Jun
17

When A.J. goes bad

By

Photo Credit: Seth Wenig, AP

A.J. Burnett was so bad last night, he made a punchless offense look like the superstar sluggers they were supposed to be. The Phillies, a team that had scored six runs just twice since doing so on May 15, lit him up like Times Square. After 3.1 painful innings in which he threw first-pitch strikes to just 10 of the 21 batters he faced, Joe Girardi mercifully yanked him from what would be a 6-3 loss.

Last night’s affair was one of those ugly outings where the pitcher shoulders all the blame. Burnett threw 87 mostly bad pitches en route to a six-hit, four-walk appearance. He was responsible for all six runs the Phillies scored and struck out three hitters. Shockingly, Phillies’ batters swung and missed just five times against Burnett. He had nothing.

Unfortunately for the Yanks, having nothing has become a common theme for A.J. After starting the season 4-0 with a 1.99 ERA over his first six starts, the wheels have utterly fallen off. Over his last eight appearances, Burnett is 2-5 with a 6.36 ERA in just 43.2 innings. Opponents have knocked out nine home runs over those starts, and his K/BB ratio is an ugly 35/22. He’s not giving the Yanks quality starts or innings right now.

For the team adjusting to the second of five years of the A.J. Burnett Era, this wildly inconsistent performance is nothing new. The Bad A.J./Good A.J. meme didn’t arise out of thin air, and the Yankees and their fans know that Burnett is only as good as the movement on his pitches. He’s a high-walk, high-strikeout pitcher with little command within the strike zone of his pitches, but his stuff can be so devastating and overpowering that the lack of command often doesn’t matter. And to think the Yanks only have three years and $49.5 million left on this contract after 2010.

That’s the real rub. The Yankees will have to live with A.J. Burnett and his amazing disappearing act through his ages 34, 35 and 36 seasons, and Baseball Reference’s Juan Guzman and Pete Harnisch comparables don’t inspire much confidence. Neither pitcher were still in the bigs come their age 35 seasons.

But does this inconsistency coupled with the inevitable decline of age make Burnett’s deal a bad one? So far, it’s tough to complain about it. He arrived with high expectations last year, and by and large, delivered on his salary. While earning $16.5 million, Burnett was, according to Fangraphs’ WAR, a $14 million hurler. Considering the Yanks had to outbid the Atlanta Braves for his services and won a World Series in his first year in pinstripes, I’d say the team is happy to pay a $2.5 million premium.

Going forward, though, Burnett’s 2010 experiences feature a few warning signs. As the Phillies demonstrated last night, Burnett isn’t getting many swing-and-miss strikes. In fact, this year, his Swinging Strike percentage is down to 7.2 percent. Prior to joining the Yanks, Burnett was generally above 10 percent (and well above league average) in that category, but since coming to the Bronx, his swings-and-misses have dissipated. More balls in play inevitably lead to more hits.

In a similar vein, Burnett’s strike outs have declined precipitously as well. In his peak years in 2007 and 2008, Burnett averaged nearly 9.5 K/9 IP. Last year, that figure declined to 8.48, and this year, he has around 6.7 strike outs per nine innings. We want to see that number stay steady.

It’s still too early in the year to draw many conclusions, and Burnett’s dip in numbers as well as a one-mph drop in velocity, could just be related to early season pitching woes. Nothing reminds us of Dr. AJ and Mr. Burnett quite like an eight-game, 2.50-ERA span, and he could start one of those next week against the Diamondbacks. But last night, Burnett didn’t have it, and if that’s what his aging future in pinstripes is going to look like, that deal he signed might just be for one year too many.

Categories : Pitching

128 Comments»

  1. beantownbosoxh8er says:

    Where is Eiland? this might have been covered in another thread…

    • bexarama says:

      a. Not trying to be bitchy here but this is OT.
      b. He’s taking time off for personal stuff. We don’t know what.

      • beantownbosoxh8er says:

        I dont think it is off topic. We are talking about a pitcher here and Eiland is the pitching coach.
        He is not with the team. I wanted to know if anyone knew why.

  2. camilo gerardo says:

    when he’s going bad, most of the time, he can’t control the action/location on his fb.

