Burnett mixes pitches, but with no success


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.

Categories : Pitching


  1. Bret says:

    If Burnett is healthy and pitches every fifth day the rest of the season he has 11 more starts. 3 will be against Boston, 2 will be against Toronto and 2 will be against the Rays. He does face the O’s once and the Royals once but otherwise it will be stiff competition (CWS on the road and Tigers at home are the other 2).

    Much of his success is due to facing bad teams, he shutout Cleveland last week and dominated Baltimore a couple times in April/early May. On May 4th, he was 4-0 with a 1.99 ERA. Since then he has been terrible and his age, contract and major declines in K’s per 9 since last year and the two years before does not bode well for Yankee fans.

    • Chris says:

      In July, AJ had a 2.00 ERA. He pitched against the Blue Jays, A’s, Rays, Royals, and Indians. It’s not like he was only good early in the season. He had been on a decent roll before last night.

      In AJ’s case, I’m not sure that the opponent matters much. When he pitches well he can shut down any team. When he doesn’t, he can’t beat anyone.

      • Bret says:

        He did pitch well against the Jays I will give you that. Oakland is a terrible offensive team. So are the Indians and he pitched horribly against the Rays (2 innings, blister, left game). I think if you track his starts against good teams versus bad teams you will see a pattern. He has pitched poorly against some bad teams and vice versa but in general teams with discipline give him more trouble – and 5 more starts against the Rays/Sox will really test that theory.

        • Chris says:

          I would assume (without checking) that almost every pitcher does better against worse offensive teams. Due to small sample sizes it won’t be a perfect correlation, but if you look at splits with reasonable sample sizes there will be a clear trend. That’s how those offenses become the best/worst offenses – by doing better or worse than average.

      • JGS says:

        And gave up four runs in two innings against the Rays, accounting for 2/3 of the runs he gave up the entire month. Cut out that start, his ERA was 0.72

    • Much of his success is due to facing bad teams.

      Apr 6 @ BOS: 5.0 IP, 7 H, 4 R (3 ER), 1 BB, 5 K, 1 HR, 1 HBP
      - A decent/average outing against a good team
      Apr 11 @ TBR: 7.0 IP, 6 H, 2 R (2 ER), 3 BB, 1 K, 0 HR, 0 HBP
      - a good outing against a good team
      Apr 17 v TEX: 7.0 IP, 6 H, 0 R (0 ER), 2 BB, 7 K, 0 HR, 0 HBP
      - a great outing against a good team
      Apr 23 @ LAA: 6.1 IP, 9 H, 4 R (4 ER), 2 BB, 3 K, 0 HR, 2 HBP
      - a solid outing against a good team
      Apr 29 @ BAL: 8.0 IP, 3 H, 0 R (0 ER), 1 BB, 4 K, 0 HR, 0 HBP
      - a dominant outing against a bad team
      May 4 v BAL: 7.1 IP, 5 H, 1 R (0 ER), 2 BB, 8 K, 0 HR, 0 HBP
      - a dominant outing against a bad team
      May 9 @ BOS: 4.1 IP, 9 H, 9 R (8 ER), 3 BB, 4 K, 1 HR, 0 HBP
      - a bad outing against a good team
      May 14 v MIN: 6.2 IP, 7 H, 3 R (2 ER), 4 BB, 4 K, 1 HR, 0 HBP
      - a good outing against a good team
      May 19 v TBR: 6.2 IP, 9 H, 6 R (6 ER), 4 BB, 4 K, 1 HR, 1 HBP
      - a bad outing against a good team
      May 25 @ MIN: 5.0 IP, 3 H, 0 R (0 ER), 2 BB, 5 K, 0 HR, 0 HBP
      - a decent outing against a good team
      May 30 v CLE: 8.0 IP, 5 H, 3 R (1 ER), 0 BB, 8 K, 0 HR, 2 HBP
      - a dominant outing against a bad team
      Jun 4 @ TOR: 6.0 IP, 6 H, 6 R (6 ER), 4 BB, 2 K, 3 HR, 0 HBP
      - a bad outing against a solid team
      Jun 10 @ BAL: 6.2 IP, 8 H, 4 R (4 ER), 1 BB, 5 K, 1 HR, 2 HBP
      - a decent outing against a bad team
      Jun 16 v PHI: 3.1 IP, 6 H, 6 R (6 ER), 4 BB, 3 K, 2 HR, 1 HBP
      - a bad outing against a good team
      Jun 21 @ ARI: 4.0 IP, 9 H, 7 R (7 ER), 2 BB, 4 K, 3 HR, 0 HBP
      - a bad outing against a good offensive team
      Jun 26 @ LAD: 3.0 IP, 6 H, 6 R (6 ER), 6 BB, 5 K, 0 HR, 0 HBP
      - a bad outing against a solid team
      Jul 2 v TOR: 6.2 IP, 4 H, 0 R (0 ER), 3 BB, 6 K, 0 HR, 1 HBP
      - a good outing against a solid team
      Jul 7 @ OAK: 7.0 IP, 5 H, 2 R (2 ER), 2 BB, 3 K, 0 HR, 0 HBP
      - a great outing against a bad team
      Jul 17 v TBR: 2.0 IP, 4 H, 4 R (4 ER), 0 BB, 1 K, 1 HR, 2 HBP
      - a bad outing against a good team, with
      Jul 23 v KCR: 5.0 IP, 4 H, 0 R (0 ER), 1 BB, 3 K, 0 HR, 0 HBP
      - a great outing against a bad team cut short by rain delay
      Jul 28 @ CLE: 6.1 IP, 7 H, 0 R (0 ER), 3 BB, 7 K, 0 HR, 0 HBP
      - a dominant outing against a bad team
      Aug 2 v TOR: 4.2 IP, 8 H, 8 R (8 ER), 2 BB, 4 K, 2 HR, 1 HBP
      - a bad outing against a solid team


