For Burnett, a longer leash

Yanks can't answer Orioles in 4-3 loss
2010 Minor League Awards
Mediocre A.J., the lesser known of Burnett's various personalities, reared his head yesterday. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

A.J. Burnett is struggling. He’s struggling to find command; he’s struggling to find consistency; he’s struggling to find the strike zone; and he’s struggling to find wins. In fact, the Yankees are 4-13 over Burnett’s last 17 starts and 1-6 since the start of August. During that stretch, Burnett has a 6.58 ERA, and it’s just ugly all around.

Yet, Joe Girardi is still willing to show faith in Burnett because his stuff is there, lingering in the background. Yesterday, we saw that faith, through no fault of Burnett’s or Girardi’s, backfire in the 7th inning. A.J. was one out away from escaping the game without a loss, but the Orioles had a threat going. With Corey Patterson on second, Brian Roberts, one of the Orioles’ few offensive threats, came up with two hits on him already.

Roberts is a tough player to neutralize. Historically, he hits better from the left side against righties than he does as a right-handed batter against south paws, but he’s a tough out from either side of the plate. This year, he is OPSing .858 in limited duty. It’s easy to second-guess the decision to allow Burnett to face Roberts. After all, the Orioles’ second baseman had a bead on Burnett’s stuff, and A.J. had passed 100 pitches. The Yanks could have played the match-ups and used Boone Logan to turn Roberts around to his weaker side, but Girardi stuck with A.J.

The pitch Roberts hit into right field for the game-winning hit wasn’t a bad one. It was a curve-ball, down and in, that Roberts fought off. A good hitter can do that to a good pitcher, and Burnett, speaking of his inability to shut down the Orioles, was highly critical of himself after the game. “It’s not about my seventh. It’s my whole day in general. I take pride in shutdowns. I’ve said it six times already, sorry I keep repeating it, but nothing else happened today. I wasn’t able to shut them down when we scored.”

What struck me about the game, though, wasn’t the outcome or Roberts’ lucky hitting. It wasn’t Burnett’s inability to hold the Orioles, although that obviously played a role in the eventual outcome. Rather, it was Joe Girardi’s willingness to stick with Burnett passed the breaking point.

On Saturday, Girardi sparked a mini-controversy when he lifted Javier Vazquez from a two-run game with two runners on and two outs in the fifth. That move backfired as well when Dustin Moseley allowed the tying runs to score, and Vazquez was steamed that he couldn’t work out his own jam. Javy, recently returned from the rotation, clearly has a short leash while Girardi wants to get Burnett as much work as possible in an effort to iron out what plagues him. Joe Girardi: “I thought it was a good step forward. I thought his stuff was very good today. He didn’t really have his changeup today, but his curveball and his fastball were very good. He got in some situations that he wiggled his way out of — a first and second with nobody out and didn’t give up a run. He pitched pretty well,” the Yankee skipper said after the game.

So why the disparate treatment? On the one hand, the issue is about stuff. On days when Burnett has something resembling a good curveball, he’s always just one good pitch away from getting out of the inning. On days when Javier Vazquez is throwing 86 mile-an-hour meatballs, it seem as though only Lady Luck can help Javy through five or six innings.

On the other hand, though, these decisions are about trust and the Yanks’ future. Javier Vazquez is a one-and-done in New York City. They brought him in to give them length in the rotation when they knew they couldn’t sneak by on CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, A.J. Burnett and two young guys or replacement-type hurlers. At this point, he’s probably on the wrong side of the bubble and wouldn’t make the playoff roster. Burnett, though, has to be ready for the postseason. If the Yankees are going to advance, A.J. Burnett and his $16.5-million salary will be asked to pitch in some must-win situations, and Burnett has to have confidence in his stuff. Furthermore, Burnett is here through 2013, and the Yanks can’t start banishing him to the scrap heap quite yet.

So A.J. gets a longer leash than Javier Vazquez, and even though both decisions — a non-move on Monday and a move on Saturday — backfired on the Yanks, both were the right calls. Sometimes, the Brian Roberts of the world just end up beating that good curve ball.

Yanks can't answer Orioles in 4-3 loss
2010 Minor League Awards
  • CBean

    And the Yankees really should have been able to score off that bullpen.

    • dave

      I am going to throw up if I have to hear one more time about how good his stuff. This guy is basically a career .500 pitcher. IF any Yankee fan thinks you are going to get any other result than you have seen since he has been with the Yanks, you are crazy.

      How many times are you going to keep running this guy out and getting the same result?

