The Burnett identity

A.J. watches another hard hit ball go past him. (Photo Credit: Mark J. Terrill, AP)

Over the weekend, A.J. Burnett, the Yankees’ $82.5 million man, joined an semi-exclusive club of Bronx hurlers. In the Expansion Era, he is now the 62nd pitcher to throw 300 innings or more in the pinstripes. Unfortunately for the Yankees, the recent ones have been historically bad, and the team’s investment is looking shaky at best.

When Burnett failed to pitch out the fourth on Saturday, he sealed the book on a historically bad month. For June, he was 0-5 with an 11.35 ERA in just 23 innings. He allowed 35 hits and 17 walks while surrendering 9 home runs and striking out 19. Opposing hitters tattooed him to the tune of a line .357/.455/.724 line. No pitcher in Yankee history has had a month with five starts and an ERA that high, and the bad pitching didn’t just start with the new month. Going back May 9, Burnett is 2-7 with a 7.71 ERA, a 1.83 WHIP and 12 home runs allowed. Opponents are hitting .315/.405/.574. That’s better — or worse– than a lineup of nine Albert Pujols.

With these ten starts, Burnett has established himself in the annals of Expansion Era pitchers. Let’s take a look at some tables, courtesy of Baseball Reference’s Play Index. We start with those with the highest ERAs after 300 innings.

We continue with the context. Here’s how the same chart looks with ERA+. This allows us to see how these pitchers fared relative to their peers at the time. It’s a bit more of an honest look at these numbers.


What we see here is a problem. Burnett has found himself in the company of the some of the worst pitchers to don the pinstripes over the past 50 years, and no one wanted to see that outcome so early on in Burnett’s contract.

When A.J. came to the Bronx, the Yanks knew their signing was a risky one. The team had to outbid the Braves during the winter of 2008, and Brian Cashman ended up forking over $82.5 million for five years. Year One was fine. He went 13-9 with a 4.04 ERA, but he walked too many guys and saw his K/9 IP dip from 9.4 to 8.5. However, he came through when the team needed him to.

He threw a three-hit, one-run, six-inning performance against the Twins in the ALDS. He struggled in the ALCS but roared back in the World Series. Over 7 innings against Pedro Martinez and one night after Cliff Lee outdueled CC Sabathia, Burnett gave up two runs on four hits and struck out nine to even up the World Series. That Game 2 victory is why Burnett has received a pass while Javier Vazquez was booed mercilessly and his April — bad but not as bad as Burnett’s June — was scrutinized with a fine-tooth comb.

Later this week, AJ’s narrative will run a new course. The Yanks’ pitcher has said that he leans on Dave Eiland more so than some of the team’s other pitchers, and Eiland has been absent from the team for nearly a month. He should be returning tomorrow, and Burnett is due to pitch on Friday. If anyone can fix Burnett, it will be Eiland, but considering how Burnett has 1600 big league innings under his belt and 1300 of those were without Eiland, I remain skeptical.

Instead, I see signs of decline. His K rate has gone from 9.6 and 9.4 in 2006 and 2007 to 6.9 this year. He’s allowing nearly three more hits per 9 innings than he did while with the Blue Jays, and Pitch f/x says that the fastball has lost a full mile per hour from last year and nearly three miles per hour since 2007. The Pitch f/x data isn’t the most consistent across the years, but it’s not uncommon for a 33-year-old to see his stuff decline.

The Yanks won’t skip any Burnett starts. Rather, they need to straighten him out. They know he can pull off a 4-1 month with an ERA under 2.00 as he did in April, and they seem to be waiting out this horrendous cold streak. But lurking in the not-so-dark recesses of my mind is the fear that the AJ we know is the AJ we have. He’ll have some good stretches and then he’ll be awful. He’ll be paid handsomely by the Yanks through his age 36 season, and I’d be lying if I said I were looking forward to it.

A bullpen band-aid: More Robertson, Marte

Last night we undoubtedly witnessed one of the most exciting, satisfying wins of the 2010 season. The Yankees brought back some of that 2009 comeback luster, taking advantage of a seemingly fatigued Jonathan Broxton. The job might have been a degree easier, though, had Joba Chamberlain not surrendered a run in the bottom of the eighth, extending the Dodgers’ lead to four. At that point the game seemed all but over.

Joba’s performance again highlighted one concerning aspect of the 2010 Yankees, their bullpen. The starters have, for the most part, done a great job of limiting the need for relief pitchers. They’re going deep into games and are handing the ball to Joba or even Mo. But with Joba’s inconsistencies, perhaps he’s not the man to take the ball in every eighth inning situation. But that only creates another question. Who would provide the bridge to Mariano?