    Is it too late to rework his armslot? hehe

  3. coolerking101 says:

    Maybe it’s just the way AJ speaks, but whenever I hear him in an interview, AJ comes off sounding like he just got off the short-bus. Year after year, people talk about AJ having the best “stuff” in baseball, yet he’s wildly inconsistent. If I’m right about AJ, I wonder if there could be a correlation between his lack of intelligence and an inability to make effective adjustments on the mound. Of course there are plenty of dumb athletes who succeed in baseball (cough…Manny Ramirez…cough).

    • bexarama says:

      Sigh.

      Burnett has two pitches. When he’s on, they’re pretty incredible. When he’s not, disaster. It doesn’t have to do with his mental state. Sometimes pitchers just don’t have it.

      And why are you saying this about his interviews? I think he’s pretty dry in interviews.

      • Templeton "Brendog" Peck says:

        Sigh.

        i chuckled

      • coolerking101 says:

        Just throwing it out there as a possible explanation. There are plenty of pitchers who don’t always have their A game but manage to tough it out.

        I agree AJ is dry in interviews, but he also seems incredibly simplistic and unable to offer any meaningful explanation or commentary. Simply an observation.

        • Steve H says:

          I agree AJ is dry in interviews, but he also seems incredibly simplistic and unable to offer any meaningful explanation or commentary.

          He is not paid to do interviews or offer meaningful explanation.

          • Mister Delaware says:

            And the pies he throws … not even real pies. You can’t eat shaving cream, AJ!

            • Mister Delaware says:

              (Factually, I think that’s incorrect, they really are whipped cream, but just go with it for the sake of the point.)

              • Marcos says:

                Well the pie he gave Swish WAS shaving cream, so you’re incorrect in saying it’s incorrect to say that they’re whipped cream.

                or something.

                /dick’d-ish

    • Tom Zig says:

      So because AJ Burnett has a southern accent, he is retarded? Come on. His struggles have little if anything to deal with his perceived intelligence level. He was blessed with some of the nastiest stuff, but the baseball gods found that it would be humerous to give him poor command. AJ relies primarily on 2 pitches and when one or both aren’t working they wind up, up in the zone and often times land 400+ feet away. It happens. But when both pitches are working, it’s must see TV.

      • bexarama says:

        Andy Pettitte = Southern accent, usually doesn’t use proper grammar. Therefore I declare Andy Pettitte retarded as well. (I feel bad even joking about this. :( )

        Seriously, this post is well-said.

    • Steve H says:

      This is just beyond dumb.

    • Of course there are plenty of dumb athletes who succeed in baseball (cough…Manny Ramirez…cough).

      Manny Ramirez isn’t dumb, he’s a goofball. There’s a huge difference.

      Manny’s smart enough to spend hours watching film, dissecting opposing pitchers and his own swing, then take that information into hours in the cage, refining it until his swing is perfect, then take THAT process to the plate, becoming a literal hitting machine capable of forcing pitchers into giving him what he wants and then killing it.

      He’s not simply a talented but dumb hitting savant; Manny’s pregame mental and phyisical preparation routine is legendary. He amazes his teammates and has done so at every stop with his ability to know what is coming and then destroy it.

    • Mike Axisa says:

      Please tell me you aren’t serious. A southern accent and intelligence have as much of a correlation as shag carpet and zambonis.

      • ZOMG HAVE YOU SEEN JOHNNY DAMON’S INTERVIEWZ HE MUST BE A RETARD OR SOMETHING!!!!

        /lastyear’d

      • coolerking101 says:

        I went to school in the south, so I would never suggest being southern equals stupidity, let alone that an accent suggests intelligence or lack thereof. As for Manny… no, he’s not a smart guy and I know that for a fact. My father worked in the NYC school system for 30 years and was an acquaintance of Manny’s HS baseball coach.

        • bexarama says:

          Manny can be very real world-dumb but baseball-smart. When it comes to playing baseball, the baseball-smart part is all that really matters.

        • AndrewYF says:

          There’s much more to intelligence than academic success.

          Manny Ramirez is a hitting savant. I would probably bet that you won’t find a guy who’s more intelligent about hitting than him in the game today.

          • coolerking101 says:

            Agreed. You don’t put up HOF hitting numbers without being a hitting savant. You do, however, forget which knee is hurt when complaining to management.

            • Templeton "Brendog" Peck says:

              so what? how many times did you pretend to be sick when you were a kid cause you didnt want togo to school only to get busted by your mom when you stopped coughing or your synmptoms changed to another illness?

              that is what it is. manny is just like a kid. I mean come on the dude’s offseason consisted of feetie pajamas and xbox.

