If one good thing came out of A.J. Burnett‘s first inning of work last night, it’s that a whole lot of East Coast based Yankee fans got to go to sleep at a decent hour. The Yankee righthander coughed up five runs in the frame after recording two quick outs, surrendering a trio of homeruns. Perhaps he wanted to make sure that fans in each section had a chance at a ball, because the three homers center to centerfield, rightfield, and leftfield, respectively. He’s an equal opportunity homerun giver upper.
The long ball has become Burnett’s bane this month, as he’s already allowed nine in just 20 innings of work. Prior to June, he had allowed just four homers in 71.1 innings, and over the last two seasons it was 44 homers in 428.1 innings. For what it’s worth, three of the four teams he’s started against this month (Blue Jays, Diamondbacks, Phillies) are noted homerun hitting teams that rank in the league top ten for big flies. It’s not an excuse, but when you miss your spots, these are the teams that will really make you pay.
And miss his spots is exactly what Burnett did last night. Not just on the homeruns either, he was wild all throughout his four innings of work. I guess you could say he was fortunate that Arizona didn’t hit more homers than they actually did. Let’s recap the three long balls…
The Justin Upton’s Solo Shot
First, I recommend clicking on each image in this post for a larger view of the action. Each one will open in it’s own tab, don’t worry. Obviously, the shot on the left shows where Jorge Posada set up, and the shot on right shows where the pitch ended up.
As for the homer to B.J. Upton’s brother , it was a 1-1 fastball that Posada wanted down and away, presumably in an attempt to get a ball grounded towards the right side of the infield, i.e. the good defensive side. Burnett missed his spot by feet here, not inches, leaving the pitch basically belt high and right out over the plate. It’s a hitter’s pitch, and Upton is a great hitter despite some struggles this year.
Adam LaRoche’s Three Run Shot
Burnett had just allowed a pair of singles to Miguel Montero and Chris Young, so again Posada wanted the ball down and away to try and get that last out on a ground ball. That’s basically all Leo Mazzone preached during his time and Atlanta, drive the ball and away from the hitter because that’s the toughest location for him to do damage. Anyway, Burnett missed his spot and left the ball on the inner half, and that’s where LaRoche likes it according to ESPN’s Inside Edge. The ball was down, just on the wrong side of the plate.
Aside: Going back to Montero’s single for a second, I thought that was actually a really good pitch. It was a curve that dropped off the table, but the D-Backs’ catcher went down and slapped the ball on the ground. It just scooted by Robbie Cano at second. Not sure what the point of mentioning this was, but that stuck out to me as I was watching the game. Good pitch, good location, just an unfortunate result.
Mark Reynolds Doing What He Does When He’s Not Striking Out
Unlike the Upton and LaRoche homers, Reynolds hit a curveball. It was a 1-1 count and once again the call was for the pitch down and away, but A.J. hung it on the inner half. Reynolds simply dropped the barrel of the bat on it. The guy’s hit 89 homers in his last 371 games, it’s what he does to pitches like that. A.J. missed both vertically and horizontally here.
When he’s on, Burnett racks up the two best things a pitcher can get: strikeouts and ground balls. In his somewhat arbitrary defined (by me) good starts this season, he’s struck out 17.6% of the batters he’s faced and generated grounders on 48.9% of the balls put in play. In his bad starts, those totals are 14.7% and 33.7%, respectively. Long story short, when he’s bad, Burnett leaves the ball up in the zone and the hitters are making contact. That equals homeruns. Doesn’t matter who the catcher is.
I don’t think Burnett’s recent rough patch can definitively be attributed to pitching coach Dave Eiland’s absence, but it is one hell of a coincidence. He’s been consistently inconsistent his entire career, and at some point he’ll get back on track and fire off two months worth of starts with a sub-3.00 ERA like he did last year and the year before that and the year before that. Thankfully the Yankees have four other not just quality, but elite level starters in their rotation, so they should be able to keep their heads above water while Burnett tries to right the ship.