Photo credit: Kathy Willens/AP

While the Yankees just finished one of their best games of the season, they’re still less than a month removed from their worst loss. On May 29 they blew multiple big leads to the Indians, eventually dropping the game 13-11. Once again Joba was front and center. He took the ball with two outs in the seventh and not only allowed both inherited runners to score, but allowed four of his own. All with just one out left to record. The Yankees bullpen to that point didn’t help much. David Robertson hit a guy and allowed him to score after a steal. Sergio Mitre walked a guy, and while Damaso Marte retired the only batter he faced, Joe Girardi still decided to go to Joba rather than let Marte finish the job. In other words, while Joba ultimately blew it, the inning was a team effort in futility.

Photo credit: Paul Sancya/AP

Since that game Robertson has been much better. He has appeared in nine games and has pitched nine innings, allowing just one run on eight hits and four walks, while stranding the only runner he has inherited. He’s still not perfect, of course. Those four walks stick out, as do the 164 pitches it has taken him to finish those nine innings. But he also has plenty going for him. Even with his poor start he has struck out more than a batter per inning. His walk rate is in line with last year, and as we saw then he improved on that dramatically in the second half, walking just seven in 21.0 second-half innings. He has also kept the ball in the park, allowing just three home runs all season. Two of them came in one particularly poor performance against Baltimore; the other was that infamous grand slam against Anaheim at the home opener.

From Marte we see similar flaws and strengths. He keeps the ball in the park, allowing just one home run to the 65 batters he’s faced. He’s not as proficient as Robertson with the strikeout, just 10 in 14.2 innings this year, but he still has a quality rate. His walk rate is also troubling, as he’s walked one more than he’s struck out. That, however, might be attributable to his odd usage patterns. In fact, he’s walked only two batters in appearances that have come within two days of his previous one. In other words, it seems like the old adage holds true for Marte: he needs to actually pitch in order to stay sharp. To that end, four of his walks came in his two appearances prior to last night. He had gone three and then five days between appearances. That’s not to say that he’ll miraculously stop walking guys when given consistent work, but it doesn’t look like that could hurt.

The issue standing between Marte and Robertson, and more prominent roles, is that of trust. While Joe Girardi doesn’t share the same trust issues as his predecessor, he does favor certain relievers in certain situations. When his team has a small lead in the late innings, he puts his trust in Joba Chamberlain. At this point, that trust appears misguided. Joba’s peripherals look good, and in the long run I feel his results will move more in line with his strikeouts, walks, and home runs allowed. But for now the Yankees need another option, or options. There aren’t many viable candidates sitting out in the bullpen. Marte and Robertson, it appears, present the best cases to receive more high leverage innings.

Turning to Marte and Robertson is not the ideal solution, but neither is continuing along the current path. Joba just isn’t getting the job done. While I think he eventually will, the Yankees need a solution that will work during the next couple of weeks. With the way they’ve been pitching lately, Marte and Robertson present the best options. Neither has pitched much so far. Marte is on pace for 31.2 innings this season and Robertson is on pace for 54. Both can handle more, and if the Yankees want to explore all possible options to fix the bullpen problem they’ll get that chance. After all, why would they go and trade for a reliever if they don’t explore all possible internal options?

Fan Confidence Poll: June 28th, 2010

Record Last Week: 4-2 (33 RS, 34 RA)
Season Record: 47-28 (409 RS, 309 RA, 48-27 Pythag. record), two games up
Schedule This Week: Monday OFF, vs. Mariners (three games, Tues. to Thurs.), vs. Blue Jays (three games, Fri. to Sun.)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.


Escape from LA

That man on the right is very, very happy. Credit: AP Photo, Jae C. Hong

Down to their final two outs, the Yankees stormed back with four runs in the bottom of the ninth off Dodgers’ closer Jonathan Broxton. A two-run home run in the top of the 10th off the bat of Robinson Cano gave the Yanks an 8-6 lead, and Mariano Rivera didn’t need more. The Yanks’ closer worked two scoreless innings as the Bombers drove a stake through the heart of Joe Torre’s Dodgers in a thrilling and emotional victory. With the win, the Yanks sealed their series victory in Los Angeles and an 11-7 record in interleague games.