      Good outings against good teams: 7
      Bad outing against good teams: 8

      Good outings against bad teams: 6
      Bad outing against bad teams: 1

      He’s basically a .500 pitcher against good teams and an elite pitcher against bad ones. Just like most pitchers are, including #2/#3 pitchers, which AJ is.

      Still, though, it’s not accurate to say that “most” of AJ’s success has come against bad teams; half of his success has come against bad teams and half has come against good ones. He just doesn’t really have clunkers against bad teams.

      • JGS says:

        May 25 @ MIN: 5.0 IP, 3 H, 0 R (0 ER), 2 BB, 5 K, 0 HR, 0 HBP
        - a decent outing against a good team

        better than decent, I would think. He got knocked out by rain, not ineffectiveness

      • Bret says:

        I think it is exaggerated more than most pitchers. Take out Baltimore and take out Cleveland. Leave every other start he has made in. His ERA would have to be close to 6 right? And when you consider Baltimore is having an unprecedented poor year (especially offensively – on pace to score fewer runs than the 2003 Detroit Tigers), those numbers become really alarming.

        • Sure, of course. I’m not telling you that AJ’s not inconsistent.

          I’m just quibbling with your notion that “most of AJ’s success” is against bad teams. AJ, as bad and as inconsistent as he’s been this year, has still had 7 games against good teams where he was good-to-great.

        • Zack says:

          You can play that game with every SP and make them look bad.

          Beckett has an ERA over 5 against the Yankees, take out Bal/Cle/Oak and Beckett would be a crappy pitcher too.

          • Bret says:

            I’m not trying to make Burnett look bad but most people would admit that Orioles opponents stats this year are a bit deceiving since they are historically horrible.

            Do I think Burnett can beat any team on any given day? Yes. But do I think he is merely inconsistent? No. I think he is a below average pitcher and his peripherals bear that out even if you don’t look at ERA. Let’s face it, he got the Yankees contract based on striking out 9.6 batters per 9 in 2007 and 9.4 in 2008. Now he is at 6.9 with a significant chunk of 2010 gone. That is not going to get it done with his lack of control. Unless he recovers the ability to miss bats, he is a below average pitcher.

