A.J. Burnett’s Five Best Starts As A Yankee

(Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

The Yankees said goodbye to A.J. Burnett over the weekend, eating a big chunk of the $33M left on his contract in order to send him to the Pirates. He seemed like a nice enough guy but was one of the most frustrating pitchers to watch that I’ve ever seen, and while we appreciate his contributions to the 2009 World Championship, none of us are going to lose sleep over his departure. It’s just the way it is.

A.J. did have some fine moments as a Yankee, though over the last two seasons the team had a knack for giving him zero run support whenever he did throw a gem. Of the 12 times he threw at least seven innings and gave up no more than two runs since the start of 2010, the Yankees lost four times. That’s just not supposed to happen with this offense and bullpen. Anyway, we’re going to look back at Burnett’s five greatest starts as a Yankee using a simple metric called Game Score. Wikipedia has the nuts and bolts, if you’re interested. Fifty is an average Game Score, and the highest ever recorded was Kerry Wood’s 20-strikeout game (105). Anything above 75 or so is pretty stellar.

Game Two of the 2009 World Series does not make this list; it was the eighth best start of Burnett’s three years in the Bronx with a Game Score of 72. That said, it was easily his biggest moment as a Yankee given the pressure and everything riding on that game. As you’ll notice, four of Burnett’s five best games came back in 2009, which isn’t surprising given how awful he’s been over the last two years.

5. July 27th, 2009 @ Rays (box) (video) (RAB recap)
Pitching Line: 7 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 114 pitches
Game Score: 74

The Yankees were in cruise control by this point of the season, already well on their way to clinching the AL East title in late-July. The lineup gave Burnett an early three-run cushion by starting the second inning with a single, a double, and a triple off Jamie Shields, allowing their right-hander to pitch around baserunners in the first (walk), second (walk), and third (single) innings. A.J. was perfect in the fourth and fifth before allowing a run to score on an Evan Longoria ground ball double play in the sixth.

The Phils – Coke and Hughes – were both unavailable that night, so the bullpen was pretty thin. Joe Girardi sent Burnett back out for seventh with his pitch count already over the century mark, but he got three outs on just ten pitches. He gave up only two ground ball singles (one towards third and the other between first and second), though he did allow one other baserunner when B.J. Upton reached base on a wild pitch following a strikeout. The offense blew things open late and the Yanks sailed to an easy win.

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Mariano’s last waltz

Once upon a time, there was a pitcher named Mariano. He was no ordinary pitcher, you see. Every night, when the Yankees had the lead, he and his cutter would arrive to the famous guitar strains of a famous song and save the day. In and out, the cutter would dart and dash as another Yankee game would end in favor of the good guys.

The pitcher named Mariano arrived one day in 1995, and no one quite knew what to make of him. He began his baseball journey as a starting pitcher and as a top prospect, was nearly traded a few times before he developed the ability to throw in the upper 90s. Flashing glimpses of brilliance during the Yanks’ first playoff run in a baseball generation, Mariano came of age in the 1995 ALDS as he threw some key innings under some tight pressure.

The next year, that pitcher named Mariano matured into his own. He was the game’s best setup man, and a year later, he became the Yanks’ closer. Despite a home run by Sandy Alomar in 1997, the pitcher named Mariano has held down that role since the days before AOL. He has outlasted closers around baseball, racking up more saves than anyone in baseball history and five World Series rings. With that illustrious résumé, we forgive him some games in 2001 and 2004 because even the best are sometimes mortal.
Over the years, Pinstriped personalities have come and gone. He played with Don Mattingly, with David Cone and Paul O’Neill, with Bernie and Tino and Giambi. He saved more games for Andy Pettitte than any other tandem in baseball history, and for his latest trick, he even outlasted A.J. Burnett in the Bronx.

But now it sounds as though the end is 162 regular season games and, hopefully, a playoff run away. While speaking with reporters in Tampa on Monday, Mariano waxed poetically about his career. This is his golden season — number 42 is 42 years old — and the end may be near. “I know now,” he said. “I just don’t want to tell you. I know now. I will let you guys know when I think I should tell you.”

He spoke about life this winter when vocal surgery had the Yanks’ closer and all of his fans worried about the C word. “It scared me,” he said of his surgery. “I thought it could be cancer. I was relieved when everything came back negative. But it tells you how quick everything could be gone.”

