When A.J. goes bad

Photo Credit: Seth Wenig, AP

A.J. Burnett was so bad last night, he made a punchless offense look like the superstar sluggers they were supposed to be. The Phillies, a team that had scored six runs just twice since doing so on May 15, lit him up like Times Square. After 3.1 painful innings in which he threw first-pitch strikes to just 10 of the 21 batters he faced, Joe Girardi mercifully yanked him from what would be a 6-3 loss.

Last night’s affair was one of those ugly outings where the pitcher shoulders all the blame. Burnett threw 87 mostly bad pitches en route to a six-hit, four-walk appearance. He was responsible for all six runs the Phillies scored and struck out three hitters. Shockingly, Phillies’ batters swung and missed just five times against Burnett. He had nothing.

Unfortunately for the Yanks, having nothing has become a common theme for A.J. After starting the season 4-0 with a 1.99 ERA over his first six starts, the wheels have utterly fallen off. Over his last eight appearances, Burnett is 2-5 with a 6.36 ERA in just 43.2 innings. Opponents have knocked out nine home runs over those starts, and his K/BB ratio is an ugly 35/22. He’s not giving the Yanks quality starts or innings right now.

For the team adjusting to the second of five years of the A.J. Burnett Era, this wildly inconsistent performance is nothing new. The Bad A.J./Good A.J. meme didn’t arise out of thin air, and the Yankees and their fans know that Burnett is only as good as the movement on his pitches. He’s a high-walk, high-strikeout pitcher with little command within the strike zone of his pitches, but his stuff can be so devastating and overpowering that the lack of command often doesn’t matter. And to think the Yanks only have three years and $49.5 million left on this contract after 2010.

That’s the real rub. The Yankees will have to live with A.J. Burnett and his amazing disappearing act through his ages 34, 35 and 36 seasons, and Baseball Reference’s Juan Guzman and Pete Harnisch comparables don’t inspire much confidence. Neither pitcher were still in the bigs come their age 35 seasons.

But does this inconsistency coupled with the inevitable decline of age make Burnett’s deal a bad one? So far, it’s tough to complain about it. He arrived with high expectations last year, and by and large, delivered on his salary. While earning $16.5 million, Burnett was, according to Fangraphs’ WAR, a $14 million hurler. Considering the Yanks had to outbid the Atlanta Braves for his services and won a World Series in his first year in pinstripes, I’d say the team is happy to pay a $2.5 million premium.

Going forward, though, Burnett’s 2010 experiences feature a few warning signs. As the Phillies demonstrated last night, Burnett isn’t getting many swing-and-miss strikes. In fact, this year, his Swinging Strike percentage is down to 7.2 percent. Prior to joining the Yanks, Burnett was generally above 10 percent (and well above league average) in that category, but since coming to the Bronx, his swings-and-misses have dissipated. More balls in play inevitably lead to more hits.

In a similar vein, Burnett’s strike outs have declined precipitously as well. In his peak years in 2007 and 2008, Burnett averaged nearly 9.5 K/9 IP. Last year, that figure declined to 8.48, and this year, he has around 6.7 strike outs per nine innings. We want to see that number stay steady.

It’s still too early in the year to draw many conclusions, and Burnett’s dip in numbers as well as a one-mph drop in velocity, could just be related to early season pitching woes. Nothing reminds us of Dr. AJ and Mr. Burnett quite like an eight-game, 2.50-ERA span, and he could start one of those next week against the Diamondbacks. But last night, Burnett didn’t have it, and if that’s what his aging future in pinstripes is going to look like, that deal he signed might just be for one year too many.

Yanks can’t figure out Moyer, fall 6-3

With their heads held high after topping arch-nemesis Roy Halladay on Tuesday night, the Yankees showed up to the park on Wednesday with another reason to feel good about themselves: cleanup hitter Alex Rodriguez would be back in the lineup. Turns out that Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig could have been in the lineup for all Jamie Moyer cared, he was that damn good. Thankfully Tampa Bay fell to Atlanta, so the Yanks are still tied atop the AL East with the game’s best run differential.

Victorino Pulls A Gardner

Photo Credit: Seth Wenig, AP

The key to the Yanks drubbing of Halladay on Tuesday night was a Brett Gardner bases loaded triple that split the outfielders and rolled to the right-centerfield wall, pushing three runs across and giving the Yankees a lead they would never relinquish. That seemed like a pretty good blueprint for victory, so the Phillies’ speedy outfielder went ahead and did the same thing in this game.

