What Went Wrong: A.J. Burnett

Fan Confidence Poll: October 24th, 2011
Switching Gardner and Granderson

Like every non-CC Sabathia member of the rotation, A.J. Burnett was a giant question mark heading into the season. He was coming off one of the worst seasons by a starting pitcher in Yankees’ history, the first player to wear pinstripes and throw 180+ IP with an over-5.00 ERA, but his team needed him. Unlike the other non-Sabathia members of the rotation, Burnett was making huge money with multiple years left on his contract, and that was undoubtedly a factor why he was being given such a long leash.

A.J.’s season started with reports of a mid-winter sit down with new pitching coach Larry Rothschild, and sure enough he came to Spring Training with some revamped mechanics. Nothing major, they just cut short the turn in his delivery to help keep him more on line with the plate. Like last season, Burnett’s 2011 actually started out pretty well. He used those new mechanics to carry a 3.38 ERA through his first eight starts, culminating with seven one-hit, one-run innings against the Royals on May 11th. The peripheral stats did not agree with the ERA though; A.J. had a ~4.25 FIP through those eight starts.

The Rays tagged Burnett for six runs in 5.2 IP on May 16th, then a couple starts later the Red Sox hung eight runs on him in 5.2 IP. That 3.38 ERA ballooned to 4.37 in the span of five starts, though a handful of appearances against NL teams in interleague play helped knock that down to 4.05 heading into early-July. Burnett had thrown at least five innings in all 17 starts up to that point, so he was at least sparing the bullpen and generally keeping the Yankees in the game. Not exactly what you want from a guy making that kind of money, but after the disaster of 2010, expectations had been lowered.

Burnett barely held his own (18 runs in 31.2 IP) in five July starts, then the wheels really came off. He allowed seven or more runs three times in five August starts, including once each to the punchless White Sox and even punchlesser Twins. After getting knocked out of the game in the second inning by Minnesota on August 20th, A.J.’s ERA sat at 4.96 and he appeared to have words with Joe Girardi while walking off the mound. The two (along with catcher Russell Martin) maintained that he was talking to the home plate umpire, and although it created some headlines that week, the situation was diffused rather quickly.

(AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

After throwing 7.2 IP of two-run ball against the collapsing Red Sox on September 25th, Burnett’s final start of the season, his ERA sat at 5.16, lower than last season but not enough to be meaningful. He’s basically repeated his 2010 performance, his second straight season of 180+ IP with an over-5.00 ERA and the second in franchise history. A one-batter relief appearance in the final game of the season served as a tune-up in what was supposed to be a relief role in the ALDS, but the weather forced him into a Game Four start with the season on the line. Burnett pitched well in that game, not great, but good enough to help the team win. He held the Tigers to one run on four hits and four walks in 5.1 IP, though Curtis Granderson saved his bacon with a pair of nice defensive plays.

On the bright side, Burnett’s curveball was much better in 2011 than it was in 2010, helping him post his highest swing-and-miss rate as a Yankee (10.0%) and return to the days of at least eight strikeouts per nine innings (8.18 K/9 to be exact, 11th highest in the league). His 49.2% ground ball rate was his best since 2007 as well, but that’s pretty much the end of the good news. At 1.47 HR/9, A.J. was the second most homer prone pitcher in the AL and third most in all of baseball, trailing only Colby Lewis (1.57) and Bronson Arroyo (2.08). His 3.92 BB/9 was the second highest in the AL (behind Gio Gonzalez) and sixth highest in all of baseball. Burnett’s fastball velocity continued to decline into his mid-30’s, sitting more 92-93 than 94-95, and his 4.77 FIP was actually worse than his 4.83 FIP in 2010 when compared to the league average (112 FIP- last year vs. 114 FIP- this year). It all added up to 1.5 fWAR and 1.1 bWAR, both of which rank 78th among the 94 starters that qualified for the ERA title.