He spoke of the finality of his own personal decision. “Even if I save 90 games. Even if they want to pay as much money as they want to, any team. I know what I’m going to do,” he said as Jack Curry’s own reporting suggested retirement.

The pitcher named Mariano, a religious man devoted to his family, could pack it in soon. Yankee fans around the globe could watch an icon step away from the game when he’s still good enough to get out the toughest hitters. We could watch the teflon closer call it a career. We could watch the pitcher named Mariano, a favorite to generations of Yankee fans who have never seen anything quite like him or his prized cutter, take that final curtain call.

If the 2012 baseball season were a movie of Mariano’s life, it would fade to black with only one ending. The skinny balding guy with his cool and calm demeanor would fire one more strike past one more batter to record the final out of the World Series. It’s baseball’s equivalent of Hollywood’s ride into the sunset. But in baseball as in life, there are no guarantees of an easy championship, and so if this is indeed Mariano’s last season, we’ll treasure that pitch. One day, we’ll tell our grandchildren of how we grew up watching that pitcher named Mariano, and it was always a real treat.

Sherman: Yankees have no interest in bringing Damaso Marte back

Via Joel Sherman, the Yankees don’t have any interest in bringing the still unemployed Damaso Marte back to the organization. This might sound obvious, but the Yankees love their lefty relievers and he can be had on a minor deal now following his various shoulder problems over the last few seasons. Southpaws Cesar Cabral, Mike O’Connor, and Clay Rapada are all in the fold, and at some point enough is enough. We’ll always have the 2009 playoffs, Damaso.

Open Thread: 2/20 Camp Notes

A.J. showed up to work in a different part of Florida today.

Pitchers and catchers had their first official workout of 2012 today, a day after reporting to camp and taking physicals. We’ve already recapped Joe Girardi’s press conference, but here’s some other news and notes from Tampa…

  • Chad Jennings has the full list of bullpen and hitting groups. All six members of the five-man rotation threw today, though the only non-catchers to hit were David Adams and Justin Maxwell. Both are coming off injuries.
  • Speaking of injuries, Russell Martin said he wants to be smarter about trying to play through them this year. Anecdotally, he seemed to hit better when getting regular rest last year, so Frankie Cervelli is pretty important in 2012. [Buster Olney]
  • Michael Pineda threw a few sliders today, which surprised Girardi since it’s still so early in camp. Martin liked what he saw though, specifically that slider. He also said Pineda’s command was much better than expected. [Jack Curry & Mark Feinsand]
  • Phil Hughes is ahead of schedule, throwing 40 pitches today when most other guys are throwing 20-25. Reliable velocity readings won’t come until the games start, however. [Andrew Marchand]
  • Mariano Rivera‘s delayed arrival to Spring Training lasted all of one day. The closer was in camp today, and he told reporters that he knows what he’s going to do after the season as far as retirement or another contract. “I know now, but I don’t have to tell you,” he joked. Sadface. [Feinsand & Olney]
  • The group of guest instructors this year includes Yogi Berra, Reggie Jackson, Goose Gossage, Ron Guidry, Tino Martinez, David Wells, Lee Mazzilli, and Lou Piniella. [Pete Caldera]
  • As you see above, A.J. Burnett was in Pirates camp today. He spoke to Kevin Kernan yesterday, and said pretty much exactly what you’d expect him to say. He’s turning the page, he’ll remember his time with the Yankees fondly, yadda yadda yadda.

Here’s your open thread for the night. The Knicks and Nets are playing each other, and that’s pretty much all you’ve got in terms of local sports. You folks know what to do though, so have at it.

[Photo via the Pirates]

Yanks, Martin talked about a three-year deal this offseason

Via Dan Barbarisi, the Yankees and Russell Martin discussed a three-year contract this offseason before avoiding arbitration with a one-year, $7.5M pact. Talks about a multi-year deal never got passed the preliminary stages though. There is definitely some merit to signing Martin for the next few years (especially after the Jesus Montero trade), though anything longer than three years would really be pushing it just because of catcher aging and his past workload. Something like three years and $25-30M would have been reasonable.

Loose, winding thoughts about the A.J. Burnett trade

It’s easy to know what you feel about the A.J. Burnett trade. In the last three years we’ve all developed our unique opinions about him, both as a player and as a person, even though none of us is qualified to judge the latter. Those opinions will dictate how we feel about him no longer being on the roster.