We’ll talk more about A.J. Burnett in a bit, but all you need to know right now is that he loaded the bases with one out in the 2nd inning by walking Raul Ibanez (on five pitches), allowing Greg Dobbs to single to right (scoring Ibanez), walking Brian Schneider (four pitches!!!), and taking a Wilson Valdez shot up the middle off his feet for a single. The Phightin’s had the bases loaded with one out, so Burnett did the smart thing and ran the count full to Shane Victorino.

Victorino had been hitless since last Thursday, but he didn’t a miss a sinker left letters high and out over the plate, rocketing it into the same right-centerfield spot as Gardner the night before. The bases cleared, the Flyin’ Hawaiian was standing on third, and the Yankees were down four runs before they even sent four men to the plate.

Jamie Moyer, Yankee Killer

Untouchable. (Photo Credit: Seth Wenig, AP)

Following arguably the worst start of his career, 47-year-old Jamie Moyer took to the mound on Wednesday and did the exact opposite of what we all expected him to do: he dominated the Yankees. The only blemishes in his eight stellar innings of work were solo homers by Robbie Cano and Jorge Posada, but otherwise the Yankees didn’t put him in the stretch until the 7th inning, when A-Rod drew a one out walk. That baserunner was quickly erased with a 5-4-3 double play. It was one of those kinds of nights.

Moyer’s slow, slower, slowest approach simply befuddled the Yanks, who didn’t really hit anything hard beyond the homers. He got just two swings and misses out of his 107 pitches, and became the oldest pitcher to ever beat the Yankees. Not exactly how we drew it up.

Photo Credit: Seth Wenig, AP

Game Five A.J.

With a chance to clinch the World Series last November, the Yanks sent Burnett to the mound in Game Five against the Phillies, and he promptly made a mess in the bed, to be candid. In that game he allowed six runs and eight baserunners in just two innings of work, which really isn’t much better than the six runs and 11 baserunners he allowed in 3.1 IP on Wednesday. Beyond the Victorino triple, Burnett also allowed back-to-back solo homers to Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth, the first time all year the Phillies turned that trick despite their … ahem … American League lineup.

Burnett simply didn’t give the Yankees a chance to win in this one, needing 87 pitches to record ten outs. Nothing quite boils the blood like a Bad A.J. start.

Logan & Gaudin … Really?

Yeah, I can't figure it out either, Swish. (Photo Credit: Seth Wenig, AP)

One good thing came out of Burnett’s horrific and short outing … well, I think it’s a good thing. If nothing else, it was fun to watch. Anyway, Boone Logan and Chad Gaudin, the two lowest members of the Yanks’ bullpen totem pole absolutely dominated the Phils for close to six innings tonight. I know, who saw that coming?

Logan faced nine batters, and got seven of them to either strikeout or ground out. Gaudin replaced him and sat down all nine men he faced without incident. It was Yeoman’s work out of the bullpen (/The Show‘d), with Logan and Gaudin keeping the Yanks in the game when Burnett couldn’t. Without them, the tying run doesn’t come to the plate in the bottom of the 9th.

WPA Graph & Box Score

Boy, that little rally off Brad Lidge wasn’t as big as we thought, eh? MLB.com has the box score, FanGraphs all the other stuff.

Up Next

Rubber match is set for tomorrow evening at 7:05pm, and just like last November Andy Pettitte will get the ball to try and pick up the series win Burnett couldn’t. He’ll be opposed by Kyle Kendrick, who has turned all non-pitchers he’s faced into the 2009 version of Hideki Matsui due to a .289-.341-.510 batting line against. That has to be a trap, no?

Heathcott & Murphy lead Charleston’s offensive explosion

Kevin Goldstein on Dellin Betances (sub. req’d): “Whatever magic the Yankee coaching staff has pulled with Andrew Brackman of late, it seems to have work off on Betances as well, as he’s throwing strikes and dominating, allowing five hits in 12 innings while striking out 13 and, most surprising, walking just one while consistently getting into the mid-90s with his fastball.”

Love the mid-90’s part.

Triple-A Scranton had a scheduled off day.

Double-A Trenton (8-4 loss to Altoona)
Justin Christian, LF: 1 for 3, 1 BB, 1 SB
Austin Krum, CF, Marcos Vechionacci, 1B & Luis Nunez, SS: all 1 for 4 – Krum doubled & scored a run … Vech doubled, drove in a run & K’ed … Nunez got caught stealing
Austin Romine, C & Brandon Laird, 3B: both 0 for 3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 E – Romine K’ed twice, Laird once … Romine made a throwing error, Laird a fielding error
Dan Brewer, RF: 2 for 3, 1 R, 1 2B, 3 RBI, 1 BB, 1 SB, 1 E (fielding) – five for his last ten
Wilkin DeLaRosa: 4 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 3-8 GB/FB – meh
Cory Arbiso: 2 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 1 WP, 3-1 GB/FB
Josh Schmidt: 0.1 IP, 0 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 0 K, 1-0 GB/FB
Wilkin Arias: 0.2 IP, zeroes, 1-1 GB/FB – stranded two of three inherited runners
Kevin Whelan: 0.1 IP, 0 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 5 BB, 1 K – holy crap moly … strikes, boy
Grant Duff: 1.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 1-1 GB/FB

