The amazing incredible durable A.J. Burnett

We’re all very busy people so I won’t bury the lede: when the Yankees signed A.J. Burnett there were significant concerns about his injury history, but he has defied those concerns to become a veritable innings-eater. Given how much roster variance and injury risk the recent squads have exhibited, and despite the decline in his performance relative to his gold-standard 2008 campaign, the signing has to be deemed a mild to moderate success nearly halfway through the life of the deal if only for the fact that he has stayed healthy.

The principal worry about A.J was his extensive injury history. Prior to signing with the Yankees, A.J. had topped 200 innings only three times in his career, two of which were contract years. He had already had Tommy John surgery, and he had battled shoulder problems as well. As a result, many Yankee blogs greeted the news of Burnett’s union with the Yankees with disdain. Some were humorous – I specifically recall a delightful NoMaas photoshop of Brian Cashman as the Heath Ledger Joker lighting a pyramid of money on fire. Others had no use for humor and went straight to the gallows. Cliff Corcoran sounded like a man on the brink:

I cannot help but react emotionally to this signing. It is an inexplicably awful, irresponsible, wrong-headed move. I hate hate hate it. It makes me physically sick. Combined with the New Stadium, it is enough for me to question my allegiance to this team. I cannot be consoled. I assume many of you feel the same way.

Hang in there, Cliff! Overall at Baseball Prospectus, Jay Jaffe questioned whether this move represented a gigantic step back for Brian Cashman as general manager:

Burnett’s combination of fragility and perceived squeamishness calls to mind the darkest chapter of Yankee GM Brian Cashman’s tenure, the two deals he inked at the 2004 Winter Meetings with a pair of injury-riddled pitchers coming off rare healthy, effective seasons, Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright.

I wasn’t writing in 2008 – I didn’t even have a Twitter account – so I’m thankful that no one can blockquote my reaction to the signing at the time, a reaction that would no doubt have been similarly angry. R.J. Anderson’s reaction in retrospect was a bit more measured, more calculated:

Kudos to Dave for nailing the years/money here. A.J. Burnett is a 3 WAR starter, and he’s being paid as one. This is a buyers market, and the Yankees are absolutely thriving in it. A lot can be said for spending money and a lot more should be said for Brian Cashman and the Yankees paying these free agents exactly what they’re worth. Of course, the Yankees are one of the few teams who can pay what they’re worth, but that might be a market inefficiency within itself.

Sadly, A.J. Burnett has not been a 3 fWAR pitcher since coming to New York. He was a 3.4 fWAR pitcher in 2009 and a 1.3 fWAR pitcher in 2010, and he’s currently on pace for 1.6 fWAR in 2011.This adds up to about 7 fWAR in 2011, 2 shy of his projection. Assuming a straight-line valuation of $5.0M per win, his performance will have been worthy roughly $35M to the Yankees at the end of this year. This is a little over $14M shy of the amount the Yankees have paid him for his services. Of course, we know the value of those 7 fWAR isn’t necessarily best calculated on a straight-line method. We know that the marginal value of a win as the Yankees approach 90 wins goes up a great deal. We also know that the Yankees won the World Series in one of those years, and that they have so much money that they can afford to pay A.J. Burnett more than what he ends up being worth.

So A.J.’s performance has missed the mark a bit so far, and it’s fallen well short of any expectation set by his superb 2008 campaign in Toronto. At the same time, the fears that Burnett would be Carl Pavano 2.0, while well-founded, have not come to fruition. Since the start of the 2009 season Burnett has thrown 468.1 innings, a few shy of John Danks and Zack Greinke and ahead of Matt Garza and Chad Billingsley. Here’s a more relevant fact: since he signed with New York he’s made 78 starts. Only eleven pitchers have made more, and the most anyone has made is 81. In other words, Burnett has made just about as many starts as anyone in the game. He may not be the most efficient pitcher in the game, as evidenced by the fact that Sabathia has thrown over 100 innings more than him over that time period despite making only 2 more starts, but he’s been there.