Improbable heroes

We start at the end. With their Win Expectancy bottoming out at 0.4 percent after Mark Teixeira‘s 9th inning strikeout, the Yanks had a long road ahead of them and little support for the key batters. With Brett Gardner out of the game after getting struck on the wrist by a pitch and a few double-switches at play, Chad Huffman and Colin Curtis were due up 5th and 6th in the inning. It is a reflection on the current Yanks’ bench that, with Marcus Thames shelved, these two were the best hopes for the Yanks.

They were, of course, the improbable heroes of the game.

After Teixeira’s strikeout, A-Rod singled and Robinson Cano doubled. We saw the stirrings of a comeback, and the Yankees were suddenly tugging on our heartstrings. A Posada single pushed Cano to third, and then Curtis Granderson walked. The Posada and Granderson ABs shouldn’t be overlooked. Jorge fouled off five pitches and singled on the tenth pitch of his plate appearance. Granderson walked on the eighth pitch he saw from Broxton.

Waiting for his chance, Huffman had seen 18 pitches. He came up ready to go and drove a 1-1 pitch to right. Two runs scored, and the lead was down to one. Still, though, it seemed like a tease. Colin Curtis, a minor leaguer with a career .709 OPS, had come in for Nick Swisher in a double switch. The Yanks needed a fly ball; the Dodgers a double play. LA almost got their wish.

Curtis battled Broxton. Foul, foul, ball, ball, ball, foul, foul, foul, foul. On the 10th pitch — Broxton’s 40th of the inning — Curtis hit a ground ball to James Loney at first. With Granderson speeding down the line, Loney could have thrown home for an easy out. Instead, he tried to be too fancy; he wanted both outs. Loney ran over to tag first and then made an off-balance throw to the plate. It was to the first-base side of the plate, and Granderson slid in without a tag. Tie game.

Had Loney thrown home, the game would have been saved. It was a mental error in a game filled with them. Meanwhile, the kids were alright. At some point, the Yankees will look to upgrade their bench, but tonight, Huffman and Curtis made believers out of all of us.

Torre’s bullpen management, in reverse

Credit: AP Photo, Jae C. Hong

For years, Yankee fans bemoaned Joe Torre’s bullpen management. We saw him wear down reliable relievers, using them in unnecessary situations day after day. Scott Proctor, Paul Quantrill, Tanyon Sturtze, Steve Karsay. The early 2000s are littered with the discarded arms of the Torre Era. Tonight, we saw it benefit the Yanks.

In a curious move last night, Torre went with Jonathan Broxton, his stud closer (3-0, 0.83 ERA, 13.2 K/9 IP before tonight), with the Dodgers up by five. He later said he wanted to make sure the Yanks didn’t start to rally. It was, in his mind, a save without actually being a save situation. Tonight, with a four-run lead, Torre did the same thing, and it blew up in his face.

Broxton couldn’t overpower the Yanks tonight. He battled through 10-pitch at-bats against Jorge Posada and Colin Curtis. He walked Curtis Granderson on eight pitches. By the time the Yanks tied the game, he had thrown 40 pitches in a single inning and still Torre left him in. Instead of cutting his losses in a 6-6 game, Torre let Broxton face two more hitters. He threw 48 pitches, and the strain on his arm for that one inning of work is arguably greater than what Edwin Jackson went through en route to his 149-pitch no-hitter. It was vintage Torre at his worst.

An inning later, Torre’s bullpen management struck again. After Ramon Troncoso got an out on an A-Rod fielder’s choice, Torre went with the match-ups, bringing in George Sherrill to face Robinson Cano. The Yanks’ second baseman had been 0-for-11 vs. the lefty Sherrill, but as the announcers on ESPN noted, Sherrill’s fastball isn’t what it once was. Cano took an 88-mph fastball over the fence in left-center. The book isn’t always right.

Joe Girardi, meanwhile, showed us the anti-Torre in him. After getting burned in an extra-inning affair in Toronto when Mariano Rivera never pitched and the Yankees lost, Girardi has shown a willingness to use Rivera for two innings in tie games on the road. Against the Diamondbacks, Rivera threw two innings and nabbed a win. Tonight, Rivera came in to face Andre Ethier, Garrett Anderson and Casey Blake in the ninth. He stayed out for the 10th and earned his second win of the season. As the Dodgers argued the strike zone, Mo’s two-inning, three-strike out performance capped off one of the best games of the season.

A sloppy game early on

Credit: AP Photo, Jae C. Hong

The game, however, didn’t start out on a positive note. Andy Pettitte, pitching to earn his spot on the All Star Game, ran into trouble of his own making. He threw two balls away when the Dodgers started to bunt, and both times, he hesitated to make the right play. After a Reed Johnson double to open the third, Clayton Kershaw bunted, and with A-Rod yelling at him to throw to first, Pettitte made a wild throw to third. The run scored.