[Read more…]

Game 65: He could be my grandfather

"Back in my day we had to pitch the ball uphill, both ways. And we didn't have arms back then, we had stumps." (Photo Credit: Marcio Jose Sanchez, AP)

I’m kind of bummed out that the Phillies flip-flopped Kyle Kendrick and Jamie Moyer in their rotation; I was hoping to see an old man matchup of Moyer and Andy Pettitte tomorrow. Instead, he’ll go tonight against A.J. Burnett, two pitchers that couldn’t be any further away from each other on the pitching spectrum. Moyer got demolished last time out by the Red Sox, and I’m hopefully the Yankees will do the same. I’m pretty sure the AL East is no place for a senior citizen.

On to the other good news: Alex Rodriguez is back! Well, kind of. He’ll be the designated hitter tonight because his lateral movement isn’t all the way back, but getting your cleanup hitter back is always a good thing. Jorge Posada resumes his regular catching duties. Here’s the rest of the lineup…

Jeter, SS
Swisher, RF
Teixeira, 1B
A-Rod, DH
Cano, 2B
Posada, C
Granderson, CF
Russo, 3B
Gardner, LF

And on the mound, Allen Burnett.

The skies look threatening, but there appears to be enough of a window to get this sucker in. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05pm ET, and can be seen on YES. Enjoy.

Baseball America’s decade of draft grades

We all love draft grades, so Jim Callis of Baseball America went nuts and graded out each team’s draft from 2000-2009 (sub. req’d). He has the Red Sox coming up with the highest GPA at 3.40, with the Diamondbacks not too far back at 3.20. Boston’s four grade A’s and a B+ from 2001-2005 will do that. The Yankees came in 26th overall, ahead of the Mets, White Sox, Astros, and Mariners. They received four straight D’s from 2000-2003 since Phil Coke is pretty much the only thing they have to show for those efforts. Phil Hughes alone earned them a B in 2004, and the epiphany draft of 2006 was an A. Everything else was a C or C+, and their overall GPA is 1.95. I think they put you on academic probation for that.

The similarities of Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson

For some reason I’ve detected a bit of fan angst towards Curtis Granderson. It’s not widespread or particularly vicious, but I’m actually a bit stunned that it exists at all. It seems like at least once a game I mention to Mike, or he mentions to me, how awesome Granderson has been. Yet he still has detractors. They all seem to spout the same lines about him, too. He can’t hit lefties and is a platoon player. He has bad instincts in the outfield. He strikes out too much. It has seemed to me that these claims are quite overblown when contrasted with the things that Granderson does bring to the table.

The more I thought about it, the more my mind kept going to the parallels between Granderson and another outfield trade acquisition, Nick Swisher. They were acquired in different manners: Swisher a buy-low guy without a clear role, Granderson a costly acquisition who was immediately installed as the starting center fielder. After that, though, the storylines seem to line up pretty well. Considering the shifting fan perception towards Swisher, I think we’ll eventually see the same for Granderson. Unfortunately, we might be looking at a similar timeline, which is to say a little over a full season.

Photo credit: Gail Burton/AP

In 2007 it looked like Nick Swisher was just hitting his stride. He had posted his second straight solid season, in which he bumped up his OBP 10 points over the previous season. The A’s, however, stood little chance to contend in 2008 and decided to cash in their Swisher chip, sending him to the White Sox for Gio Gonzalez and Ryan Sweeney. Swisher responded to his new environment by posting what was by far the worst season of his career. It was enough for both manager Ozzie Guillen and general manager Ken Williams to sour on him. When they called around for trades that winter Brian Cashman pounced.

Swisher responded by posting the best year of his career. His 29 home runs didn’t match his 35 from 2006, but he compensated with a flurry of doubles, which resulted in the best power season of his career. Combined with a .371 OBP it made for a .375 wOBA, better than his previous high, .368. Still, fans didn’t love Swish. He made a few bonehead plays in the field and on the basepaths that stuck in everyone’s craw, and that led to negative evaluations despite wildly positive results. It took an incredibly hot start this season for him to disprove the naysayers. It makes sense. After all, a .300 batting average can win over plenty of old school critics.