      • Pete

        yeah! let’s trade him!

        looks around glowingly at all of the suitors jostling one another in eager pursuit of the right to give up value for AJ Burnett

  • CB

    If AJ pitched the way he did this game against a playoff team I’d give the yankees no more than a 30% chance to win the game. And AJ has been worse this season – far worse – than he even was today. If AJ pitches like he has at other times the yankees will have a 15-20% chance of winning his playoff games.

    What you have to hope for obviously is what Girardi is hoping for. That AJ will turn it around. But that comes at a real cost because they are losing a disproportionate number of games he’s starting.

    This yankee team unfortunately is a much better offensive team at home than on the road. Home field really does matter for them. AJ is actively contributing to decreasing their chances of getting home field advantage.

    So you hope either he or miraculously Javy turn it around.

    But honestly, if he’s going to continue pitching this poorly and Javy does as well I think you have to at least consider giving Nova a start depending on how he pitches the rest of the way.

    I know AJ has the potential to throw a great game and you can always hope for that upside. But the pitcher I’ve watched this season not only lacks the consistency to be good, he lacks the stuff to be good. That’s the concern. For the first time in his career AJ’s stuff is coming into question.

    And if it’s his stuff that’s an issue, then there’ s not going to be an upside to hope for.

    • ZZ

      That is the problem. Almost everyone on here is focused on the purely the results of AJ’s performance yesterday. The results though are very misleading because of how bad the Orioles are. AJ’s stuff which was very poor again tells you much more about how AJ pitched yesterday.

      • CB

        AJ is older now.

        Pitchers often get worse as they get older. Especially power pitchers when they start to lose velocity.

        What’s happening with AJ isn’t that unusual.

        What has always been unusual with AJ has been his ability to even be a .500 pitcher given his poor command and limited arsenal. The ability for him to even be mediocre in aggregate was highly dependent and sensitive to his immense physical gifts.

        If those physical gifts are now diminishing (which we know they eventually will with age) then it’s not unusual for him to be significantly worse.

        Unfortunately, AJ never learned how to be more consistent with his mechanics or to expand his arsenal when he was in his prime and had more leeway to work and make errors.

        Now he’s up against it and it’s a big problem.

      • Esteban

        Was his stuff really that poor? I couldn’t watch the game, but I think you’re one of the few of the opinion that his stuff was very bad yesterday. Anybody else?

    • Chris

      The fact that the Yankees lost the game yesterday is not very important in the scope of the overall season. The key thing for the Yankees at this point is to get AJ turned around. If he keeps pitching every 5 days and they give him a longer leash, then there’s a chance that he will turn around.

      • dave

        Get him turned around? Are you crazy? He has done this his whole career plus he has “nothing between his ears”!

  • sub

    Why not put roberts on and have logan pitch to pie? Rather have logan vs pie than burnett vs roberts with 2 outs and runner in scoring position.

  • ZZ

    A.J. Burnett and two young guys or replacement-type hurlers.

    AJ Burnett has been a “replacement level hurler” for most of this season. Actually he has been worse than replacement level since his hot start ended in early May.

    • Chris

      AJ had a 2.00 ERA in July. He hasn’t been consistent, but it’s basically just June and August where he’s pitched poorly.

      • ZZ

        Does that change the fact that he has been below replacement level?

        • Chris

          Yes, because it’s not like he’s been consistently below replacement level. Depending on how you pick your end points, it can tell a different story.

  • CB

    Let’s look at this game for a moment from Girardi’s perspective.

    Girardi essentially took a risk on losing a game on Labor Day with a 2.5 game lead in order to build AJ’s confidence and get him on track for the post season.

    That’s essentially what Joe decided to do.

    The offense is just about as much to blame as AJ. Though I must say – Matusz is very good and the yankees have struggled against him. This is the kind of game that AJ was brought in here to win. Shutting down a very undisciplined O’s line up should not be a herculean task for AJ. Nonetheless, let’s just say the outcome of the game – that is the loss – is just as much, if not more, on the offense than the pitching.

    Here’s the really concerning thing about today. From the standpoint of how the game was played, Girardi’s stuck with AJ but didn’t even come close to getting the first step in the long term payoff he was looking for.

    Let’s just set aside the result. Just looking at how AJ pitched – the quality of his pitches was poor. There was very little to build on from this game for him. And AJ (and Girardi) know it.

    Brian Roberts should probably be back on the DL. His back is killing him. During the game he was visibly wincing, bending over, and fidgeting because his back was bothering him so much.