Woody Allen said that 80% of success is just showing up. Like most aphorisms, there’s a kernel of truth there. How you perform once you arrive matters too, and A.J.’s performance hasn’t always been what we’ve wanted. There has been more than enough Bad A.J., more than enough meltdowns, more than enough “Oh good Lord, A.J.” moments. But he’s more or less gotten the first 80% right, which is more than you can say about Daisuke Matsuzaka or John Lackey over the course of their contracts so far. Burnett has shown up. When one examines what the expectations were – not worst-case scenarios, actual expectations – and realize how low the bar was set for Burnett, this is not nothing.

It was axiomatic that A.J. Burnett was an injury risk; it was a given that he would disappoint and hurt himself. Things usually become axiomatic for a reason. They acquire discursive weight and momentum because of something – an observation, a stereotype, good or bad data, a presumption, a reasonable expectation. All of the observations about Burnett’s health risk were mostly accurate, if not a bit histrionic. And yet there’s a lesson here that past performance is no guarantee of future results, that you can’t predict baseball, that sometimes your 50% weighted mean forecast doesn’t turn out to be what actually happens. We know this, or at least we tell ourselves that we do, but sometimes we don’t always act that way when put on the spot. This doesn’t mean that we should start expecting the outlier, but it’s a good reminder that once in awhile this game tosses you a pleasant surprise. And who doesn’t love a pleasant surprise?

Sanchez sent to Extended Spring Training due to ‘attitude problems’

Finally, we know exactly what is going on with Gary Sanchez. After hearing that a “stiff lower back” was keeping him on the sidelines, Mark Feinsand reports that Sanchez was actually sent back to Extended Spring Training because of “attitude problems.” Apparently he’d grown frustrated by his slow start (.323 wOBA), which led to two incidents. First he refused to enter a game off the bench, then he refused to catch a bullpen session. That punched his ticket back to ExST, and rightfully so.

Remember, Sanchez is just 18. You hate to see stuff like this because we all want every prospect to be a fine, upstanding citizen that helps old ladies cross the street and volunteers at the local orphanage, but 18-year-olds do stupid stuff and make mistakes. Hopefully he learns from this and avoids similar problems in the future.

2011 Draft: Daniel Norris

The draft is just three days away, so between now and then I’m going to highlight some players individually rather than lump a few together in one post.

Daniel Norris | LHP

Background
After coming into the year as the top high school lefty in the draft class, Norris had a subpar (but not bad) spring at Science Hill High School in Johnson City, Tennessee. He quit playing football after his junior year to focus solely on baseball. He’s committed to Clemson.

Scouting Report
Big and projectable at 6-foot-2 and 180 lbs., Norris has shown three better than average pitches plus a usable fourth offering at times this spring. He legitimately sat 93-96 with his fastball at times, though he mostly worked at 89-92. An upper-70’s curveball with tight spin is his top breaking ball, though he also uses a mid-80’s slider against right-handers. A mid-70’s changeup is his third best pitch and is ahead of the slider. There’s some effort in Norris’ delivery, which leads to inconsistent control and command. He’s athletic though, so adjustments shouldn’t be impossible.

Miscellany
Yesterday we learned that Norris is looking for Tyler Matzek money, referring to the $3.9M the Rockies gave the 11th overall pick in 2009. There’s definite front of the rotation potential here, though he needs to figure out a consistent delivery and shore up that command. Baseball America and Keith Law ranked Norris as the 16th and 33rd best prospect in the draft, respectively, so the Yankees are going to need those bonus demands to scare some teams off if they hope to land him.

2011 Draft: Pirates will take Gerrit Cole first overall

Via Dejan Kovacevic, the Pirates are going to select UCLA RHP Gerrit Cole first overall when the 2011 amateur draft kicks off on Monday. Cole was the Yankees first round pick (28th overall) back in 2008 out of high school, which you surely remember. He turned into the guy the Yankees thought he would while in college, a super hard-throwing righty with two swing-and-miss secondary pitches, which is why he’s going before everyone else this year. Oh well, good for him.

Winning streak ends at four, Yanks fall to Angels

The actual text poll from the Angels' broadcast.

