Finding a role for Burnett in October

Catching up to the Red Sox
Sabathia will not start again during regular season
(AP Photo)

We’re just about a week away from the start of the ALDS, and now that the Yankees have officially clinched the AL East crown, we can talk seriously about the playoff roster. For the most part, the four starting pitchers are set in stone. We have no idea what the order of the rotation will be behind CC Sabathia in Game One, but that’s not important right now. The question I’m curious to know the answer to is: what happens with A.J. Burnett?

Barring something completely unforeseen, the Yankees will carry eleven pitchers in the playoffs and use the extra spot on a position player, likely a pinch-runner/defensive specialist type. Of those eleven pitching spots, nine are accounted for…

  1. Sabathia
  2. Ivan Nova
  3. Bartolo Colon
  4. Freddy Garcia
  5. Mariano Rivera
  6. David Robertson
  7. Rafael Soriano
  8. Boone Logan
  9. Cory Wade

Those last two spots are up in the air. Luis Ayala and Hector Noesi have been solid in mostly low-leverage roles all season, so you have to figure they’re at the front of the line. Aaron Laffey and Raul Valdes could conceivably pitch their way onto the roster as a second lefty, but there’s not exactly much time left for them to do that. Phil Hughes is a total question mark at this point because of his back, and at this point I have a hard time considering a realistic option for the playoff roster. That leaves Burnett as the last candidate, unless Joe Girardi really likes what he’s seen out of Scott Proctor this month. (kidding)

Joe wrote about the merits of using Burnett in relief last month, and the point still stands. He’s been far more effective the first time through the order than any time after that, and his velocity does tend to tail off as his pitch count increases. It’s certainly swing-and-miss stuff (11th best strikeout rate in the AL), so perhaps Burnett could be effective just by shutting his brain off and letting if fly for an one inning at a time. He could, potentially, give Girardi another power arm in relief, which is always what you want.

The problem is that A.J. has never pitched in relief before, at least not for any significant length of time. I don’t think going from the rotation to the pen is a huge adjustment, but it’s certainly an adjustment. You don’t have the same amount of time to warm up and there’s not much of a day-to-day routine, so you’d like to give him some time to get used to that. With only seven games left, they’d basically have to put him in the bullpen right now to have enough time to evaluate him. They’d have to find a spot starter for Saturday (no big deal during September), but they could conceivable get three one-inning looks at him that way (Saturday, Monday, Wednesday).

Right now, unless Laffey or Valdes really impress the rest of the way, I think Ayala’s a lock for one of those last two spots. That means it’s down to Noesi and Burnett for the final spot. If Noesi makes the roster, he’d be the longman, almost assuredly. If Burnett makes the roster, there’s a non-zero chance that he dominates enough to become fourth in line behind Mo, Robertson, and Soriano. It’s the story of his career though, there’s a chance of greatness but not enough of it. If the Yankees are thinking about using  A.J. in relief in the postseason, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to move him to the pen immediately, just to give him as much time as possible to get used to it. Either way, it’s tough to see Burnett having much of an impact next month.

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Catching up to the Red Sox
Sabathia will not start again during regular season
  • UncleArgyle

    Burnetts roll in the playoffs should be watching the Broadcast from his home in Arkansas.

  • your mom

    But AJ was supposed to be our #2 starter, for shame.

  • Paulies Favorite Water Cooler

    It should be a foregone conclusion that he won’t be making any appearances or impact during the postseason. Heck, Burnett should be more concerned with securing a roster spot next spring, never mind this October. With the young guns we have, and if Hughes can ever show up to camp in shape, I don’t see any room for Mr. Wild Pitch next season. The sooner he’s out of the Bronx, the better.

  • Kentucky Bomber

    It’s looking more and more like Girardi wants the flexibility that 2 lefties will bring him. Valdes is pitching better than Laffey, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Valdes on the post-season roster.

    • DB

      This might be more dependent on the opponent. If they face a team with more left-handed bats then yes Girardi might want an additional lefty, but if its a team that only has one or two left-handed bats he might opt for an additional right hander. Also, by the time Girardi gets to the 7th inning he can use guys like Robertson and Soriano who can get out both right and left handers, so there might not be as much of a need for two lefties though he might still want to since Logan has had problems getting out left handed hitters.

    • Tom

      The Yankees have 5 pitchers who can get lefties out in the pen:

      Mo/Ro/So/Co(Wade)/Lo(Logan, kind of)

      Girardi needs to stop the insanity of having a 2nd lefty for the sake of having a second lefty… at some point the quality of the pitcher matters more than the hand he throws the ball with.

      Assuming innings 7-9 are pretty much set(maybe more in the postseason), does he really need 2 LOOGY’s for innings 5 & 6?

