Splitting Burnett

Fan Confidence Poll: January 2nd, 2012
Soriano saving the Yanks from Edwin Jackson
(Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty)

Back in November I took a deep dive into the numbers to see whether there were any positives to be gleaned from A.J. Burnett‘s lousy 2011 season and whether we could expect at least a slightly better performance from the enigmatic righty in 2012 (assuming the Yankees don’t eat his deal and decide to make him someone else’s problem). What I found was that Burnett’s season was utterly compromised by a brutal nine-start stretch he put together during July and August — which was in large part due to the fact that he lost nearly two inches of vertical break on his curveball — and that if you removed those performances from his ledger he actually threw to a 4.11 ERA over 135.2 innings. We all know baseball doesn’t work that way, but that would seem to indicate that there’s still a somewhat useful pitcher in there somewhere.

Today I wanted to examine a few key splits, in the hopes that there are some underlying trends that could bode well for A.J. going forward. For the masochists in the audience, feel free to download the spreadsheet I created which has the tOPS+ and sOPS+ data on pretty much every split you could want during the course of A.J.’s Yankee career. For the purposes of this post, we’ll focus on sOPS+, as in the case of a pitcher like Burnett I think we’ll get a better sense of just how effective/ineffective he’s been comparing his performances in various splits against the league instead of compared to himself.

Over the last two years, leadoff hitters, cleanup hitters and 5th-slot hitters have really given it to A.J. but good. For some reason, A.J. fared best against #2 hitters last season, and also handled them relatively well last year. While his performance against 1-2 hitters slightly worsened in 2011, his sOPS+ against 3-6 hitters was flat year-over-year and his numbers against 7-9 hitters actually improved over 2010 (although in the case of the latter, he was still only 3% better than league average). Still, none of this data is terribly optimistic.

Last year, Burnett was curiously effective with a runner on 3rd and less than two outs (53 sOPS+). He also fared well with runners on first and third (72 sOPS+). Though one would think that Burnett’s propensity for wild pitches — something that wouldn’t show up in the opposition’s cumulative OPS —  likely aided the opposing team’s opportunities with runners on third. Burnett has been atrocious with a runner on 2nd these last two seasons, posting a 143 sOPS+ last year and 152 this past season. Nothing to see here.

This past season A.J. appeared to save his best pitching for when the team was trailing, with an 80 sOPS+. However, as driven painfully home by the August 3 game against the White Sox, he was inexplicably terrible when pitching with a big lead, posting an sOPS+ of 195(!) when ahead by four-plus runs.

In 2011, A.J. saved his worst pitching for the middle innings collectively, although his worst performances came in the 2nd inning of games (154 sOPS+). Burnett was great in the 3rd inning (43 sOPS+), but that was one only three innings he was better than league average in, and one of those innings — the eighth — was one he rarely even saw.

Unfortunately there doesn’t appear to be anything in the underlying data that might portend a brighter future for Allan James Burnett in 2012. I’ve been hoping against hope that A.J. can return to a level of effectiveness that he last evinced in 2009, and while I’ll continue to perhaps foolishly expect better from A.J., no matter which way you slice ’em the numbers tell a very different story.

Fan Confidence Poll: January 2nd, 2012
Soriano saving the Yanks from Edwin Jackson
  • Paul VuvuZuvella

    Splitting Headache.

  • gageagainstthemachine

    I tried to read this thoroughly, but I just can’t bear to try and rationalize AJ any more in my brain. I will just root for the guy to be at his best each time he picks up a baseball, because I’m a diehard Yankee fan and root for our guys, and will look forward to whoever starts the next game immediately after Burnett’s starts.

    • MannyGeee

      funny, i root for the guy who starts the game immediately before. conserve that bullpen boys, we might need it for AJ Day!

      • gageagainstthemachine

        Yeah…best to book end those hopes :)

  • nedro

    Gah. Shoulda read this before answering the poll. What a maroon.

  • CJ

    This sort of pitching “split” is an idea I’ve looked into as well. Considering all starters have those bad outings where they just don’t have it and get hit hard and/or lose control leading to a reasonably expected team
    Loss, add those up and segregate them. Count the arguably ineffective “quality starts” and a category of high quality starts in which a team could reasonably expect to win (2ER or less in 7+ IP) (think King Felix). It is a decent but imperfect way to compare starting
    % high quality/dominant starts, quality starts, ineffective/poor starts

    • CJ

      It’s can be useful as a measure of frequency of start quality. The rationale is that a single really good or really bad start becomes statistically redundant based on a win is a win a loss is a loss. That said, without having competitive numbers, AJ could lead the league in ineffective/poor throw away starts. However, he may offer more high quality starts than we may have expected.

  • pat

    I’d prefer if he were quartered, but I suppose split is OK too.

  • William

    I don’t care about AJ. Drives me insane. Hey, at least Jesus Montero is the 2nd coming of Edgar Martinez!

  • American Horror Story

    I would rather have Swisher pitch instead of AJ. #SERIOUSLY

  • Slugger27

    could he be tipping pitches with runners on 2nd? maybe they can see his grip


    • Brian

      Only in Toronto…

  • Andy in Sunny Daytona

    I believe in AJ!!!

    • ChooChoo

      Also—you likely believe that..
      OJ is innocent
      Rex Ryan had successful gastric surgery
      Ronald Reagan didn’t dye his hair
      Professional Bowling gets great TV ratings

  • d.