The game started with a 15-pitch at-bat by Derek Jeter, which was pretty awesome. The rest of the game? Not so much. Let’s recap “night game on the west coast” style…

  • Ivan Nova probably did just enough to keep his rotation spot in this game. The Angels tagged him for two runs in the first and another run in the fourth, but the end result was eight hits, two walks, three runs (two earned) in six innings, which is plenty from a fifth starter. Unfortunately, Nova doing just enough to keep his rotation spot is probably bad news for the Yankees overall.
  • Jered Weaver was on the ropes after two innings, having thrown 53 pitches and giving back one of those first inning runs. He rebounded to complete seven innings on 119 pitches, retiring nine of the final ten men he faced. Some hacky at-bats by the Yankees didn’t help matters though.
  • The Yankees only had three hits (but five walks), one of which was a ground rule double by Jorge Posada that absolutely cost them a run. If it doesn’t hop into the stands, Nick Swisher scores from first since he was running on contact with two outs. Dems the breaks.
  • Here’s the box score, here’s the WPA graph.

That’s pretty much all there is to say. There’s no shame in losing to a guy like Weaver, especially when you’re running a rookie like Nova out there. Hell, we should be surprised the score was as close as it was. CC Sabathia gets the ball against (I think) Ervin Santana on Saturday night (it definitely won’t be Dan Haren, I’m sure of that much), another brutal west coast night game. It’s Southern California, don’t they want to play under the sun on a weekend? Lame.

SWB walks off on Charleston’s huge night

Make sure you scroll down for tonight’s game thread.

Double-A Trenton hitting coach Julius Matos has been suspended indefinitely after an altercation with manager Tony Franklin. All the details are here. In happier news, Rob Lyerly was selected for the High-A Florida State League All-Star Game, the only Tampa Yankees to make the team. You can also vote for the Triple-A All-Stars now.

Triple-A Scranton (4-3 win over Toledo, walk-off style) they faced an old pal, who was rehabbing a foot injury
Austin Krum, CF & Kevin Russo, 2B: both 2 for 5 – Krum doubled and whiffed … Russo tripled and scored
Jesus Montero, DH: 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 BB, 1 K – seven for his last 21 (.333) with a doubles, triple, and a homer
Jorge Vazquez, 1B: 2 for 4, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K
Brandon Laird, 3B: 3 for 4, 1 R, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 1 BB – walk-off single
Jordan Parraz, RF & Gus Molina, C: both 0 for 3 – Parraz walked and whiffed … Gus drove in a run bit saw just three pitches in his first three at-bats
Dan Brewer, LF & Doug Bernier, SS: both 2 for 4 – Brewer doubled and struck out … Bernier drove in a run, whiffed, and committed a throwing error
David Phelps, RHP: 7.2 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 7-5 GB/FB – 75 of 111 pitches were strikes (67.6%) … retired a rehabbing big leaguer all three times he faced him, including a three-pitch strikeout
Eric Wordekemper, RHP: 0.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K – five of seven pitches were strikes … that’s his ninth strikeout of the year (23.1 IP)
Kevin Whelan, RHP: 1 IP, zeroes, 1-1 GB/FB – nine of 15 pitches were strikes (60%)

[Read more…]

Game 55: House of Horrors

(Photo Credit: Flickr user JAweb.com via Creative Commons license)

For the longest time, it seemed like Angels Stadium was a complete nightmare for the Yankees. They won just five of 24 games in Anaheim from 2005 through the 2009 All-Star break, which is absolutely dreadful. But for whatever reason, the Angels and their stadium are just like any other team now. I don’t think many of use dread playing the Halos anymore, likely because they’re clearly a team in decline  and (of course) the 2009 ALCS. Good times, good times. Here’s your starting nine…

Derek Jeter, SS
Curtis Granderson, CF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Russell Martin, C
Nick Swisher, RF
Jorge Posada, DH
Brett Gardner, LF

Ivan Nova, SP

Dan Haren Update: RAB fave Sam Miller reports that Haren will have tomorrow’s scheduled start pushed back to Tuesday because of his back issue. I assume the Angels will just bump Ervin Santana up to Saturday and Joel Pineiro up to Sunday. Thursday’s off day allows them to pitch on normal rest, so that’s not an issue.