        • JGS says:

          Fun fact: the 2003 Tigers were not dead last in runs scored. No one has been that bad since, but the Dodgers that same year were even worse and still managed a winning record.

          • Bret says:

            In the NL with no DH though isn’t as comparable in my opinion. Fewer than 600 runs scored with a DH is historically inept – although that is quite amazing the Dodgers won 85 games with 574 runs.

      • RL (on the east coast this week and still can't see a Yankee game!) says:

        He just doesn’t really have clunkers against bad teams

        So he only has clunkers against good offenseive teams … which is what the Yankees will be up gainst in the playoffs.

        • But, again, the list of pitchers who don’t have clunkers against good teams, ever, is like, 5 guys deep (and thick).

          Pitchers who don’t have clunkers against good teams aren’t aces, they’re SUPER-aces. AJ’s not a super ace, and he’s not an ace. He is what he is. He’s an above average pitcher who’s a valuable part of a big league rotation, a #3.

          He probably should be getting paid about 3M less per year and have a contract that’s two years shorter than it is, but what are you gonna do. We overpaid, because we felt we needed to.

          • Bret says:

            Just out of curiosity, why do you consider him to be an above average pitcher? His K rate decline is beyond troubling. While we are at it, check out Sabathia’s K/BB ratio in 2007. Now check it out in 2010. The ERA belies some very troubling signs. In 2013 unless the Yankees expand the payroll to 300 mill they are going to have some trouble because of all the potential deadweight (Burnett, Sabathia, Arod, Jeter at minimum). If they sign 32 year old Cliff Lee this offseason you can add him to that list also potentially.

            • You seem to think that when a player has a declining trendline, it means that that player is then instantly bad and all hope is lost.

              You’re wrong.

              Sure, CC and AJ both have some downward trend lines. That means they’ll both eventually be less than good. What they both are currently, though… is good.

              • Bret says:

                CC is still good. Not the elite 23 million 5.65 K/BB ratio guy they thought they were getting but still very solid. But with his weight and trendlines and age and miles on his arm he could easily be worthless in 3-4 years.

                A.J. is not good in the present. You can measure that by ERA, by peripherals, by whatever you want but he is a below average pitcher in 2010. He could rebound but the age/trendlines are less than encouraging.

          • William says:

            Yankees overpaid because Cashman did a bad job on this deal. No one was going to give AJ that kinda of money for 5 years! This guy has not learned to pitch yet at 33. His fastball has lost 3-4 mph. He is pitching like number 5 starter, receiving number 1 money. If Yankees don’t get on this guy hard to adjust now, he will continue to implode. Manager either needs to quick hook this guy before games get out of hand or leave him in for at least 8 innings to take the pounding.

  2. RL (on the east coast this week and still can't see a Yankee game!) says:

    While there’s time left in the season for AJ to get straightened out, wins seem to be more important now. As the Yankees are more effective at home, winning the division seems to give them an advantage in the playoffs. It’ll be a major struggle winning the AL Championship this year and they need any advantage to help out with that. With some players struggling offensively (Jeter, A-Rod, lately Teix), the starting pitching needs to continue to do as well as they have over the season as a whole so far. And the bull pen seems to be getting better as well.

    I’m comfortable with CC, Pettitte, Hughes and Javy as our starting 4 for the playoffs, it’d be even better if we had Good AJ as our #2.

  3. Tom Zig says:

    At what point does it become a mental issue with Burnett? I’m not playing “he has the dumb because he has a southern accent and wears funny clothes” card. I’m legitimately asking if anyone else thinks it’s become a mental issue. Burnett isn’t hurt (at least not that I’m aware of), and while he has been consistently inconsistent for his career, he hasn’t been consistently awful like he has this year. Some people, when they continuously get bad results even though they are working hard will just get down on themselves and just get into awful habits and continue on that downward spiral.