Two batters later, it happened again. Ronnie Belliard tried to bunt with two on and no one out, and Pettitte looked to third for a force. A-Rod was charging though and by the time Andy recovered, he had to rush the throw to first. It, too, went wild, for his second error of the inning. Pettitte looked flustered and annoyed. He had to grit it out through five innings tonight, but the Yanks’ bats eventually picked him up.

General Grievances and Observations

Joba Chamberlain continues to have a maddening season. His run allowed loomed large until James Loney’s mental mishap, and he just wasn’t pitching smart. Someone called for an 0-2 pitch-out with two outs, and Joba couldn’t locate his pitches. The only thing consistent about his season is his inconsistency.

After years of enjoying a wide Mariano Rivera strike zone, the tables turned on Joe Torre and his players. The Dodgers argued nearly every strike from Rivera and two of them — Anderson and Russell Martin — were tossed in the 10th. Life is good when Mo lives on the black.

Damaso Marte wins the Unsung Hero award tonight. Last night, the Yanks’ pen couldn’t pick up A.J. Burnett. Tonight, Marte came in with runners on first and third and two out. He struck out the dangerous Andre Ethier and then retired Manny Ramirez, Casey Blake and James Loney in order in the 7th. The game could have gotten away from the Yanks there, but Marte kept his cool.

Grabbin’ a victory from the jaws of defeat

The WPA graph is a beauty tonight:

Up Next: Cliff Lee

The Yanks’ scouts won’t need to travel beyond the Bronx to see Cliff Lee in person this week. After a well-deserved travel day that allows the Yanks to bask in their 4-2 road trip, the team will host the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday night. Cliff Lee will face Phil Hughes in a must-see game.

Montero goes deep again in SWB win

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

Triple-A Scranton (8-4 win over Rochester)
Justin Christian, LF & Greg Golson, RF: both 2 for 4 – Christian drew a walk … Golson scored a run
Reid Gorecki, CF: 0 for 5, 1 K
Eduardo Nunez, SS: 1 for 3, 3 R, 1 2B, 2 BB – four walks in the last three games … what the hell is going on here?
Jesus Montero, DH: 2 for 3, 3 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 2 BB – apparently the homer was nothing more than a flick of the bat … eight for his last 14 (.571) with two doubles & two homers … that’s his second homer in as many games & third in his last ten games
P.J. Pilittere, 1B: 3 for 4, 2 R, 2 RBI, 1 BB – 11 for his last 24 (.458)
Reegie Corona, 2B: 0 for 4, 1 BB
Eric Bruntlett, 3B: 3 for 5, 1 2B, 3 RBI, 1 K, 1 E (throwing)
Chad Moeller, C: 0 for 5, 1 K
Zach McAllister: 7 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 5-11 GB/FB – 67 of 99 pitches were strikes … gave up a three run homer to a former Yankee prospect
Jason Hirsh: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 1-1 GB/FB – 21 of his 27 pitches were strikes (77.8%) …he had been getting rocked out of the bullpen, so it’s good to see him have a nice day like this

[Read more…]

Game 75: Turning to Andy again

Photo credit: Ross D. Franklin/AP

For the fifth straight time, the Yankees will turn to Pettitte following a poor start by A.J. Burnett. He has responded well the previous four times, tossing 29 innings and allowing just 10 runs. The Yankees have won only two of them, but that clearly is no fault of Pettitte’s. He’s done his job not only by limiting the runs, but also by eating innings. He has completed seven innings in each of those starts.

The stopper role is nothing new to Pettitte. That was always his story during the late 90s. In games after the Yankees lost, especially after they had lost two in a row, you could count on Pettitte to stop the bleeding. As long as he’s pitching behind A.J. Burnett the team is going to continue calling on him in that capacity. Well, that is, unless Dave Eiland brings a pouch of magic dust that will instantly cure what ails Burnett.

The Yanks go full strength in this one. They’ll need firepower against Clayton Kershaw. It would help, too, if Kershaw is more like his last start against Anaheim, when he gave up five runs in 6.2 innings, than he was his start before, when he held the Reds to one run over 7.1.

Hope you enjoyed interleague 2010. This is the last of those games.


1. Derek Jeter, SS
2. Nick Swisher, RF
3. Mark Teixeira, 1B
4. Alex Rodriguez, 3B
5. Robinson Cano, 2B
6. Jorge Posada, C
7. Curtis Granderson, CF
8. Brett Gardner, LF
9. Andy Pettitte, P