      That said I fully expect Girardi to make every attempt to get either Laffey or Valdes on the roster.

      • Tim

        No, but Girardi might like to have a LOOGY he can use in a pinch in the 4th or 5th inning of a Colon or Garcia start that is 4-3 or 4-4 score, bases loaded, 2 out, lefty hitter at the plate. In the playoffs every scoring situation like this is magnified 1000x. You worry about getting out of that situation before you look forward to the rest of the game and who from your bullpen is going to pitching next. With this rotation I expect Joe to have a quick hook in the middle innings for basically everyone but CC.

        • Tom

          Logan?

          Wade? (this year he has a .710 OPS against vs lefties; the previous 3 years it’s been .604… sadly he throw with his right hand so he obviously can’t be used against a lefty in a tight situation?)

          Or you bring in Robertson in a high leverage situation like you describe (and pitch the following inning) and then use a guy like Wade in the 7th and push Soriano back to the 8th (which would obviously never happen in Girardi bullpen formula-world)

          Why is a left handed pitcher always the best option against a lefty? We are not talking Venters or OFlaherty or even Arthur Rhodes as the 2nd LOOGY options, we are talking Aaron Laffey and Raul Valdes….

          Heck I’d rather have Garcia or Colon in the situation you describe over Laffey and Valdes (if for some reason Logan or Wade were not the answer). Valdes 2008-2010 vs lefties? .991 OPS against (only has 17 PA’s against lefties this year)

          The problem is LOOGY should not be used interchangeable with being left-handed and breathing…

  • http://bleedingyankeeblue.com Jesse

    Burnett off the roster please.

  • dalelama

    AJ doesn’t have the mental capacity to handle high leverage bullpen assignments.

    • http://bleedingyankeeblue.com Jesse

      He’d probably only come in when it’s like 9-2 or something of that nature.

    • Brian S.

      O Rele? Are you his therapist and he told you this?

  • Rey22

    I’d rather have Noesi on the roster than AJ. At least Noesi can freakin’ pitch. Plus he’s done relief most of the season, so it’s not something new.

  • Jesus Freak

    Is this snark?

    Seriously, is this snark?

  • http://bww.com Adam

    I think Ayala has been very good. Sure, he hasn’t pitched in key spots in every series, but a guy who we picked up on the junk heap, he’s excelled here. As has Wade. Lately, Wade has been hittable, but Ayala has had a strong month. I’d go with Ayala, I suppose you gotta take Hughes if he’s healthy. Burnett is too risky. One name that is intriguing is Raul Valdez. He’s looked very good. And Logan could quickly be overworked in a short series.

  • Bronx Byte

    Burnett should be kept around to throw batting practice and give the Yankee coaches a break during the postseason.
    And yes, Girardi is liking what he sees from Raul Valdez as another bullpen lefty rather than waste time with Burnett.

    • UncleArgyle

      Thats a great idea! I imagine theres nothing that can get a hitter in a better grove than having AJ fire some fastballs to them.

  • https://twitter.com/TheRealJeromeS Jerome S.

    Burnett’s role shouldn’t be with the team, but guys, he’s going to be on the roster. Not a bad thing though, it’s not like Noesi is all that better than him.

  • Al H

    AJ needs a serious change in scenery………suggest
    South Australian Instructional League. Season starts Sept 30.

    • Delaware – Ralph

      +1 – and the timing just happens to work out perfectly!

  • Hardy

    Burnett will be the longman out of the pen – book it.

    • http://bleedingyankeeblue.com Jesse

      The odds of that happening are probably only 33% so you can’t “book it”.

      /Jim’d

      • http://twitter.com/JimIsBored JimIsBored (Jim S)

        See? Now you’re learning.

      • http://twitter.com/JimIsBored JimIsBored (Jim S)

        And for your next lesson, we’ll actually just stick you in a stats class, because boy is that going to blow your mind.

        Or, start playing poker. That’ll teach you pretty quickly what odds and probability mean, and how to use them.

        • http://bleedingyankeeblue.com Jesse

          Yep because Poker is just like Baseball. Awesome comparison dude.

          • http://twitter.com/JimIsBored JimIsBored (Jim S)

            heh. analogy comprehension fail.

  • AJavierkei Pavagawnett

    I agree leave him off the roster, but enough AJ bashing. OK, so while he’s not a number 2 starter, he’s not a bad number. He pitches 200 inningsish a year, is entertaining to watch, and can be counted for lots of hit batters (pitch him against Boston).

  • Oscar Gamble’s Fro

    Making sure the pie is ready.

  • jon

    Russell Martin, true yankee

    Russell Martin said it would be “awesome” to keep Boston out of the playoffs. “I hate the Red Sox,” Martin said.