    Feel free to disagree.

    • Steve H says:

      while he has been consistently inconsistent for his career, he hasn’t been consistently awful like he has this year.

      I bet with some digging you’d find that he really has been this bad in parts of his career, especially when you factor in that he’s now doing it in the AL East. I just think this is who AJ is. We all get tantalized by his stuff and expect more, but it’s not going to happen. Even in his “great” contract year of 2008 his ERA was over 5 in part of July and as high as 4.67 in mid-August. And that’s a year that people look at and say it was AJ’s best (though it wasn’t).

      • Bret says:

        Everybody talks about how great his stuff is. It is certainly adequate but I would now say great. When he really has it working he is a two pitch pitcher with good heat and a curveball. His changeup is below average even on the best of days. And in 70% or more of his starts, his curveball is in the dirt more often than not which means teams can sit heat. I think he would be good in the bullpen but as a starter it is very difficult to navigate with 2 pitches, shoddy control and his stuff is starting to decline. Look at his K rate this season, his stuff isn’t fooling too many people like in 2007-2008.

        • Chris says:

          To me, the key question when you consider is stuff is:

          How many other pitchers can stick as starters with only 2 pitches?

    • Steve O. says:

      At what point does it become a mental issue with Burnett?

      It’s not a mental issue; it’s more of a command/control issue. Burnett’s best two pitches are the curve and fastball. When he has trouble locating one of those pitches it creates a major hurdle because of the fact he throws both pitches over 90% of the time. If he has trouble locating both pitches, disaster usually strikes.

      • Tom Zig says:

        I’m having a tough time explaining my point. What I’m NOT trying to say is that he is stupid/dumb/moronic, nor am I saying he is mentally weak or not trying.

        What I am trying to say is that yes I know it’s a command issue. Yes I know he is primarily a two-pitch pitcher. Yes I know he is consistently inconsistent. But maybe there is a mental aspect to this. Maybe it’s his frustration that is allowing his mechanics to get outta wack.

        • Maybe it’s his frustration that is allowing his mechanics to get outta wack.

          You might be right. But his mechanics seem to get out of whack before anything would happen that would cause him to get frustrated, so… whatevs.

          I’m not saying that an inability to focus mentally or deal with adversity/frustration isn’t a contributing factor to his mechanical inconsistency, but I’m saying he’s mechanically inconsistent in good times and bad times, so I’m not sure if addressing this theoretical mental issue (if it exists at all) would really change anything.

  4. CS Yankee says:

    Not much of a mix of pitches though…a two and a hook.

    I would like to see the 4-seamer (more accurate) when coming inside in order to paint the black (and not worring about HBP) and get the extra few MPH when going in as well. His hook is sick in the dirt but hangs outside, stay down the middle or in the dirt. Finally, let’s use the frickin’ changeup when 0-2 or 3-1…they have to be sitting hook on 0-2 and old #2 when 3-1, so throw a frickin’ chane already.

  5. Jorge says:

    My non-scientific observation is that AJ has one inning, which may or may not occur during any given start, where he ceases to have any idea where the ball is going. I can see the merit in Girardi’s leaving him in there in order to show confidence that he is a veteran that can work through his messes but often, like last night, those bad innings can get extremely out of hand. When to remove AJ from a ball game is a job that I am glad I am not entrusted with. I don’t know when I’d do it either.

  6. kipp says:

    Why would Joe Girardi allow Burnett to stay in so long? In the 5th inning alone Burnett gave up 1HR, 5 doubles, a single, a Wild pitch, and a walk before Joe pulled him out after a 7 run inning.

    Joe gave that game away. He is as much to blame for this loss too, with awful game mgmt on his part.

    • iYankee(next generation from Apple) says:

      Sometimes it appears that managers hold on to he hope that “he will work through it” and by then it is too late. On the other hand, you cannot blow up your bull pen every time a headcase retreats to acting like a 15 yr old.

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