Mailbag: Burnett, Mariners, Shoppach

Rangers to sign A.J. Pierzynski
On Tyler Austin and third base

Only three questions this week, but they’re good ones. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything at any time. I might do a few mailbag posts next week since things will be slow during the holiday and I know I’ll have the itch to write but not the itch to think real hard, so submit accordingly.

(Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Jimmy asks: So the Yankees traded A.J. Burnett and he had a good season for the Pirates. Can we get some analysis in terms of did his command and velocity improve? Or was it the transition to a weaker division and league combined with the effects of PNC Park and their defense? Why was he so good? Since they’re still paying so much of his contract, should the Yankees have seller’s remorse?

Burnett, 35, pitched to a 3.51 ERA (3.52 FIP) in 202.1 innings and 31 starts for the Pirates last season. His strikeout rate (8.02 K/9 and 21.2 K%) was almost identical to his career norms, though his walk (2.76 BB/9 and 7.3 BB%) and ground ball (56.9%) rates were his best in six and seven years, respectively. His homer rate (0.80 HR/9 and 12.7% HR/FB) also dropped quite a bit, but that was expected. He didn’t enjoy any BABIP luck (.294 after .294-.319 from 2008-2010) but surely got some help from PNC Park, which is much more pitcher friendly than Yankee Stadium.

For the most part Burnett did not change his pitch selection much. He scrapped the cutter he toyed with in 2011 and otherwise threw a few more sinkers at the expense of changeups, but nothing drastic. His fastball averaged 92.2 mph, continuing a slow and steady decline that is very normal for a pitcher in his mid-30s. Burnett did throw more strikes through, a lot more in fact. His 61.1% first pitch strike rate was his best in eight years and about five percentage points better than what he did in New York. More than half (51.1% to be exact) of his pitches were in the strike zone as well, his highest rate in the PitchFX era and nearly seven percentage points better than 2011. That could be an NL thing (weaker lineups), a mechanics thing, or a million other things. Who knows?

It’s probably worth noting that Burnett threw to Rod Barajas this season, who was his catcher during his strong 2008 campaign with the Blue Jays. Maybe the two just work together well, but if nothing else it probably helped the transition a bit. It was pretty obvious after 2011 that Burnett had to go and the Yankees would have to each a big chunk of his contract to make it happen, which sucks. I don’t think the Yankees have (or should have) seller’s remorse though. He had just had two of the worst seasons by a starter in team history in back-to-back years and was showing no signs of turning things around. Burnett worked hard, he tweaked his delivery every other start it seemed, but nothing was working. At some point a change as to be made, especially if you’re trying to contend.

Mark asks: It seems that the Mariners are looking for some outfield help and are most likely missing out on Nick Swisher, as they did Josh Hamilton. Do you think they would be interested in Curtis Granderson and possibly send something back of quality in return? Say a right-handed bat like Jesus Montero? What else would the Yanks need to add to get a return of that quality?

(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)

The Mariners added offense in Kendrys Morales earlier this week and are still looking for outfield help, but they have very little of value to offer the Yankees for Granderson. They aren’t getting Taijuan Walker or any of Seattle’s other big pitching prospects, and I doubt the M’s have soured so much on Montero that they’d trade him for one year of Granderson, or even one year of Granderson plus a prospect. Justin Smoak is awful and Franklin Gutierrez hits the undesirable trifecta (awful, injury prone, expensive), so forget them.

The Yankees could ask for infielder Kyle Seager or nominal catcher John Jaso, but I would expect a no to both. Right-handed hitting outfielder Casper Wells could probably be had and he’d make a ton of sense for New York, but he alone is not nearly enough of a return. As I’ve been saying for weeks, it’s very hard to envision a realistic trade scenario in which the Yankees move Granderson and actually improve the team. The Mariners could use the Grandyman, but they don’t have much to make it worthwhile.

Mike asks: Just wondering if you think the Yankees should have any interest in Kelly Shoppach. He has the AL East pedigree and would provide some desperately needed RH pop. Too expensive?

Shoppach, 32, has spent most of the last three seasons with the Rays and Red Sox, so he’s certainly familiar with the division. His overall offensive performance is pretty bad (even for a catcher) during those three years (.202/.294/.374, 85 wRC+), but that doesn’t tell the whole story. As a right-handed batter, Shoppach pounds lefties (.246/.336/.437, 115 wRC+) and gets completely dominated by righties (.156/.248/.301, 52 wRC+). It’s worth mentioning that since 2010, only one batter (Mark Reynolds) has made less contact on pitches in the strike zone than Shoppach (73.4%). His career 33.4% strikeout rate is ghastly for a player without huge power.

The various catcher defense rankings (2010, 2011, 2012) rate Shoppach as anywhere from average to above-average behind the plate, which surprised me. He’s also thrown out 31.5% of attempted base-stealers over the last three seasons, which is much better than the league average. For some reason I thought he was a butcher back there. The Yankees already have three right-handed hitting catchers in Frankie Cervelli, Chris Stewart, and Austin Romine, but that shouldn’t stop them from pursuing Shoppach at a reasonable (one-year, $3M?) price just so they could get some offense from the catcher position, even if it’s just against lefties.