    • NYC Diesel

      Did he really say that?

      Because I agree with both of his fine points.

  • Januz

    About the closest Burnett should be to the dugout would be if the team made him bat boy (I would say ball boy, but he would probably retrieve a foul ball, try and throw it back to Rivera, and hit him in the head). Since it is College Football season, do him a favor, let him go home to Arkansas and see the Razorbacks lose to Alabama, LSU and the rest of the SEC.

  • Guns of the Navarone

    I don’t like AJ in the bullpen. His sudden inability to throw quality strikes is his calling card. I could see AJ getting up in the pen, having about 10 minutes to warm up, and not be able to throw the ball anywhere near the plate. I don’t think it would end well.

    But that’s beside the point. AJ Burnett has spent the past 60+ starts proving that he cannot get outs in the major leagues at even an average level. He shouldn’t even be considered for the postseason roster. The Yankees’ job now is to hide him as much as possible for the duration of his contract.

  • Monteroisdinero

    I say have AJ pitch twice more before the end of the season. Once to Montero and once to Romine. Throw mostly curveballs.

    Let’s see what we got behind the plate.

    Of course, if Montero gets injured…..

    • yobo

      Montero is not going to play catching in any single inning in the postseason unless it is emergency.

  • 28 this year

    His role is to bring the pies for the walkoff celebrations.

    • duzzi23

      Pie throwing is the only role I want him to have. However while hes at it he can be bat boy and bench cheer leader cuz theres no way in hell i want him seeing the mound under any circumstance in a playoff game.

  • Sean

    Bat boy?

  • Sarah

    AJ is the new LOOGY. Only he throws with his right arm.

  • Kiersten

    The benefit to having A.J. in the pen, in my opinion, is that if Colon or Garcia implodes, you have another starter who can come in and give you 4 or 5 innings. Of course, Noesi could probably do that also.

    I’d still leave A.J. off, but I could see how he could be useful to have in a break glass situation.

  • yobo

    It is really crazy to count on Nova and Colon for the 5 game series. I think Burnett should be back Nova if he exits before 5th completed inning and the same for Garcia to Colon. If everything goes well (5+ innings work) for both then Burnett can start 4th game (if Sabathia is no go) with Garcia backs him in the midst of the game. That means Hughes, Noesi and Ayala are out for first round. It is going to be difficult for Girardi who likes to change relievers so frequently. Wade and Logan must stay efficient throughout the series.

  • CS Yankee

    Two weeks ago, I said let the season fully play out and he might be a choice. Although I still say the same (as Hughes is hurt so we only have one spare SP), I have changed on AJ as a Yankee.

    When he was cussing on the mound a few weeks ago they asked him if that was directed at Joe…he responded with something like “…no way, he has had my back all year, no way would i do that.” Fast-forward to his last start, he is sucking against a very, very, very weak Twin team, Joe pulls him and he states “he should have been given a chance”.

    This guy needs to be done playing for the NYY come mid-November. Keep the illusion that everything is fine now…”hey, we need you man” in case things continue to break for the other SP’ers. He needs to be “Zito’ed” one round at a time and then they need to trade him in November for the next Golson (6th outfielder) while eating the balance of his contract. He has now become a cancer, don’t have surgery just yet though, get the house in order (win 28), and then remove him quickly.

    • CS Yankee

      BTW, agree with the first nine. The others should follow something like this;
      10) Ayala
      11) Hughes (if healthy)
      12) Noesi
      13) AJ
      14-16) pick any “B”
      17-19) pick any “Laffey” type guy
      20) Proctor

  • yobo

    I hope wild card winner is announced as soon as possible so Betances, Brackman and Noesi (another start) can pitch in a game by the end of the season.

    I think I like to see Noesi to make another start as he tries to beat Burnett and Garcia for the final spot. Noesi has been in the bullpen and both SPs have not regularly. umm.

  • Zooboy

    Burnett’s role should be restricted to [answer redacted].

    (First rule of fight club…)

  • http://twitter.com/#!/EricDKoch Eric

    Designated pie man

  • Nickel

    My gut for the last two spots would be any combination of Ayala, Noesi, or Valdez. I could see reasons for any combination. I’m not all that high on Laffey, and AJ is just a waste of gravity at this point. He’s not going to start, and I don’t think it’s a good idea to use the post-season to try and find out if he can be an effective relief pitcher.

  • http://none Favrest

    Here’s a role for Burnett: pastry chef.

  • Kevin Ocala, Fl

    If a veteran starter can’t make the “adjustment” to the bullpen then he’s mentally weak. If that’s the case the Yanks need to get him the hell out of town….