What we think of the trade that will send him to Pittsburgh, on the other hand, is something else entirely. Oftentimes our thoughts about matters like this go unexplored. It is, after all, just baseball — entertainment at its core, and fans experience it through emotions. Thinking beyond our emotions often incites ridicule. Since we know our emotions are true, anything that contradicts them must be false. QED.

On RAB we try to relate what we think about Yankees-related things, but because we’re fans we bleed into the emotional. A regular RAB post on the Burnett deal, then, would reflect how the author felt about Burnett. That includes not only Burnett’s performances, but also any other impressions he made on us in the last three years. And, of course, further away events will hold less weight. How we felt about the signing at the time might factor into how we feel, but it will be to a lesser degree than our feelings about his performances, say, this past August.

To avoid these emotional shackles, I will reduce the situation to its barest essentials. That is, facts — or at least items we can loosely term facts. Their relevancy to the matter is up for debate.

  • Burnett will have still earned his $82.5 million by the end of the 2013 season, as per the original agreement between him and the Yankees. But the Yankees will have paid $69.5 million of that, and for only three seasons. Despite the way it affects official payroll numbers, the Yankees will have paid Burnett an average of $23.167 million for each season he pitched for them.
  • An average annual value of $23.167 million is the 9th highest in baseball history.
  • CC Sabathia averaged $23 million per season under his original contract. He averages $24 million under his new contract.
  • Even though he will not throw a pitch for them in the next two seasons, the Yankees will still pay Burnett an average of $10 million in each of them.
  • To obtain Burnett on what amounts to a two-year, $13 million contract, the Pirates surrendered a 25-year-old relief pitcher who has 14 appearances above A-ball and a 20-year-old center fielder who has one home run in 558 career plate appearances.
  • There may be other facts about these players that are more relevant than the ones I listed.
  • But the fact remains that Exicardo is an exquisite name.
  • Both Jake Westbrook and Carl Pavano signed two-year, $16.5 million contracts last off-season.
  • Last season Burnett produced 1.1 rWAR. Pavano produced 2.0, and Westbrook 0.
  • I like rWAR (or bWAR, whatever you want to call it) for pitchers, since it uses runs against, rather than FIP.
  • With the $5 million they will save from this season’s payroll, the Yankees signed Raul Ibanez.
  • While Ibanez’s contract is only $1.1 million, reports have surfaced that the Yankees can’t afford much more. This suggests that they signed Hiroki Kuroda knowing they had options to deal Burnett, and were intent on doing so since mid-January.
  • Still, it doesn’t seem like they’d need to stretch the budget to sign Eric Chavez.
  • The Yankees currently have four starting pitchers returning from last season, one recent free agent signee, and a 23-year-old who pitched well in his rookie season.
  • The above fact is to imply that someone had to go. To be discussed below.

Based on feeling, I like the trade. The Yankees had three pitchers vying for one rotation spot. Phil Hughes is at the nadir of his value after pitching poorly and getting hurt in 2011. Freddy Garcia can’t be traded without his permission, and even then the Yankees save more money this year by trading Burnett, not to mention next year’s savings. Garcia has also out-pitched Burnett in the last two seasons by pretty much every measure. Burnett had moments of success in 2010 and 2011, but in no way forced the issue to stay on the team.

Based on the facts, it’s easier to dislike the trade. The Yankees essentially gave away Burnett, and with him any chance to recoup further value on his contract. Before the trade, the Yankees had paid Burnett $49.5 million for 3.4 rWAR, which is hardly a good return: $14.6 million per win on a linear basis. If they kept him around the next two seasons, they at least had a chance to increase that per-win value. Whether he was capable of performing to that level, of course, is another question. But now it’s not even a possibility. They’ll have paid him more than $20 million per win, on a linear basis (which, again, is not perfect, but it gets the point across).

(And then again, dumping him might help them avoid further dollars-per-win deficits.)

The idea behind the trade still comes down to having three pitchers competing for one rotation spot. One of them had to go, and under the current circumstances Burnett makes the most sense. It’s a shame that he didn’t come close to living up to his contract, and it’s a shame that he won’t get the final two years of the deal to redeem himself. But at this point a bounceback had to be considered a long shot. The Yankees acted as they had to, eating a lot of money while admitting a mistake. It does appear that the 2012 team will be a bit easier to manage as a result.