    2 of Banuelos, Betances & Montero!?
    Yeah, that’s not happening.

    • CJ

      It’s disappointing that Betances plus package can’t get a deal done without including banuelos or montero.

      • MannyGeee

        the price for pitching is too damn high.

        • CJ

          I seriously believe the value of noesi, phelps and Warren were destroyed by resigning freddy Garcia. The yanks are saying we like Freddy Garcia better than any of the 3 or even a combination of them.

          • Slugger27

            wait a minute, you’re saying the yankees are wrong to expect better contribution from freddy garcia than phelps and warren? you’re kidding right?

        • http://www.yankeeanalysts.com Eric

          I’m glad it’s catching on

          • MannyGeee

            you’re welcome. embrace the movement!

      • Paul VuvuZuvella

        Would you do Betances, Nova and Romine? Not saying that will get it done, just asking.

        • CJ

          For Garza? No way! Including nova doesn’t improve the team. Betances, 2 of phelps Warren noesi, romine should be enough for a garza or gio. Or betances mason and Joseph.

        • Slugger27

          i wouldnt do that… look, the guy had a great year, no doubt. but lets face it, the nl central is completely different than the al east. instead of facing a DH 4 times a game, hes facing a pitcher 3 times and some joe schmoe pinch hitter. not to mention the difference in competition from all the other hitters.

          id like to acquire him, but he’d be paid roughly $20M for 2 years. for a guy who was consistently a 3.9-4.4 e/f/x guy for the rays, nova/betances/romine to me is a giant overpay.

          • Paul VuvuZuvella

            I wouldn’t do it either but for me it’s not an overpay if it is “market price.” Pitching has been trading at a ridiculous premium recently.

            • Slugger27

              you’re right, of course “overpay” is subjective. my opinion is that garza isn’t a big enough upgrade over what we have to make that trade justifiable. i will certainly agree that the market for pitchers has been astronomical.

              its my opinion that most commenters on here really underrate novas trade value. if you took him out of that deal, it would be a whole other story.

    • Slugger27

      ya, that request is a joke. its not like the guy has a longoria contract or something.

  • Glass Half Empty

    C’mon RAB, give the analysis a rest. 3rd inning v. 2nd inning? who gives a shit? The guy sucks. There is no silver lining to find, so stop looking.

    • I Voted 4 Kodos

      Yeah, baseball blog dedicated to providing analysis of baseball. Stop analyzing baseball!

      • http://twitter.com/AnaMariana42 Ana

        I laughed.

        • Paul VuvuZuvella

          me too

      • Rainbow Connection

        Do you mean TYA?

  • Jose M. Vazquez..

    For the zillionth time, I will support AJ while he remains a Yankee. Each passing season makes it more difficult to do so. How did he lose 2 inches in his vertical drop? I know it’s not easy but videotape may show an abnormal motion or something you can hang your hat on and try to fix. Also as Slugger 27 said above, he may be tipping his pitches. No one of the opposition will tell. That happened to Pettitte in the 01 WS. I still hope that if he remains a Yankee that he does well. I don’t want my wife who does not watch much telling me today we lose because AJ is pitching.

    • CMP

      As AJ gets older and loses velocity, his pitching is only going to get worse. He’s never had much feel as a pitcher and we all know he has a 10 cent head.
      The only logical move is to eat as much salary as it takes to get him out of town and give his spot in the rotation to someone who may have a future like Warren and Phelps, et al.

    • MannyGeee

      it was the hair. threw off his mechanics.

  • Burbankbogey

    AJ clearly is a head case who when focused is a top end of a rotation guy. When he is not 100% mentally focused or let’s up bad things happen. Story of his career and exactly what this shows.

  • Rainbow Connection

    Is he a gymnast or sumthin’? Tss. Tss.

  • http://riveraveblues sandy g

    rafael soriano + 8 mil to miami=yankees save 17m on soriano contract

    aj burnett + 22 mil to miami =yankees save 11m on burnett contract

    this is the best i think the yankees can do for these two players.

    now sign hiroki kuroda and paul maholm.

    trade noesi,romine and phelps to cubs for garza

    • Slugger27

      i dont understand what you’re doing with that hyperlink. people are already at this website if they’re reading your posts. not to mention, it doesn’t even have a “.com”

    • MannyGeee

      now hit ‘Save’.

      Then eject the disc and put Modern Warfare 3 so we can solve world conflicts in the same manner.

      HOORAY over-simplification of complex issues!!!

  • David K.

    He “appeared to save his best pitching for when the team was trailing”. That is a losing pitcher in a nutshell and that is why there are some pitchers out there who have great stats but losing records, and I don’t want those guys on my team. Notice how often A.J. blows a lead as well. That’s the other side of the same phenomenon that adds up to a losing pitcher.

  • chmch

    Maybe we should give him a nickname like Demon or Death Flinger.

    • Rainbow Connection

      Or Shitfinger.

  • Professor Longnose

    You nailed it when you mentioned July and August. Those have always been his worst months, not just 2011. If you could get ohim out of the rotation eight around July 1 and keep him out until September 1, he’d be decent.

  • Plank

    he was inexplicably terrible when pitching with a big lead, posting an sOPS+ of 195(!) when ahead by four-plus runs.

    He’s like a very poor man’s Jack Morris.