May
23

Catching up with A.J. Burnett

By

(Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Once upon a time, the Yankees had a surplus of starting pitching. So much so that they traded one of the only 16 pitchers to make at least 32 starts in each of the last three seasons to the Pirates for a pair of fringe prospects and $13M in salary relief. New York’s rotation has been inconsistent and adequate at best while A.J. Burnett has toiled in relative obscurity in Pittsburgh. Contending is a pipe dream, but Burnett recently told both Brian Costa and Andy McCullough that he’s enjoying his new surroundings.

“It’s completely different,” he said. “I can go out there and do what I want, how I want, when I want to. If I want to turn around upside down, I can do it — as long as I throw a strike. It was always the pressure I put on myself to do so good. And now, I’m just out there, just doing it.”

Like every other ex-Yankee, Burnett takes advantage of the freedom to don some horrible facial hair. He traded a college fund for a uniform number and keeps fishing poles at his locker in PNC Park while his 2009 World Series ring is tucked away at home. He still talks to CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, David Robertson, and others regularly but also acknowledges that he prefers the levity of his new situation.

“I’d get 3-0 on the first batter, and you’d hear a bunch of people,” he added. “My first start, I walked the bases loaded here. I can’t even imagine what [Yankee Stadium] would have sounded like over there, and there was maybe like two words that came out of the crowd here. So it’s just different.”

Burnett owns an unsightly 4.78 ERA in six starts for the Pirates, but most of that stems from a 2.2-inning, 12-run disaster against the Cardinals a few weeks ago. He’s allowed no more than two runs or thrown fewer than six innings in any of his other five starts, including seven shutout innings against St. Louis in his first appearance of the year. As you know, he missed the first few weeks of the season after fouling a ball off his face in Spring Training and fracturing his orbital bone. His 3.46 FIP is by far his best since a 3.45 mark with the Blue Jays in 2008, the year before he came to New York.

Do the Yankees miss Burnett? Despite their sketchy rotation, I don’t believe so. Burnett helped the Yankees win a World Championship and if you do that, you’re cool with me. That doesn’t mean you get to keep your job forever though. He was good for innings but not much else these last two years and the move to the easier league seems to have served him well at this point of his career. It doesn’t sound like A.J. misses the Yankees but not in a mean-spirited way. Things here had run their course.

“I had my good times there, though” said Burnett. “I don’t regret it at all. I don’t. I regret not performing better.”

Categories : Days of Yore

80 Comments»

  1. Drew says:

    I’m glad AJ is doing well. Besides the above mentioned stinker he would have an ERA in the 2′s.

    • The Guns of Navarone says:

      Everybody’s a great player when you remove their bad performances. Of course he threw a 12-run clunker… that’s what AJ does. It won’t be his last one over there and I’m glad he’s pitching for another team. I’m also glad he seems happy with the relative lack of attention he gets over there.

      • Sayid J. says:

        Yup, AJ has thrown a ton of 12 run clunkers in his career.

        Yea, everyone looks better when you remove their worst performance, but most people don’t improve from an ERA of 4.78 to in the 2′s. His season has been dominant outside of that one game, and most people with one bad game can’t say that.

  2. Robinson Tilapia says:

    Good to hear he’s happy.

    No, he wouldn’t have helped this year. He may have taken one for the team, stayed out there longer, and kept the bullpen a bit rested, but we wouldn’t be in a better position overall if he were in the rotation.

    That being said, I have nothing bad, ever, to say about AJ Burnett. I was a fan ever since he came up with the Marlins and got to shake hands with him at the team hotel here in NYC during the 2003 WS. Yes, he became beyond frustrating and his Yankee career was hitting a new low on a regular basis before being sent to Pittsburgh, but he never once deflected the blame for his performance. The pies will forever be a part of the 2009 championship season. I have no problem saying I supported the signing when it occurred. I hope he can have his own little career rennaisance in Pittsburgh.

  3. I am not the droids you're looking for... says:

    This is precisely the type of direct quotes that make me scoff at anyone who claims there is little to no difference – or impact on player performance – between playing in the worlds largest media market (with the commensurately noisiest fan base) and, well, just about any place else but in particular the smaller, quasi-anonymous burgs.

    You can quantify stuff until you’re blue in the face, adjust for park factors, league factors, blah blah blah. And all of that stuff obviously matters. But so does what’s in between the ears.