              • Nickel says:

                Well, I probably wouldn’t play hookey if the school paid me eight figures a year to show up to class.

                And just for the record, I never played hookey. :-)

        • As for Manny… no, he’s not a smart guy and I know that for a fact. My father worked in the NYC school system for 30 years and was an acquaintance of Manny’s HS baseball coach.

          What percentage of high schoolers in general are dumb, though? A lot. Hell, I’m smart now, but I was dumb in high school. Because I was a teenager.

          Your anecdote doesn’t convince me.

    • Mike HC says:

      You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to succeed in baseball, as you stated. You want to get ahead of hitters, keep the ball low, and hit the corners.

      AJ is not working with a multitude of pitches were he gets by by out smarting hitters. He gets by with stuff and location.

      I have no idea what AJ’s intelligence level is, but it is kinda meaningless in this situation in my opinion. The guy has been smart enough to work hard and stay in shape his entire career to earn millions of dollars playing a game. I would say that is not too shabby. Some talented guys are not even smart enough to pull that off.

    • Rose says:

      coolerking101: I can’t compete with you physically, and you’re no match for my brains.
      Man in Black: You’re that smart?
      coolerking101: Let me put it this way. Have you ever heard of Johnny Damon, Manny Ramirez, AJ Burnett?
      Man in Black: Yes.
      coolerking101: Morons.

  4. A.D. says:

    This is who AJ Burnett is, he can be frustrating, but the Yanks went for the boom or bust player in that when on he can pitch with anybody, and when he’s off, look terrible, if he was incredibly consistent, he would be a Yankee, because he’d be demanding money in the CC realm.

    He’s goes in an out of groves, not having the normal pitching coach around probably doesn’t help, but hopefully he gets into a new groove soon.

  5. A.D. says:

    But does this inconsistency coupled with the inevitable decline of age make Burnett’s deal a bad one?

    Other thing to consider is compared to Derek Lowe it looks pretty good

  6. steve s says:

    The other part of the AJ story has been (prior to joining the Yanks) his inability to stay healthy. Continued ineffective pitching sounds like the precursor to a stint on the DL (either for a real but yet undisclosed physical problem or a mental health/Ollie Perez type visit). Let it happen before the trading deadline please.

    • Templeton "Brendog" Peck says:

      does not compute. why would a pitcher who has not been hurt for the past 2-3 yrs but has still remained wildly inconsistent all of a sudden be due for a dl tripdue to the continuance of the norm (inconsistency) trait? and what does it have to do with the trading deadline? trading any prospects worthwhile for any pitcher at this time would be a terrible way to run a team

    • camilo gerardo says:

      good point. I’d rather have an inconsistent pitcher than that same pitcher but inconsistent and injured

      • steve s says:

        It’s not his inconsistency that is at issue; it’s the loss in velocity and reduced swinging strike/strikeout ratio as described in Ben’s story that makes an injury possibility (with a guy with his injury history) not a crazy thought. Do you think for a moment that if AJ went down (or any other starter went down) before the trade deadline the Yanks wouldn’t make a play for Lee or Oswalt? How is that a terrible way to run a team that is in contention?

        • Do you think for a moment that if AJ went down (or any other starter went down) before the trade deadline the Yanks wouldn’t make a play for Lee or Oswalt?

          Depends entirely on A.) how severe/long term the injury was and B.) what the price point for Lee or Oswalt is.

          The second part is the part that still figures to be the reason why we don’t do it. Having thought for a moment, I’ll still say no, we wouldn’t trade for Lee or Oswalt this season under any scenario.

          If a starter goes down for the season, I surmise you’d see more Sergio Mitre, Romulo Sanchez, Ivan Nova, or Zach McAllister until one of them took control of the job. Or possibly even Al Aceves or Joba, stretched out. Our other 4 starters are good enough to allow us to roll with one of those options as the 5th starter until we get to the playoffs.

          • steve s says:

            I don’t disagree that how hard the Yanks would make a play for an elite starter at the trade deadline would depend on the severity of the injury to a current starter and what they are being asked to give up in return. On the other hand bringing in Lee at the deadline (without subtracting anyone from the current major league roster) is a superior move than the ones you propose if the goal is to become a repeat champ in 2010

            • On the other hand bringing in Lee at the deadline (without subtracting anyone from the current major league roster) is a superior move than the ones you propose if the goal is to become a repeat champ in 2010

              That’s boversimplification, though.