Rangers to sign A.J. Pierzynski
On Tyler Austin and third base
  • BJ

    “He didn’t enjoy any BABIP luck but surely got some help from PNC Park, which is much more hitter friendly than Yankee Stadium.”

    I think you either mean “less hitter friendly” or “more pitcher friendly”, right?

  • Mscott

    Is there a useful trade for Casper Wells that we could make? OPS .891 v. LHP last year and .838 for his career. Even played CF without huge embarrassment.

    • Laz

      Probably could figure out something, but he plays the short side of a platoon. I wouldn’t give up all that much.

  • MannyGeee

    maybe AJ is just more comfortable pitching with shitty facial hair. George is rolling in his grave.

    • MannyGeee

      speaking of which, look at that “Honest Abe” that John Jaso is sporting up there… pretty pretty pretty interesting

  • LarryM., Fl.

    AJ has a Pittsburgh state of mind. He can slow the game down in Pittsburgh and the NL moreso than the AL. IMHO.

  • jim

    Nobody wants Nick Swisher, take all those stats and shove em up yer ass because nobody wants nick swisher.

    • trr

      i know, right?

    • Ted Nelson

      Yeah, teams are inviting him to tour their facilities to let him know they don’t want him. Then offering him tens of millions of dollars because they don’t want him. Makes sense.

  • RetroRob

    Happy AJ had a nice year for the Pirates. Kind of liked the guy. Just hated watching him pitch those last two years. AJ used to be able to pitch in the AL East. He showed that in Toronto, and even his first year in NY. Yet his velocity is down about three mph, and that lost velocity seemed to be the difference between solid and suck. Hope he has another nice year in Pittsburgh, but please don’t re-sign him when he becomes a free agent.

  • Harris

    Why is the consensus that the Yankees can’t get much for Granderson? The Mets just got 2 A level prospects for a 38 year old pitcher on a 1 year deal. I would think the Yankees would at least be able to get most of that for a CF in his prime who has hit 84 HR the past 2 years…

    • Andy Pettitte’s Fibula (formerly Manny’s BanWagon)

      If the Yankees could have gotten Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard for Granderson, I would have been willing to take him myself to Toronto on the back of a Rickshaw if necessary.

      • Harris

        My point is, how is a 38 year old knuckleballer on a 1 year deal THAT much more valuable than a 30 year old CF coming off 2 straight 40 HR years?

        • Laz

          Deal was contingent on RAD signing an extension though. I would think they would at least be able to get something though. A 40 hr hitting cfer who can still get an obp of at least .320 is valuable. He is a similar quality player to choo, definitely better in center than choo will be.

        • Dropped Third

          A cy young pitcher who figured out a super effective low stress pitch has more value than a strike prone, .232 hitter. Not saying curtis doesnt have alot of value however.

    • Yogiism

      It’s the same question I’ve asked myself. I don’t get it. Ellsbury, who has had no where near the type of consistency of Granderson (health and offensively) and people were thinking he would still net a large return in a trade, also with a year left on his contract. Obviously not happening, but I’ve been weired out by the whole Granderson thing. Not with Granderson and not with the Yanks, but I would have thought at least 5 teams would go after him if he were available. Nat’s, Braves, Phillies, which are just three. Especially the Phillies and Braves. Include Seattle and even the Rangers now that there line-up doesn’t have as much power without Napoli and Hamilton. The Indians too. A lot of teams. I don’t think the cost is all that prohibitive and we haven’t heard any rumors that Cashman would like 2 prospects or anything like that. I like Granderson a lot, but I would trade him if the right deal were in front of me.

      Funny, whoever suggested Montero for Granderson was on to something. lol. I wonder if I actually do that deal. I might. Problem is while Montero comes in handy this season, he will certainly be in the same predicament he was last year coming in 2014 once ARod pretty much cements DH for the following 4 years.

      I actually wonder if Olt for Granderson + a guy like Betances (high upside – shitty year) and Maddux could set him straight, literally.

  • http://franklance godfather

    the pittsburgh scene and uniforms combined for a more relaxed fit for ajb, and he showed it…he was saved from getting advice on this or that from the nyy braintrust, which might have just let him pitch instead of laboring to babysit him; he deserved credit, too, for being there for nova, and for his uncanny control with the creampies…the credentials he brought from toronto had me dreaming, but the pact was too long

  • Howard Cosell

    Here’s the trade that could work…..

    Curtis Granderson
    Eduardo Nunez
    Adam Warren


    Danny Hutzen/James Paxten
    Jesus Montero
    Brendan Ryan ( there’s your all around SS,2b,3b….terrific fielder that cant hit that well – Rich man Ramiro Pena)