    • Cris Pengiucci says:

      It may be that AJ finds it easier to perform in Pittsburgh than he did in NY, based on his quotes. Or maybe the fact that he’s performing better with less fanfare or crowd involvement makes it easier for him to enjoy the environment. I don’t think he makes that entirely clear,

    • Jim Is Bored says:

      And what’s between the ears will be reflected in how they perform, which is recorded via stats. No one argues that mental makeup isn’t important. They just argue that if it doesn’t objectively affect performance, then there’s no use worrying about it.

      • Robinson Tilapia says:

        This.

        It’s the idea that something that is not quantifiable in any way should be treated as an absolute that gets argued.

        I have concerns, for example, as to how Zach Grienke’s approach would change if he were pitching for the Yankees, but I’m not going to sit here and tell you he’s guaranteed to be a flop and that you’re delusional if you think otherwise.

        • Bo Knows says:

          Honestly, I think Greinke would thrive in NY. The guy has gone through far worse than a little booing in his life. The biggest thing though is that I don’t think he gives a flying f%^k about anything accept his doing his job.

          My favorite quote from him when he was asked about playing in NY: “It’s just more people to ignore”

          • Jim Is Bored says:

            I think he, himself, would be fine pitching wise. But good lord, I can’t imagine the NY media’s reaction to someone like him or Bedard(notorious for being kind of a dick).

        • I am not the droids you're looking for... says:

          That’s not the issue. The issue is that people say it’s not a concern. And if you’ve missed those comments, I guess you just haven’t read through as many threads as I have :)

          I’m not saying it’s guaranteed either way. My problem is with those who eliminate it from the conversation. Wich is preposterous.

      • Rainbow Connection (futurely Dummies Playing With Balls) says:

        well said.

      • radnom says:


        No one argues that mental makeup isn’t important.

        This is not true.

        • Jim Is Bored says:

          No one who thinks logically would argue that. And if you’re wasting your time with people who don’t, that’s your issue.

          Please point me to a respectable source of someone arguing that mental makeup doesn’t matter. Because I’m not just going to take your word for it.

          • radnom says:

            Next offseason, make a suggestion that one player *may* not be a good fit in NY for exactly that reason and just watch the flame war start. I provided exactly the same amount of evidence for my claim as you have for yours.

            • Jim Is Bored says:

              Arguing that mental makeup isn’t important is NOT the same as arguing that someone will or won’t fit in in New York.

              Most people realize it’s important, but also realize that it’s not clear enough to use as evidence to prove that a player will or won’t perform somewhere.

              You’re claiming to have knowledge of their mental makeup. I’m claiming that unless you see it in stats, it shouldn’t affect your belief as to whether they’ll perform somewhere or not.

              You have to have proof as to the deficiency in their mental makeup before you claim they won’t “fit” in NY.

              Your detractors were not arguing that mental makeup doesn’t matter. They were arguing that you had no proof that it would, in that specific case, cause a performance decrease.

              • radnom says:


                You’re claiming to have knowledge of their mental makeup. I’m claiming that unless you see it in stats, it shouldn’t affect your belief as to whether they’ll perform somewhere or not.

                1. I didn’t claim to have knowledge of anyone’s anything.

                2. That is a fallacy, and exactly what I’m referring to.

                If someone plays in a Pittsburgh their entire career – the effect of playing for a team like NYY or Boston will not be reflected in their stats. That doesn’t mean it should be ignored when looking, or that its wrong to speculate about.

                There is no proof on either side for a situation like that. That doesn’t mean it we just have to assume its not a factor. Claiming someone definitely will be fit is just as bad as claiming they definitely won’t. The difference is that the former is widely accepted.

                • radnom says:

                  Also, you seem to be assuming I’ve argued that a player definitely won’t fit in the past. Not sure why, because I haven’t.

                  All I said was that there are people who will dismiss it out of hand. You want a source? You just became one. Thanks.

                  (Oh and speaking of Greinke, I think he’d be OK. But I don’t know. Thats the point.)

                  • Jim Is Bored says:

                    “Next offseason, make a suggestion that one player *may* not be a good fit in NY for exactly that reason and just watch the flame war start.”

                    I incorrectly assumed you meant you had started those discussions.

                    I think we’re on the same page, actually. I just have no idea how anyone(fans) could start to evaluate a player’s mental makeup in an attempt to predict their success. I think stats can reflect it, if they exist. If they don’t, then no matter how important mental makeup is, it’s silly to try and use it to explain how someone won’t fit in NY/Boston, etc.

                • I am not the droids you're looking for... says:

                  Precisely precisely precisely. IT CANNOT BE REFLECTED IN THEIR STATS IF THEY’VE NOT PLAYED ANY (or any significant) TIME IN ONE OF THE MORE INSANE MARKETS.