    AJ gets beat by an ailing Roberts twice. He gets beat by Cesar Izturis and Josh Bell.

    What’s concerning about this game is that not only did the team lose in the short term, it gained little or even lost on the long term wager as well.

    Not only is AJ’s command particularly bad this season – his stuff is also down a notch.

    It looks to me that he just doesn’t have the stuff to get out major league hitters consistently given how many mistakes he makes. Before he could get away with those mistakes. Now they are getting belted around by light weight hitters and guys who are injured.

  • CB

    What worries me about AJ is his stuff. It just doesn’t look that good. Perhaps that’s because his mechanics have been so particularly atrocious this season. It could be.

    But whatever the reason is, his stuff is down. That really wasn’t the case last year so I wasn’t surprised when he had one of those lights out shut down games.

    This year I just don’t see that stuff being there. That significantly decreases his probability of being able to muster up one of those shut down starts.

    AJ has often been bad in his career. I don’t know if he’s ever been bad this way before.

  • CB

    Yet, Joe Girardi is still willing to show faith in Burnett because his stuff is there, lingering in the background.
    This is true. But it’s a probability statement. What’s the probability of him being able to do that this season?

    It’s simply not close to as high as it has been in seasons past.

    • Brandon W

      I’m not sure which of your posts to respond to, so I’m going to reply here. First:

      What’s the probability of him being able to do that this season?

      It almost doesn’t matter. Not to say that the results don’t matter; of course you want him to pitch a good game come post-season. However, with Vazquez’ struggles and Hughes also struggling (as well as approaching an innings limit), Burnett will be called upon in the post-season. Helping to get him straightened out in a regular season game vs the Orioles isn’t going to hurt their playoff chances significantly.

      (from above)
      This year I just don’t see that stuff being there.

      At the beginning of the season, he was doing a phenomenal job limiting damage and had quite a good first few weeks. A couple of months is not enough to declare that he doesn’t have stuff anymore; he’s still just lacking consistency, and it’s too soon to call this much more than a slump (even if it is particularly dreadful).

      Lastly, again from above
      AJ gets beat by an ailing Roberts twice. He gets beat by Cesar Izturis and Josh Bell.

      Any major league pitcher will get beaten by any major league hitter from time to time, and not always on bad pitches. This isn’t to excuse AJ or the results, but talking about one game worth of at-bats is the ultimate in small sample sizes. AJ still showed improvement from August, and he needs to be better for the playoffs. That’s what this game came down to; his stuff may not have been what it was two years ago, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be enough.

  • theyankeewarrior

    Dear Joe G.,

    I love your thinking when it comes to keeping Burnett in games to work his way out of his funk. While you have a lead in the division, getting AJ straightened out is a top priority. The goal here is to win the World Series. CC Sabathia can’t do that on his own. AJ is getting close. He just needs to keep developing that fastball command and the extra bite on his curve that makes him almost unhittable. He’s close.

    As for putting Moseley in for Jazquez with the entire bullpen ready to go on Saturday? Worst move I have seen you make all season. It was literally the worst choice you could have made at that point, besides letting a position player pitch.

    The thing that really gets to me is that you put Boone Logan in the very next inning. You waited to bring in the lefty specialist instead of using him in the high leverage situation of 2 men on vs. Overbay (lefty). It felt like watching a mid-00’s game again.

    I don’t like that feeling, Joe. Not at all. Please don’t make me scream at my TV. You rarely do, just please, not anymore this season, K?

    Thanks in advance.

  • MattG

    “At this point, [Vazquez]’s probably on the wrong side of the bubble and wouldn’t make the playoff roster. Burnett, though, has to be ready for the postseason.”

    I would gamble on Vazquez’s tired arm coming rejuvenated with some additional rest and kid glove treatment down the stretch. I wouldn’t bet a plug nickel on seeing good A.J. again this season.

    • mike c

      i’ll take that bet, how much you going to put up on AJ?

      • MattG

        I don’t understand your response, or you misread mine.

        Seriously, why all the disparate opinions regarding Vazquez and AJ, who have been polar opposites in approach, but strikingly similar in results. We need TSJC to do one of his Player A, Player B things to show just how indistinguishable the two players have been.

        And with that in mind, we know what is wrong with Vazquez: he’s tired. He’s got four weeks to rejuvenate the arm, and he can be good Javy again.

        We have no clue what is going on with AJ, and only prayers to fix it.

        • mike c

          ah i thought you were willing to make a bet that you wouldn’t get a ‘good AJ’ start again this season, sorry must have read taht wrong.

          in terms of the two players, javy clearly has a dead arm, and AJ clearly has a dead head. what else is there to be said?

