arm” period. Maybe he will eventually come through it and find the mph again. I hope so. If not, I hope he learns how to locate his pitches more consistently than he did with the faster fastball.

  • Mike HC

    Well done article. I thought your earlier article on AJ was a little premature, but apparently not. It was right on the money.

    I fully expect AJ to go on good runs in the future, but I fear Bad AJ may pop his ugly head up more often than in the past. I guess sometimes you have to overpay to get a WS. That is the beauty of no salary cap and a willing owner.

    • YankeesJunkie

      Yeah, Bad AJ will pop his ugly head every once in awhile, but I don’t expect it will ever be this bad.

      • Mike HC

        agreed