                  Ignoring it from consideration is foolish. And if you don’t think people do this, do as radnom suggests above.

                  • Jim Is Bored says:

                    You just proved my point.

                    IT CANNOT BE REFLECTED IN THEIR STATS IF THEY’VE NOT PLAYED ANY (or any significant) TIME IN ONE OF THE MORE INSANE MARKETS.

                    So…how are you going to judge it? Anecdotes? Interviews? Enjoy.

                    • I am not the droids you're looking for... says:

                      Actually yes. Quotes which, you know, come directly out of a player’s mouth are more than fair game – as part of a larger evaluation – to take into account.

                      So thanks for proving my point. And stop trying to put words into my mouth.

                      I said, clearly, that some people – including around here – refuse to include mental make up and the impact of the added stress on a player’s performance due to the media and fan base in a place like NY vs a Podunk town like Pittsburgh. And that that is simply ludicrous. If you see no evidence of this attitude, you’ve not read enough threads around here.

                      Enjoy.

      • I am not the droids you're looking for... says:

        Wrong. Not in the stats if you’ve play your career in Pitts or San Diego. Come on man that’s silly.

        And people argue this here all the time. The Grienke threads alone were over run with it.

        • Jim Is Bored says:

          No. NO!. Oh my god, please, for once, do something no one does, and stop tearing down a strawman.

          I am saying no one says mental makeup is irrelevant. It’s clearly important, because mental makeup is part of what got someone to the majors.

          The discipline necessary to getup early, to workout, to repeat the same motions an amount of times that the rest of us can’t even fathom.

          What people are arguing is that we have no good way to measure it, especially if there are no stats to present as evidence.

          I repeat. We have NO good way to measure it. So predicting whether mental makeup will affect their performance is a fool’s errand. That is not the same as saying mental makeup is not important.

          And i’m done, since clearly you both aren’t interested in understanding my point, and are instead more interested in being martyrs to the cause.

          • I am not the droids you're looking for... says:

            And I repeat: you are wrong because *people say mental makeup is irrelevant all the time around here* and if you see no evidence of this then stick around or go back and read through the myriad Greinke threads.

            Btw – note I never said that we did or didn’t have great tools to evaluate a player’s mental make up. However, quotes straight from the horses mouth are fair game.

  4. Cuso says:

    Amazing how his career turned out here. His first 2 months in ’09 it looked like he was made for this team.

    I remember watching him in ’02 and ’03 hoping that one day he’d come here.

    Wish it worked out better. Wish even more that his name didn’t have to become a “dirty word” in these parts. But that’s how it goes sometimes.

  5. infernoscurse says:

    yankees policy on facial hair is stupid and outdated, real men grow beards, beards are cool

    • NYinTX says:

      “real men grow beards”

      Men in the military would like a word with you.

    • CBean says:

      actually given the stupid stupid facial hair baseball players seem prone to, i’m glad the Yankees have their policy in place.

    • jjyank says:

      Meh, the Yankees are one of the pre-eminent sports franchises in the world, I’m cool if they want the faces of their franchise to look professional. I used to work in a bank and I wasn’t allowed to look like I just rolled out of bed either. Would having a beard or a lot of scruff make it more difficult to make a deposit or cash a check? Of course not, but I was representing something larger than myself, so I had to look the part.

      Besides, lifting that rule opens the door for a Derek Holland-esque 70′s porno mustache. Is that what you really want?

      • Robinson Tilapia says:

        Or Johnny Cueto’s bizzare facial labyrinth.

      • radnom says:

        http://steeshes.files.wordpres.....stache.jpg

        Pretty sure that door is wide open regardless.

        • jjyank says:

          Not really. If there was no more policy, half the team would be running around with awful facial hair. Giambi having a (rather normal looking) mustache doesn’t mean that there is no policy.

          • radnom says:

            Where did I say there was no policy?

            lifting that rule opens the door for a Derek Holland-esque 70?s porno mustache

            Holland’s stache would be allowed under the current policy.

            • jjyank says:

              Saying that the “door is wide open regardless” pretty much implies that. And technically yes, Holland’s ‘stache would be allowed, but the fact that the door is NOT wide open regardless discourages that. If there was no policy, it would be much more likely that guys have mustaches. One player making $20 mil a year growing a mustache does not mean that anybody will grow a mustache. I’m pretty sure if half the team grew a mustache someone would say something.

              • Rainbow Connection (futurely Dummies Playing With Balls) says:

                i think hes saying the door is wide open in regard to MUSTACHES, not wide open period. its a below the lip thing. mustaches have always been allowed, its the goatees and such that arent.