Burnett’s awfullness was generally more spread out this season; last year it was really three horrific months (July, August, and September) that did him in. This year it was one horrible month (August) and five mediocre ones. Despite the now infamous “objective pipe” comment from Brian Cashman, there is no trade market for Burnett, so the Yankees are stuck with him whether they like it or not. Unless the team manages to import four very good starters this offseason, A.J. will be back in the rotation in 2012. Expecting improvement would be foolish at this point.

Fan Confidence Poll: October 24th, 2011
Switching Gardner and Granderson
  • pat

    At least he’s not John Lackey.

    • jayd808

      Well, he is in a sense. He’s OUR John Lackey, true and at least he hasn’t left his wife after a masectomy but if R Sawks fans can talk about getting rid of Lackey, why do Yankee fans say “there is no trade market for Burnett, so the Yankees are stuck with him whether they like it or not.”
      I don’t think Lackey will be with the Sawks next season. Sometimes eating a mistake is just better over all than suffering through it. A.J. is just the devil we know.

      • JobaWockeeZ

        Because the Red Sox had a double agent in jed Hoyer who was “interested” in getting Lackey. Now it’s impossible since Hoyer left to go to Chicago.

        No one will take AJ unelss the Yankees eat everything which they haven’t done before or if they send a top prospect which is a complete waste.

      • Slugger27

        i tend to agree. burnett doesnt have a full no trade clause. if the yankees are willing to eat, say, 11M of his salary each year for the next 2, then i think hes movable. there may be an NL team expecting to contend that could use a veteran innings eater. theyd be taking on 2 years and 10 million for his services, i could definitely see interest.

        • http://fendersonandhampton.com Cuso

          That’s probably why noone would hire you as a GM.

          You probably think Carlos Zambrano is “movable” too, right?

          The Yankees could dump him on someone if they ate 95% of the contract or more – that’s it.

          And the only reason another team would jump at it would be the sheer mockery they could make of the Yankees for trading for their pitcher while the Yanks paid $17.3M of his $18M/year contract.

          AJ is going nowhere

          • Ted Nelson

            I don’t think it’s at all ridiculous to think there might be interest in AJ at $5 mill per season.

            As terrible as he’s been, AJ has still been worth 1.5 fWAR per season in the AL East pitching his home games in Yankke Stadium. He’s stayed healthy and given the Yankees almost 200 IP per season. Teams go out and pay more money for free agent pitchers with little chance of being any better than that or very little chance of being healthy… Look at someone like Jake Westbrook. Guy got 2 years $16.5 mill. Rich Harden seems to get a solid deal every season, only to get hurt again.

            • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

              The Yankees have never eaten a substantial amount of money to trade away someone they didn’t want, and I don’t see them starting now.

              • BK2ATL

                Correct. We witnessed them eating the Kei Igawa contract by stashing him in AAA. We witnessed the Carl Pavano fiasco amongst others. I don’t see them starting now either.

                There is still some value in Burnett for us. It’s just a hit-or-miss proposition as to when we see it.

                • Ted Nelson

                  Igawa and Pavano are not comparable to AJ.

                  Pavano was always hurt. Who is trading for a guy on the DL?

                  Igawa didn’t make much money, so there wasn’t much money to be saved. Potentially saving $3 mill is not the same as $10 mill.

                  There is also some potential value in trading Burnett in the right deal. (For the Yankees, not “us.” We are not part of the Yankees’ organization.)

                  • BK2ATL

                    Wasted money is wasted money, no matter how you attempt to justify it. 5 year, $20 million deal and no, they didn’t eat it.

                    Mike is completely right. We haven’t eaten substantial amounts of any previous contracts. I referenced 2 of several that could be brought to bear. Jared Wright could be another.

                    PLEASE STATE CASES WHERE THE YANKEES HAVE RECENTLY EATEN CONTRACTS TO TRADE A PLAYER. So basically, it’s your opinion. Nothing based on facts. See how that works?

                    We (well me and plenty of others here) are fans of the Yankees. Not sure about you. Take it however you want to. I could truly care less.

