The inevitable A.J. Burnett start


Hope for Good A.J., not Hide The Women And Children A.J. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

What everyone assumed was made official yesterday: the Yankees are going to use a four man rotation in the ALCS, and the fourth starter will be A.J. Burnett. It’s not clear which game he’ll start, but the smart money’s on either Game Four or Five. The schedule actually allows them to use only three starters if they’re willing to start CC Sabathia on short rest twice and both Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes on short rest once. Given Andy’s recent groin and back issues plus Hughes’ career high workload, it’s easy to understand why they didn’t go this route.

So that leaves us with Burnett. As a whole his regular season was awful; he set new career worsts in ERA (5.26), FIP (4.83), xFIP (4.66), K/9 (6.99), AVG against (.279), WHIP (1.51), swinging strike rate (7.9%), contact rate (81.8%) … the list goes on and on. It was the worst season of his career by a considerable margin, and according to bWAR he was below replacement level (-0.1). Burnett did have some stretches of brilliance during the season (1.99 ERA in his first six starts, 2.00 during July) as he tends to do, but he finished the year with a 6.61 ERA in his last dozen starts. Opponents hit .300/.380/.494 off of him during that stretch, which is hard to believe.

And yet the Yankees are giving the ball to Burnett for a few reasons, but one that sticks out more than the others: the simply don’t have a better option. Javy Vazquez, the guy that was supposed to be the fourth starter back in April, was been even worse than Burnett in 2010 and was left off the ALDS roster entirely. Dustin Moseley did an admirable job filling in while Pettitte was hurt, but he’s not a realistic option because he doesn’t strike anyone out and had a 5.29 ERA in his nine starts. Ivan Nova had his moments in September, but he struggled big time with men on base and was prone to that one big inning, a recipe for disaster in the postseason.

For all his warts, Burnett gives you something Moseley and Nova do not: the potential to dominate. Sure, it’s unlikely given his performance this year, but the ability is still tucked in there somewhere, and when you’re picking between three mediocre (or worse) options, go with the one that at least offers some upside. Anything can happen in one game, the regular season goes right out the window in October.

A.J. had a 5.27 ERA in his five postseason starts last year but he was dominant in his three home starts, allowing just ten hits and five runs while striking out 19 in 19.1 innings. He was also better at home this year, posting a 4.59 ERA (4.56 FIP) with 7.51 K/9 and 3.70 BB/9 in 80.1 innings (14 starts). Burnett was better at home last season too. His 2010 ALDS start will come at home regardless if he pitches in Game Four or Five, so at least he has that going in his favor. If he starts Game Four it’s likely to come against the other team’s fourth starter, another thing that’ll make A.J.’s life a little easier.

No one feels comfortable starting the 2010 version of A.J. Burnett in a playoff game, but it’s a necessary evil at this point. They don’t need him to be excellent, just good enough to keep them in the game and hand the ball over to the four main setup guys. Admittedly, that’s not something he was able to do on a consistent basis this season. Burnett is going to start next round, and while you don’t have to like it, you’d be foolish not to at least root for him.

Categories : Pitching, Playoffs


  1. Dream of Electric Sheep/ still haven't register /too lazy says:

    It’s not hard to believe that Burnett has been hammered this year. When you arm yourself with only an above average FB with erratic command, You will GET Torched.

    Keep the dude on a short leash , hope and pray he finds his command , that’s pretty much it.

    Mike, I know you secretly want big game Moseley , I am with you on that.

  2. Camilo Gerardo says:

    it will probably be 6ip, 2er; ho hum as they say. much ado about nothing as they also say.

  3. JGS says:

    Opponents hit .300/.380/.494 off of him during that stretch, which is hard to believe.

    Yikes. The closest player comparison I could find for that in 2010 was Hanley Ramirez, who hit .300/.378/.475. Basically, everyone facing him was Hanley Ramirez, but with more power. Yikes.

  4. don draper says:

    As Michael Scott said to Toby Flindersen….”NO..NO…GOD NO!