          • Benjamin Kabak

            and AJ clearly has a dead head. what else is there to be said?

            I’m not a particularly huge fan of AJ the pitcher, but I’ll defend AJ the person to no end. What makes you say he has a dead head, other than his accent and the tattoos? Based on his demeanor and his post-game quotes, I’d say the opposite is true.

            • Ross in Jersey

              AJ’s work during Hope Week proves what kind of a guy he is. Anyone who questions AJ the person is clearly just letting his performance as a pitcher bias their opinion.

            • MattG

              I haven’t heard that term much since Jerry Garcia died.

              He looks the part.

            • CBean

              This. AJ the pitcher is completely frustrating. AJ the person seems kinda awesome.

            • mike c

              i’m referring to his mental demeanor on the mound. the guy is a class act, a great guy with all the talent in the world, but it’s pretty obvious that AJ’s major problem is in between the ears. his professional frustration is blatantly obvious at times, and often does exacerbate minor struggles in games into major losses. with a guy with such natural gifts, what else could you call it? perhaps having a “dead head” is not the proper term, but rest assured i kid because i love

              • Steve H

                but it’s pretty obvious that AJ’s major problem is in between the ears.

                To quote Dr. Cox: Wrong wrong wrong wrong, wrong wrong wrong.

                • mike c

                  so when eiland says “there’s nothing wrong with A.J. Burnett’s stuff, he just has to believe in it”, that means what exactly? or are you just trying to be a smartass?

                  • Steve H

                    There have been a ton pitchers in baseball history with AJ’s raw stuff. Many of them never even came close to accomplishing what AJ has.

                    When it comes to total stuff, AJ does not have great command. This is not a mental thing. Command is a physical skill like velocity. AJ tries to hit locations. He often doesn’t. This has nothing to do with his IQ (pitching or otherwise) or his demeanor on the mound, it is a physical skill he lacks the ability to repeat over and over.

                    Also, see Pete’s post below which adds much more depth.

                  • Benjamin Kabak

                    Trusting your stuff and being stupid are not the same thing.

                    • mike c

                      i never called AJ burnett stupid, as already explained i was referring to his game-time demeanor on the mound. the guy is clearly emotional, but i’m sure he’s of at least average intelligence. for a site that devotes whole articles calling out yankee players as being “overpaid and infuriating” and “unacceptable” perhaps you’re being a bit too sensitive here

                    • Steve H

                      AJ’s major problem is in between the ears

                      So if you’re not calling him stupid, what area between the ears do you think AJ is lacking?

                    • mike c

                      Steve H, it’s a common term used when discussing sports psychology. stop trying to twist my words

              • Pete

                No. AJ Burnett does not have “all the talent in the world”. Control is a talent too, and AJ has not been blessed with a great deal of it. When he came up, he was able to hit triple digits as a starter while throwing from an arm slot that allowed for a lot of natural movement on the fastball and enabled him to throw an undetectable curveball that, when properly commanded, had devastating movement. That does not equate to “all the talent in the world”. The only pitcher in the bigs right now on whom I might bestow such a label would be Felix Hernandez.

                Based off of AJ’s interviews and what-not, I think he’s a pretty smart guy. He’s gotten frustrated a couple of times, but he’s not Paul O’Neil or Carlos Zambrano or anything. You’re basically saying that because he doesn’t always have good or even mediocre command, he lacks some sort of mental attribute that he needs to be a competitive pitcher. With this I disagree quite a bit. For one, he was a true two-pitch pitcher with poor control for the first 10 years of his career, yet managed to pitch to solid results. That tells me more that he is a smart pitcher than a dumb one.

                Phil Hughes has had consistent issues relating to pitch calling, the most obviously cerebral aspect to a pitcher’s game, and he doesn’t get called a “dead head” (I’m assuming you’re not referring to a die-hard Grateful Dead fan when you use that term). Hughes’s results have been, at best, mediocre for more than half a season now, and his issues have almost unilaterally been the result of throwing too many fastballs. Does his inconsistent ability to locate his curveball and/or execute it to maximal effectiveness make him an idiot?

  • larryf

    Wild pitches/passed balls/walks/behind in the count constantly/fielders losing concentration/slow delivery and inability to keep runners from stealing

    Is there an exit plan for us with this guy???

    • Jobu

      Keep passing him through waivers until Kenny Williams bites?

      • MattG


        if I were AJ, I’d make sure CHA was one of my ten no-trade candidates!