              The goal is not to become a repeat champ in 2010. The goal is to become a repeat champ in 2010, and 2011, and 2012, and 2013, and 2014, etc. So we always consider the future ramifications of who we’re trading away and how much their loss makes difficult our chances of winning future titles.

              What exactly do you think it would take to get Lee, out of curiosity?

              • steve s says:

                I think Romine is the key for a Lee deal and I believe I read somewhere that Nunez is someone the Mariners like (but if they want Miranda instead that’s fine too). Add a McAllister (or a Double A starter like Phelps if Sea prefers) and there is your deal. I don’t think Yanks would pull the trigger on Lee, though, unless he signed an extension. On your other point, I want the core 4 back in the WS this year as the clock is ticking too fast on them and I’ll accept some re-tooling and/or disappointments down the road once Jorge, Mo, Jeter and Andy are no longer around or productive.

    • Continued ineffective pitching sounds like the precursor to a stint on the DL (either for a real but yet undisclosed physical problem or a mental health/Ollie Perez type visit).

      A.) Correlation ≠ causation

      B.) Ollie Perez was phantom DL’d because he’d put up a 6.62 ERA (62 ERA+) with a 92/91 K/BB in his past 104.2 innings the last two years. AJ’s numbers during that same year and a half is a 4.13 ERA (103+) with a 258/130 K/BB in 294.1 IP.

      AJ Burnett ≠ Oliver Perez

  7. Mike Axisa says:

    FACT: A.J. Burnett had a 6.14 ERA in a nine start stretch from early August through mid-September last year and the same nonsense about his “mental limitations” was written.

    FACT: A.J. Burnett then dominated in Game Two of each playoff series and won the biggest game of the 2009 season.

    FACT: Bringing up intelligence whenever a guy struggles is nothing more than laziness.

  8. Mike HC says:

    Every time one of our players goes into a slump it is now always attributed to age. Jeter slumps, he is done. AJ slumps, he is done. What happens when Pettitte inevitably hits his first rough patch? I assume he will be done too. It reminds me of this years NBA Finals. Whenever a Celtics players has a poor game, it is because of age, and not just having a poor game. I know you are not saying these guys are done, but young guys go through slumps and rough patches too.

    In the modern sports era, guys are going to play well into their late thirties and probably 40′s as well. Every slump and bad performance will not be age related, but just a slump. It is tough to get shut down by a 47 year old pitcher and then blame poor performance on age related issues when our pitcher was like 15 years younger.

    • Dirty Pena says:

      What is the point you are getting at? That athletes don’t decline? I mean when a player gets into his mid 30s, he declines. That’s inevitable.

      • deuce bag poster says:

        I think he’s making a decent point actually. I mean, I find it far more likely A.J. is just slumping. Every slump is not necessarily age-related.

      • Mike HC says:

        People have been claiming the Yanks are too old for about my entire life. Far too often an athlete in his 30′s goes through a slump, or even has a down year, and everyone just attributes it to his age and writes him off. Sometimes slumps are just slumps. As I think is the case here. As I think was the case with Jeter this year as well.

        Like Vernon Wells even. He has had up and down years his entire career. But once he had a down year at that magic number of 30 something, he is done. Look at him this year though, it was just a down year.

        • Dirty Pena says:

          Makes sense. I still think it’s fair to ask (not necessarily to state) whether or not an older athlete is struggling due to age.

          • Mike HC says:

            Yes, I guess it is. But because the Yanks have had many superstar players in their 30′s throughout my life, you hear it all the time. After every WS or season, it was always the same story about how the Yanks are too old and can’t get the job down again. Again, similar to what Celtics went through this year.

            I guess it is fair, but maybe just frustrating for me to hear. I believe athletes and modern medicine will allow guys to perform at a high level well into their thirties. So every slump someone goes through at 33 (or even later) should not be followed by a “is this age related,” in my opinion.

  9. Steve H says:

    AJ is what he is. He has been for 10 years. He has great starts. He has had starts. He’s not stupid. He’s not a head case. He’s not on drugs. His tattoo ink is not bleeding into his brain.

    He’s a supremely talented pitcher who is consistently inconsistent. That’s not going to change. No need to psycho-analyze him after every good or bad start.

