In his previous start against Cleveland, A.J. Burnett turned in one of his better performances of the season. He allowed a few too many baserunners, 10 in 6.1 innings, but he managed to keep them from coming around to score by inducing grounders and striking out hitters. He did this by mixing his pitches well, throwing 45 four-seamers, 30 two-seamers, and 37 curveballs. He went with a similar strategy last night, but it produced far, far worse results.
The breakdown was similar. Burnett threw 29 four-seamers, 30 two-seamers, and 26 curves, though this time he mixed in eight changeups. The addition of the change was excellent; he threw it for six strikes, including one swinging. It was on the other pitches that he got beat, specifically the two-seamer and the curve. Let’s see how exactly the Blue Jays hitters attacked him last night.
Vernon Wells in the 2nd: Curveball well below the zone followed by a belt-high two-seamer that didn’t quite catch the outside corner. Home run.
Travis Snider in the 5th: Started him with a changeup he fouled off, and then followed with a fastball up that he again fouled away. He then threw a two-seamer that looked close to the low-inside corner but was ruled a ball. Then came a curveball well outside, but Snider hit it into the gap for a double.
Edwin Encarnacion: A first-pitch curveball looked good but was ruled a ball. Then A.J. came back with two two-seamers off the plate inside. The first Encarnacion fouled away. The second, which was a bit further inside than the second, went over the left field fence.
That’s two straight batters who with extra base hits on pitches outside the strike zone. Then, of course, he walks Jose Molina after going up 0-2, which is as inexcusable as it gets.
Fred Lewis: He had the right idea. Burnett had just walked Molina, and so Lewis took four straight pitches, all high in the zone, putting the count, mercifully, at 2-2. The two strikes barely looked like strikes, but it worked. Lewis then fouled away a sinker right down the middle. Still 2-2, Burnett went with the curve and again delivered one outside. It looked off the plate, but Lewis slapped it down the line for a double.
Second and third, still no one out. Burnett mercifully got an out on the curveball, a grounder that gave A-Rod enough time to fire home and get Molina and keep it a one-run game.
Jose Bautista: Burnett started with a curve over the plate for strike one. He then came back with the fastball, a bit up and in, which, as we’ve before seen, is Bautista’s wheelhouse. That’s a two-run double.
Vernon Wells: Burnett goes back to the two-seamer again, and again it gets hit hard. This one seemed to tail a bit inside, giving Wells an opportunity to turn on it. A double down the line gives the Jays another run.
Then we get the strikeout of Overbay via the changeup.
Aaron Hill: A nine-pitch at-bat, all fastballs. By my count five of them were pretty centered. The ninth was a two-seamer belt-high and basically right over the center. Another rip, another double. That was it for A.J., though as you can see he should have gotten the hook a bit sooner.
Clearly the two-seamer was a huge issue for him. For the season he’s averaging -9.8 inches of horizontal movement — that is, movement towards a right-handed hitter. During his two good starts against Kansas City and Cleveland it was at -9.22. Last night it was -10.60. The extra movement might seem like a good thing, but that isn’t necessarily the case. It can also indicate that the pitch is tailing a bit, which appeared to be the case last night. It made the pitch a bit more hittable for the right-handers, as the pitch was moving towards them.
The worst part about A.J.’s start was that it started off relatively well. The only blemish was the Wells homer, and even that was forgivable. It went right over the 314 sign in right. The Yanks take advantage of that enough that there’s no use complaining when an opponent does. Beyond that, through four he had struck out three and walked one. It made me quite optimistic that he’d finish with a decent line and set up the Yanks to win. Instead the entire night was a disappointment thanks to one inning.
We know the deal with Burnett at this point. Some night he’ll shine, and some nights he’ll throw a clunker. Usually when it’s going to be the latter we see signs of it earlier. It’s two runs this inning, a run the next, three a bit later. Last night it looked like a good start, but quickly morphed into one of his worst this season. It’s these types of starts that hit you hardest.