    • Pete

      no. deal with it. He’s overpaid, but he’s really no worse than any other team’s 5th starter (except maybe the Rays). His salary represents a large inefficiency within the organization, but there’s nothing to be done about it now. The Yankees will survive his stay.

  • http://riveraveblues sandy g

    i believe the yankees have had enough of aj.they will bite the bullet and trade him for nothing and eat some of the 49mil still owed to him.he is not reliable to pitch as a #2 or #3 starter.i believe the only starting pitcher that is given to come back in 2011 is sabathia.they need a rebuilding of the starting rotation.

    • Jobu

      Two questions for you:

      1. Who do you think is going to trade for AJ?

      2. What are you planning to do with Hughes?

    • MattG

      Why dismiss Phil Hughes? And Andy Pettitte would be a welcome return.

      Atlanta or St Louis would have plenty if interest in AJ, but the Yankees will need to absorb about half the salary–I don’t see that happening.

      And he’s got the limited no trade thing.

      Circle Cliff Lee, a reclamation project along the lines of Brandon Webb, another chance for Joba, and some minor league blood like Nova and Noesi for competition, but Burnett will be holding down a rotation spot in 2011.

    • Ross in Jersey

      Thank god you’re not the GM. Giving up on Hughes after he had a good-but-not-great year as a 24 year old? Every single team in the league would kill to have him on their team right now.

    • Pete

      AJ Burnett has a 100% chance of being in the Yankees rotation next year, barring season-long injury. Eating his salary means replacing him with a pitcher who is going to be just as shitty, if not worse (and possibly a lot worse – ’09 AJ could come back in ’11), because you’re still paying him that money, which effectively bars you from paying a more competent pitcher.

      • Jobu

        To be fair, it could also mean a young pitcher. I don’t think there is any way that AJ will be traded, but from a financial point of view you could replace him with Joba for example. Then roll with:

        Lee (assuming the Yankees sign him)

        Won’t happen and probably shouldn’t happen, but it would be financially possible even if the Yankees eat AJ’s salary.

  • kosmo

    When NY signed AJ he was coming off his career best season his fastball was easily topping off at 97mph and sat at 95 on a consistent basis.Last season his fastball fell off a little and now in 2010 he very rarely hits 94 during a game.
    He´s a 2 pitch pitcher with a diminished fastball and a good curve .
    The only problem NY is stuck with him for 3 more yrs at 16.5 mil but I state the obvious.

    • Benjamin Kabak

      Nitpick: He’s a three-pitch pitcher, but he can’t throw his two off-speed pitches for strikes consistently enough to make his fastball work better. A 93-mph fastball should be plenty fast enough for MLB success if the curve ball is a strike and the change has enough velocity separation.

      • kosmo

        Nitpick:I agree for the most part.Burnett has an outstanding curveball which he can´t throw consistently for strikes and although he possesses a changeup it is strictly a borderline pitch not a great pitch for AJ by any means.
        So hitters sit on his fastball .Very simple.If he had better command he would be great but control has always been his big issue.

        • ZZ

          That is not correct. AJ’s changeup is a very good pitch. It has the potential to be a plus pitch if he threw it enough.

          You are both wrong actually. AJ has 4 pitches. He just refuses to throw his two seamer and changeup.

          • kosmo

            He doesn´t throw his changeup more often because he is not confident in throwing it! So it is not a plus pitch.Doesn´t his 2 seamer get hammered?

  • Wil Nieves #1 Fan

    Everybody’s tired hearing about his “stuff.” His stuff is as relevant as Cervelli’s charisma. If memory serves me correct, he allowed the lead off batter to reach base in four of his seven innings pitched. In two of the three innings where he retired the lead off batter, he allowed the second batter to reach. And, of course, the wild pitch. You simply cannot win with AJ (figuratively and literally).

    BRING UP IGAWA!!!!!! <— joking.

    • abby

      Mr.Nieves: Anytime you include Cervelli in your comments, even if he doesn’t have anything to do with the subject (you are talking about A.J.) you have something inappropriate to say about him.
      Isn’t about time something constructive comes out of you?

      • Wil Nieves #1 Fan

        I’m defending the legacy of Wil Nieves. You betta recognize.

    • http://riveraveblues sandy g

      everyone including the yankees are tired about hearing about his stuff is so it once in a while.he does not have good game bad game,he has good inning bad inning.when girardi pitches him in game 2 or say in game 3 needing a must win,i dont like the yankees chances of getting past the first round

  • Tom Merritt

    I’m beginning to think JG is a dunce!!!

  • Emilia

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