  10. ZZ says:

    While I agree that calling AJ dumb or not intelligent is messed up, there is something to be said about his “pitching state of mind.” In the same respect that AJ is what he is in terms of results he has also made very little progress in the past few years in the mental part of pitching as opposed to say a Andy Pettitte.

    I just want to make clear I am not calling AJ dumb. But I have no reservations saying these things, because AJ has admitted it himself time and time again.

    He has said multiple times in the past few years that he needs to get better at concentrating and focusing on the mound. I didn’t watch the postgame last night, but I would bet he said this or something along the same lines again.

    AJ has always and still does let the mental aspect of pitching get away from him fairly often on the mound. A big part of repeating your delivery is mental and often when he goes wrong like he did in that big inning last night, the delivery went with it. Not covering 1B last night was another example of him losing focus on the mound.

    And AJ is not just a 2 pitch pitcher. He has a very good 2 seamer and a very good changeup. Every ST he talks about using those pitches, but the season comes around and mostly the changeup is nowhere to be found.

    • Mike HC says:

      “Too stupid to make adjustments,” as was stated by cookerking, and lapses in concentration are two different things. I agree that AJ can lose his cool and concentration on the mound sometimes.

      Your comment is far closer to reality than cookerking’s. So I am kind of with you in this regard.

      • coolerking101 says:

        Mike HC – feel free to disagree with me. It’s a blog, that’s the point. But when you use quotation marks, you’re supposed to repeat what was written verbatim, not simply insert your perceived summary of my comment. Nowhere did I write that AJ was “[t]oo stupid to make adjustments.”

        • Tampa Yankee says:

          Yeah Mike HC, coolerking said – “Maybe it’s just the way AJ speaks, but whenever I hear him in an interview, AJ comes off sounding like he just got off the short-bus.
          and…
          “If I’m right about AJ, I wonder if there could be a correlation between his lack of intelligence and an inability to make effective adjustments on the mound.”
          and finally…
          “Of course there are plenty of dumb athletes who succeed in baseball (cough…Manny Ramirez…cough).”

          No where did he say he was “too stupid to make adjustments!

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        • Mike HC says:

          “Maybe it’s just the way AJ speaks, but whenever I hear him in an interview, AJ comes off sounding like he just got off the short-bus.”

          - Here, you accused AJ of sounding like he is mentally challenged, or non pc, a retard.

          “If I’m right about AJ, I wonder if there could be a correlation between his lack of intelligence and an inability to make effective adjustments on the mound.”

          - Here, you attributed AJ’s inability to make adjustments to his perceived retardation.

          So I apologize for using quotes and paraphrasing your post to, “too stupid to make adjustments.” You were actually far harsher.

          “Of course there are plenty of dumb athletes who succeed in baseball”

          -Then you call AJ dumb, and negate everything you said prior, because dumb players can succeed in baseball. I guess they just can’t make effective adjustments.

        • Mike HC says:

          Oh yea, and I would not have been as offended as you if didn’t put the [ ] around the lower case “t.” I would have got the point.

    • In the same respect that AJ is what he is in terms of results he has also made very little progress in the past few years in the mental part of pitching as opposed to say a Andy Pettitte.

      Agreed. My retort: It’s probably a fruitless discussion, because the likelihood of him figuring it out now and becoming that cerebral pitcher at some point in the future is probably pretty slim. He’s just one of those “effectively wild” guys who will probably be effectively wild his whole life, with occasional bouts of being non-effectively wild.

      I’m trying to think of an AJ Burnett type of pitcher who made that transformation into a cerebral, location, command/control guy and coming up blank. Any comparisons you can thing of?

    • Templeton "Brendog" Peck says:

      get him so adderol

  11. Steve H says:

    You know who should have gotten a lot more out of his talent, who unquestionably had the best stuff in baseball?

    Nolan Ryan

  12. Pete says:

    Can we all just agree that control and command are skills/tools/talents that are every bit as innate and limiting as FB velocity is, and be done with the ridiculous boverreaction to AJ pitching exactly the same way he has pitched his entire career? Please?

    • bexarama says:

      Trying to be reasonable about Yankee baseball? Ha ha ha, Pete.

    • Not Tank the Frank says:

      “Can we all just agree that control and command are skills/tools/talents that are every bit as innate and limiting as FB velocity is, that AJ Burnett cannot consistently possess and be done with the ridiculous boverreaction to AJ pitching exactly the same way he has pitched his entire career? Please?”

      I agree 100 percent.

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