                • jjyank says:

                  Fair enough. I still think it’s relatively discouraged by the policy though. Other teams seem to have more guys with mustaches than the Yankees do.

              • radnom says:

                “The door” in your post referred to one specific facial hair type. What you think what I “implied” simply wasn’t there.

                • jjyank says:

                  Thank you for telling me what my own words meant. But that’s actually not what I meant, I was referring to all facial hair. Just because there are one or two “cracks” (Giambi) in that door does not mean that it’s open. That’s all I am implying.

                  I’m not sure how you thought I was only referring to one type of facial hair.

                  • radnom says:


                    opens the door for a Derek Holland-esque 70?s porno mustache

                    The ‘door’ here is referring to a very specific thing. Don’t get pissed at me because you can’t properly express yourself.

            • Robinson Tilapia says:

              We also should never, ever forget THE ‘stache.

    • gc says:

      I’m reminded of the famous Buddy Rich tapes when he totally went off on the members of his band because they had facial hair. Those rants have become legendary:

      “This is not the goddamn House of David fuckin’ baseball team. This is the Buddy Rich Band; young people…with faces! No more fuckin’ beards. That’s out! If you decide to do it, you’re through. Right now! This is the last time I make this announcement. No more fucking beards. I don’t want to see it. If you guys don’t want to shave it off, I’ll treat you just like they treat you in the fuckin’ Marine Corps. This is the way I want my band to look. If you don’t like it, get out! You’ve got two weeks to make up your mind. This is no idle request. I’m telling you how my band is gonna look. You’re not telling me how you’re gonna look, I’m telling you. You’ve got two weeks to make up your fucking mind, if you have any mind. There’s too much freedom in this band. It’s taken away. You’re not going to do what you want to do, but what I want to do, as long as you’re takin’ my fuckin’ money. I’m presenting my kind of band. The image I present is what I want, not what you want. When you go to work tonight, if I catch the fuckin’ beard on you, I’ll throw you off the fuckin’ bandstand!”

    • Opus says:

      Do they still adhere to the “trim those sideburns” rule?

  6. Robinson Tilapia says:

    Yes, I fully endorse the Yankees taking on pretend girlfriends in order to conceal their secret gay lives from the public.

    Oh, wait….

    I think the transformation that a guy like Phil Coke took when he went from Yankee to Tiger is hilarious. He went from looking like your accountant to looking like the guy who still takes in a Great White concert every now and then.

  7. LarryM.,Fl. says:

    I wish AJ well in Pitts. But as we see with Kuroda two different leagues offensively.

    • Robinson Tilapia says:

      There’d be reasons, other than change of league, for Kuroda’s performance. Dude’s 37, isn’t he? He’s also certainly had his moments where he’s looked spectacular in pinstripes.

      That being said, I still want to punch him repeatedly right now.

      • Jim Is Bored says:

        Yeah. I was really high on him coming into the season. Part of me is still up there, the other part doesn’t even want to tune in to his starts.

        • jsbrendog says:

          at this point, do you even want to tune in to the yankees in general?

          • Jim Is Bored says:

            *cough I’ve had an extraordinarily busy May. *cough cough*

            Actually for real though, I’ve only been able to follow a few innings live, otherwise it’s been checking scores, swearing, and putting my phone away.

  8. J says:

    I never understood why some people had animosity toward AJ. He tried his best and was ALWAYS accountable. Never said anything bad about anyone, and was always about the team, even when he sucked so hard he might not get a rotation spot. How many ballplayers these days can swallow their pride that easily? Sure, his performance sucked, but that brought on more of a feeling of disappointment rather than hatred. Guys who you hate are those that end up being dicks (see: Raul Mondesi, Gary Sheffield). Hope he’s loving the stress free confines of PNC.

    • LK says:

      I think, generally speaking, most fans hate you if you suck. Sure, it would be nice if everyone on the team playing well was a saint and everyone playing poorly was a tool, but that’s not how it works. At the end of the day, people are cheering for the performance not the player. Look at Mussina, by all accounts he’s pretty insufferable, but he pitched well here, and I (and many others) love him for it.

    • Rainbow Connection (futurely Dummies Playing With Balls) says:

      oh come on. the animosity is cuz he sucked. same reason theres animosity with tex right now. he seems like a good dude, sure, but nobody cares if hes getting shelled every start. people want the yankees to win more than they want a bunch of nice guys on the team. everything ive seen regarding kuroda suggests hes a nice guy, yet hes in my doghouse cuz of his performance. unless youre a jeter or jorge, if you suck, people are going to dislike you.