  5. I think we’ll all settle for “Merely competitive AJ” where he goes more than 4 innings and gives up less than 5 runs. Just keep the team in the game and give the offense a chance.

  6. gc says:

    He’s going to throw a two hit shutout in the ALCS clinching game for the Yanks.

  7. Joe West's Music Career says:

    If we can’t survive 1 start out of 7 by a lousy pitcher, we have much bigger problems than AJ, and don’t deserve to win.

  8. Yankeegirl49 says:


  9. john says:

    “NO” !!!!

  10. Captain Jack says:

    Match him up with the other team’s shittiest starter. At least that way they have a chance to give him run support.

    • Dream of Electric Sheep/ still haven't register /too lazy says:

      Match AJ against their 1
      CC vs 2
      Pettite vs 3
      Hughes vs 4

      Instant 3-1 advantage !

      Rinse and repeat
      AJ vs 1
      CC vs 2

      4-2 advantage Yanks

      AJ starts game one for me.

  11. AJ Burnett's Contract says:

    If AJ doesn’t deliver in this start do you turn the ball over to Nova in the WS if the Yanks make it?

  12. AJ dominating would be pretty awesome from the perspective that it would destroy the Rays/Rangers psyche.

    Shit man, we just got dominated by AJ Burnett. What chance do we have!

  13. vin says:

    He can’t be any worse than Brian Duensing was. Hopefully Girardi’s hook will come faster than Gardenhire’s.

    • JZ says:

      AJ’s hook could be contingent upon how the other three starters perform. If CC, Andy and Hughes do their jobs and throw seven innings each, Girardi will have a well rested bullpen ready to take on a seven innings of a shaky AJ start. But if the other starters falter, we may get one of those six inning, six run disasters.

      • Mister Delaware says:

        Another reason I’d love to see Hughes in Game 2 rather than Pettitte. In Pettitte’s 21 starts this year, he completed 6 innings 15 times (1 when he didn’t was the game he got injured, 2 were after he came back). Hughes didn’t complete 6 innings 11 of 29 times. Not a massive difference, but enough that I’d rather see Andy and CC as the bookends to AJ’s start just to give the bullpen their best shot of being rested / getting rest if needed.

  14. Centaur of Attention says:

    If AJ can give an outing of 6ip 3R I will take that right now. Especially if he is lined up against either Wade Davis or Tommy Hunter, who the yanks can hit.

  15. first time lawng time says:

    I trust A.J.

    2009 World Series Game 2: Never Forget.

  16. Scott CT says:

    If the Rangers win…don’t the Yankees get home field for Round 2 since they have the better record?

    I keep seeing how the Yanks will be on the road Friday but didn’t think that was accurate.

    • TMR says:

      Yanks are the wild card. They had a better record than the twinkies as well. Wild card starts on the road. If we make the WS it will start in the NL park because of the Allstar Game.

      • first time lawng time says:

        Which is stupid and makes zero sense.

        We get punished for an exhibition game and because we’re in a tougher division? That’s just dumb.

        • ch00ch00man says:

          no, those are the rules! no one complained when al was kicking ns’s butt umpteen years straight, but as soon as nl wins one, all of a sudden, that’s not fair? grow up.

          i, for one, love that rule. no more meaningless all star games.

  17. Brandon says:

    If the Yankees are going to pitch AJ Burnett in the ALCS, it should be against the other teams ace. The reason is because he’s either going to be terrible and lose to anyone, or he’s going to dominate and win. Yanks tried this last year in the World Series against Cliff Lee. It didn’t work then because it was in Philly. A home start in the playoffs for AJ is not the worst thing. I can’t wait for Friday!

  18. Matt DiBari says:

    I’m still hoping for rain

  19. Coach says:

    Let AJaysie trot out there in game 5. The whole bullpen will be ready to go as there is an off day the next day. This really won’t be much of a talking point come October 21.

  20. Mr. Jones says:

    If he throws 7 innings allowing 5 hits and 2 runs I’ll forget all about his atrocious regular season.

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