                    • Ted Nelson

                      $3 million is not $10 million. No. Igawa couldn’t even pitch well in AA and AAA… what MLB team was going to pay $1 million even per season for the right to have a mediocre AA pitcher? It is very unlikely that the Yankees could have gotten any value in trading a mediocre AA pitcher. Burnett is at least a mediocre MLB pitcher.

                      Again… Jater Wright is not comparable. Stop. He was a solid #4 starter in 2006. Why would they pay someone to get rid of him? Burnett might be their #6 or #7 starter entering the season, which is why I suggest they might be better off eating some salary to move him. If he I expected a 2.4 fWAR season (Wright in 2006) where he was their 4th best starter, then I would not suggest eating salary to move him. If they expect that, then I totally agree they won’t move him. I don’t see why they’d think that, though, unless he changes his midframe and they have no faith in their young pitchers or any free agents.

                      Don’t get angry because you don’t understand my point.

                      I never said Mike is wrong. I never challenged his historical statement about paying players to go away in the past. I said that in the future a situation could arise where it behooves them to do so. AJ Burnett might present such a case.

                      You constantly say that decisions made by the team are made by “us.” That is incorrect, so that’s how I’ll take it.

                    • Ted Nelson

                      Citing Jaret Wright as an example (2 year deal worth about $12 mill total… missed 1.2 the first season with injury and then a solid 2.4 fWAR 2006) is a good example of why you need to do more listening/reading/learning and less insisting you are right.

              • Ted Nelson

                I realize it’s not likely, but at the same time I don’t think someone should be thrashed for suggesting a team might trade for AJ at 2 years $10 mill. That was the original point Cuso thrashed Slugger27 for, not that the Yankees wouldn’t do it. “That’s probably why noone would hire you as a GM. You probably think Carlos Zambrano is “movable” too, right? The Yankees could dump him on someone if they ate 95% of the contract or more – that’s it.”

                Why won’t they start now, though? Yankees think outside the box quite a bit. i don’t know if they are opposed to such a move so much as it is unlikely for a situation to arise where it behooves them to eat salary. It’s not like they have to worry about pinching pennies, but moving Burnett might free up some money for a Garcia or comparable while removing somewhat of a “distraction” and bringing in some AAA depth in return (maybe a Chris Dickerson sort of return). Heck, the $10 mill saved could go right into their bid for Darvish to blow teams away like the Red Sox for DiceK.

  • nsalem


  • Mike Myers

    Whats another 2 years and 33Mil? Lackey is 3@46….

    Baseball contracts are amazing!

  • Jumpin’ Jack Swisher (formerly Jorge)

    So we don’t still believe in AJ? :)

  • Rey22

    Shouldn’t this article go under What went as expected? We all hoped AJ would bounce back, but was anyone really shocked to see the season he had? It was right in line with the crappy pitcher he’s been for a while.

    • JobaWockeeZ

      When Larry Rothschild came there were loads of comments saying he’ll be back to his 2008 ways. So it still went wrong.

    • Ted Nelson

      Agreed. The article literally says he repeated his 2010.

      From a longer-term perspective it went wrong, though. Entering the season we expected this, but hopefully this isn’t what the Yankees expected when they signed him.

  • Paul VuvuZuvella

    He showed up.

  • http://twitter.com/andrewjcalagna Drew

    The Yankees had the best record in the AL with AJ pitching like the way he was. It sucks to watch but I still root for AJ everytime he goes out there. The regular season doesn’t really matter all that much to us Yankee fans.

  • UncleArgyle

    One thing that AJ does bring to the table is Health. Guy has been a horse the last 4 years. Albeit a Horse that gets shelled all the time. But the fact that he takes the ball every 5 days is worth something. Pretty ironic considering the book on AJ before New York was a player w top of the rotation talent who couldn’t stay healthy. Instead you get an iron man who can’t get outs.