  9. jjyank says:

    Glad to see AJ doing well over there. I always liked his personality and I was a big fan of the pies.

    Also, flags fly forever. 2009 was worth it.

  10. OldYanksFan says:

    I like AJ, but he just admitted he can’t pitch under pressure. There’s nothing wrong with that, unless… ya know… you’re on a team fighting for a playoff berth.

    I would say the NL Central is the weakest division in MLB.
    The NL Central is currently 15 games under .500.
    The AL East is currently 24 games over .500.
    So the AL East is a mere 19.5 games ahead of the NL Central.

    So, no… AJ would not have helped. I would say his ERA would translate to around 6.00 in the AL East. That we don’t need.

    • gc says:

      Where did he say he can’t pitch under pressure?? Just because someone might think the glare of the media and fan spotlight in New York can sometimes border on (and often go beyond) the ridiculous…which it most definitely can…doesn’t mean he doesn’t think he can pitch in that type of situation. Was there ever a more pressure packed situation in Burnett’s entire Yankee career than pitching in game 2 of the 2009 World Series with his team and the city NEEDING a win desperately to avoid going to Philly down 0-2??? He seemed to do pretty well that night. And despite his flaws over the years, he always took the ball and gave a sincere effort, no matter what the situation.

      I agree he would not really have helped the team NOW, but nobody is arguing that he would.

      • I am not the droids you're looking for... says:

        I think it’s clear from AJs quotes that the continued impact of the pressure over the course of long seasons definitely had a negative impact on him and his performance here. That Game 2? With good enough stuff, even a blind squirrel finds an acorn from time to time.

  11. CBean says:

    It’s better that he’s not pitching for us but I had a soft spot for AJ and I won’t ever forget the Game 2 performance. Huge for us. AJ was frustrating and aggravating and yet, I always rooted for him. I’m glad Pittsburgh is working out for him. Plus, the facial hair is more fitting for a pirate.

  12. Alkaline says:

    I miss the pies.

  13. S says:

    PNC Field? Is that like Yankee Park or Fenway Stadium? I know the Pirates are awful, but if you’re a baseball blogger, you should at least know the proper name of all the ballparks in the MLB. Do a little research next time.

    • Alkaline says:

      You really think he is ignorant to the name? Did it ever occur to you perhaps PNC Field is just in his head and it was an easy mistake to make considering that is the name of our AAA field?

      • Alkaline says:

        Or did you just want to jump and relish an opportunity to try to make the blogger look like an idiot without thinking things through? (and come off a bit self-righteous).

    • Bunt Gardner says:

      Itchy trolling finger? Yes, while you’re correct on the name, it’s a rather minor infraction to jump someone over.

  14. Jamey says:

    “I’d get 3-0 on the first batter, and you’d hear a bunch of people,” he added. “My first start, I walked the bases loaded here. I can’t even imagine what [Yankee Stadium] would have sounded like over there, and there was maybe like two words that came out of the crowd here. So it’s just different.”

    I’m glad he’s living out the dream pitching in front of a silent crowd, perhaps only silent since most of them are there for the “All You Can Eat” tickets. He may not like it so much if he gets rollover crowds from the night Nickelback has their first concert, that’s probably the PNC Park equivalent of a World Series crowd, those people love their f’n Nickelback.

  15. Manny's BanWagon says:

    Must be nice getting $16 million to pitch with no pressure to win or pitch well since the fans have been conditioned over the last 20 years to accept whatever shit the Pirates put out on the field.

    What horrible fans the Yankees have actually expecting the 5th or 6th highest paid pitcher in baseball not to pitch like the 5th or 6th worst starter in all of baseball.

  16. RetroRob says:

    AJ is still AJ. He’d be a 5.00+ ERA on the Yankees.

    Burnett may have never mastered his ability on a consistent basis, but he’s also nowhere near as good as he was a few years back. Age, declinging fastball, and pitching for the Yankees in the AL East is not a good blend.

    Good luck in Pittsburgh, AJ. Never disliked the guy at all, but I don’t miss him at all.

  17. RichW says:

    AJ is still under pressure, just a different kind. The kind that comes when you know your team isn’t likely to score more than 2 runs so have no room for error.

    FWIW, AJ was booed heartily in his first game, sandwiching two walks around a single in his first inning as a Pirate.

  18. TC says:

    Hey Yankees fans – you are lucky there is no salary cap or the Yankees would be the equivalent of the NY Jets and the Pirates would be the Pittsburgh Steelers.

    The inmates run the asylum in ML Baseball – thats the only reason you guys win – competitive advantage – and you even suck doing this. With all of those resources and money – you should be winning a lot more.

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