In the same manner, the Yankees acquired Curtis Granderson after a down year. It wasn’t quite his worst — his 2006 was a degree below his 2009. But it was certainly a letdown after his 2007 and 2008 seasons. Many fans looked at his 2009 season as representative of what he was as a player. He can’t hit lefties. He strikes out a ton. He hits for power, but that’s about it. An early season slump and a three-week DL stint didn’t help that impression.

Photo credit: Rob Carr/AP

Yet, as I mentioned in last night’s recap, Granderson has been quite excellent since coming off the DL. His early season slump set him back heavily — he was hitting .225/.311/.375 when he pulled up lame rounding second on May 1 — but as we’ve seen every single year of baseball’s existence, anything can happen in 91 PA. In fact, it happened to Swisher in 2009. In 92 PA from May 1 to May 27 he hit .127/.297/.225, quite a bit worse than Granderson’s initial cold streak. And, as mentioned above, Swisher recovered and ended with a career year.

Come to think of it, other than the platoon split the complaints about Granderson also pretty much mirror the complaints about Swisher. Both have a reputation for striking out, and while most objective measures both played good defense they had a reputation, at least in the eyes of Yankees fans, for playing sloppily in the field. All of this ignores the positives they bring to the game. I have had no problem with the defense from either, bonehead plays aside, and while strikeouts might be emotionally distressing and aesthetically ugly, they aren’t really that worse than other forms of outs. They’re just things that people tend to complain about.

Yet on the positive side, both possess power, and both are adept at getting on base. If a player can do both of those, he’ll have a spot on any team. And, as Swisher has shown, prime-aged hitters can indeed learn new tricks. Granderson has been just fine for the Yanks. If he transitions like Swisher he could get even better as the summer rolls along. And that’s not even getting into what next year could mean for him.

Keeping A-Rod fresh for the long haul

Photo credit: Frank Franklin II/AP

Once upon a time, Alex Rodriguez was the very model of perfect health. From 2001-2007, he averaged 159 games and hit .304/.400/.591 with 329 home runs. Once upon a time, Alex Rodriguez wasn’t 34 and didn’t suffer from hip problems. Oh, to be young and an All Star again.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen A-Rod suffer through some injuries. He hurt his leg in 2008; he underwent hip surgery in 2009. Since June 9, A-Rod has seen game action just once, and he had to pull himself in the 2nd inning with hip pains. The team diagnosed his injury as tendinitis, and after much rest, A-Rod says he wants to play tonight.

The decision last night to rest A-Rod for at least another game didn’t sit well with many pundits. Even though Jorge Posada left Sunday’s affair complaining of a sore foot and was due for a turn in the designated hitter role, with Roy Halladay on the mound, the team could have put its best lineup forward with Posada, healthy enough to catch, behind the plate and A-Rod as the DH. The Yanks’ bats made the point moot by the third inning, but the Yanks seemed to be playing A-Rod’s injury close to the vest.

As with many decisions the team needs to make, this one had a good reason behind: Alex Rodriguez is still owed a lot of money by the Yankees for a lot of years, and although the team has to play to win this year, it also must be mindful of the money it has invested in A-Rod. Once 2010 ends, the Yankees will still have to pay A-Rod $164 million over the next seven years. Although the megadeal A-Rod signed in the halcyon days of 2007 is front-loaded, an average annual value of $23.4 million for a player who will be playing his ages 35-41 seasons is simply immense.

We could debate the A-Rod contract for the next seven years. Based on his WAR value numbers, A-Rod’s last deal with a steal, but he has yet to outplay his new contract. As he continues to age and as his offensive numbers — and in particular, his home runs — continue to dip, the contract will look just as bad as it did on Day One. Even when A-Rod as a 39-year-old in 2015 is making just $21 million, it’s hard to see A-Rod’s production outweighing his salary, and since signing the new deal, he hasn’t topped 138 games in a single season.

The Yankees know this. In fact, they knew it from the start, and this knowledge is why I believe Hank Steinbrenner has taken a silent back seat to the goings-on in the Bronx. Armed with this knowledge, the Yanks could either push A-Rod into the ground now by playing him against the Astros and Phillies in a mid-June game or they could sit him for an extra day or two to ensure that hip conditions, often known to be degenerative, do not stunt his career or the team’s investment.

Once upon a time, the Yankees almost signed Albert Belle to a five-year deal that would have been worth upwards of $80 million. It would have made Belle the highest paid player, and the similar deal the slugger in fact signed with the Orioles did just that. Two years later, Belle had to retire because of a degenerative hip condition. Belle’s injuries and A-Rod’s aren’t similar, and A-Rod shouldn’t be forced out of the game at an early age because of his leg woes. Yet, the Yankees know how fragile these injuries can be, and while it’s easy to get up in arms over A-Rod’s resting, it’s all about protecting a very long-term investment. Seems like a good idea to me.