  • jon

    AJ ERA in this post season 1.59
    CCs ERA in this post season 6.23

    clearly we need to let CC walk and make AJ our ace

  • TLVP

    With an offense like the Yankees’ they’ll win virtually every time good AJ starts and lose almost every time bad AJ shows up. Thus he’s much worse than an average pitcher during regular season since the Yankees are 0.600 team. In the post season a 50/50 flip isn’t a bad risk/reward. It’s not good either, but it is acceptable. However bad AJ seemed he really was a 50/50 proposition

    Including post season he has 14 starts going at least 5 innings giving up no more than 2 runs. 6

    In 12 starts he gave up 4 or more runs.

    The Yankees went 16-16 in games started by AJ Burnett.

    So since we made the post season even with AJ starting in the regular season and he allowed 1 run in 5.2 innings in the post season I’d consider AJ Burnett something that went right…

    • JobaWockeeZ

      No the Yankees won 97 games in spite of AJ Burnett, not because of him. Which makes his season a ‘wrong’ one.

      • TLVP

        The Yankees won 99 games not 97.

        They lost 68 games not 65. Out of those 65 losses only 3 mattered. AJ didn’t cause us to lose those games.

        Look I know he was horrible but we expected him to be a 50/50 pitcher and he was. When it really mattered and the season was on the line, good AJ showed up. Thus to me it was a better outcome than expected.

        • Now Batting

          The only reason you’re saying the other 65 don’t matter is because everyone else pitched well enough and hit well enough to get us into the playoffs. AJ did not help us do that.

  • BK2ATL

    I just can’t with AJ. We got him to make a run at a WS in 2009. It worked. Now we’re just stuck with him until that deal runs out…..

    Very low expectations each time he takes the ball. Not gonna root against him. He’s wearing the pinstripes. For the next 2 years, he should be penciled in as our #5 pitcher, that’s all.

    He could probably go 34-0 next year, but I’ll be waiting for the other shoe to drop. Because with AJ, you KNOW it’s coming. It’s just a matter of when. You’re not gonna fool me again.

  • Jose M. Vazquez..

    Roy Halladay was of course, much younger when he was sent down to class A to change his mechanics under Clyde King.I am not advocating that AJ be sent to the minors but he certainly needs a mechanics change. At the beginning of this year he said he did not need fixing. I wonder if he still feels that way. If he does, then we can expect more of the same for two more years. He should at least give it a try with the no windup delivery in Spring training and if that does not work, then he is finished.

  • http://bleedingyankeeblue.com Jesse

    Shouldn’t the title be;

    What Went As Expected: A.J Burnett

    I mean, who is surprised at how he did this year? I’m sure as hell not.

    • Reggie C.

      This made me laugh.

      Its funny bc its so damn the truth. can’t wait to be unsurprised once more next season!

      • BK2ATL

        And the season after too….

  • Kevin

    I’ll say this…yes he was awful this year but twice when we needed him to step up (09 World Series and this year’s ALDS) he did.

  • The Scout

    I share the view that A.J. is not going to another team. But I believe it is quite likely he will be going somewhere — to the bullpen, as soon as one of the younger pitchers proves he is ready for the chance to join the rotation. This might happen out of spring training, but it is far more likely to occur later after Noesi, Banuelos, Betances, Warren, or someone else pitches effectively in AAA. A.J.’s lock on a rotation slot is a thing of the past; he’s basically marking time now. Eventually he’ll become the long man in the bullpen, and the less money remaining on his contract the easier it will be for the Yankees to swallow their loss on him.

  • http://www.twitter.com/matt__harris Matt :: Sec110

    I think “EVERYTHING” would have been enough for the article.

  • Joel

    For all practical purposes, we’re looking at AJ being part of the starting rotation. I’m hoping he’s a .500 pitcher with a ERA around.400. Just can’t expect more, and hoping we don’t see a lot less.

    As for the prospect of enough young guns being promoted to the starting rotation. I’m not counting on it until it happens. Then the question arises Will AJ be a benefit as the long man?

  • Bronx Byte

    Not interested in another year of how Burnett can turn it around with his next start. He’s like a broken record.