Archive for A.J. Burnett
Only three questions this week, but they’re good ones. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything at any time. I might do a few mailbag posts next week since things will be slow during the holiday and I know I’ll have the itch to write but not the itch to think real hard, so submit accordingly.
Jimmy asks: So the Yankees traded A.J. Burnett and he had a good season for the Pirates. Can we get some analysis in terms of did his command and velocity improve? Or was it the transition to a weaker division and league combined with the effects of PNC Park and their defense? Why was he so good? Since they’re still paying so much of his contract, should the Yankees have seller’s remorse?
Burnett, 35, pitched to a 3.51 ERA (3.52 FIP) in 202.1 innings and 31 starts for the Pirates last season. His strikeout rate (8.02 K/9 and 21.2 K%) was almost identical to his career norms, though his walk (2.76 BB/9 and 7.3 BB%) and ground ball (56.9%) rates were his best in six and seven years, respectively. His homer rate (0.80 HR/9 and 12.7% HR/FB) also dropped quite a bit, but that was expected. He didn’t enjoy any BABIP luck (.294 after .294-.319 from 2008-2010) but surely got some help from PNC Park, which is much more pitcher friendly than Yankee Stadium.
For the most part Burnett did not change his pitch selection much. He scrapped the cutter he toyed with in 2011 and otherwise threw a few more sinkers at the expense of changeups, but nothing drastic. His fastball averaged 92.2 mph, continuing a slow and steady decline that is very normal for a pitcher in his mid-30s. Burnett did throw more strikes through, a lot more in fact. His 61.1% first pitch strike rate was his best in eight years and about five percentage points better than what he did in New York. More than half (51.1% to be exact) of his pitches were in the strike zone as well, his highest rate in the PitchFX era and nearly seven percentage points better than 2011. That could be an NL thing (weaker lineups), a mechanics thing, or a million other things. Who knows?
It’s probably worth noting that Burnett threw to Rod Barajas this season, who was his catcher during his strong 2008 campaign with the Blue Jays. Maybe the two just work together well, but if nothing else it probably helped the transition a bit. It was pretty obvious after 2011 that Burnett had to go and the Yankees would have to each a big chunk of his contract to make it happen, which sucks. I don’t think the Yankees have (or should have) seller’s remorse though. He had just had two of the worst seasons by a starter in team history in back-to-back years and was showing no signs of turning things around. Burnett worked hard, he tweaked his delivery every other start it seemed, but nothing was working. At some point a change as to be made, especially if you’re trying to contend.
Mark asks: It seems that the Mariners are looking for some outfield help and are most likely missing out on Nick Swisher, as they did Josh Hamilton. Do you think they would be interested in Curtis Granderson and possibly send something back of quality in return? Say a right-handed bat like Jesus Montero? What else would the Yanks need to add to get a return of that quality?
The Mariners added offense in Kendrys Morales earlier this week and are still looking for outfield help, but they have very little of value to offer the Yankees for Granderson. They aren’t getting Taijuan Walker or any of Seattle’s other big pitching prospects, and I doubt the M’s have soured so much on Montero that they’d trade him for one year of Granderson, or even one year of Granderson plus a prospect. Justin Smoak is awful and Franklin Gutierrez hits the undesirable trifecta (awful, injury prone, expensive), so forget them.
The Yankees could ask for infielder Kyle Seager or nominal catcher John Jaso, but I would expect a no to both. Right-handed hitting outfielder Casper Wells could probably be had and he’d make a ton of sense for New York, but he alone is not nearly enough of a return. As I’ve been saying for weeks, it’s very hard to envision a realistic trade scenario in which the Yankees move Granderson and actually improve the team. The Mariners could use the Grandyman, but they don’t have much to make it worthwhile.
Mike asks: Just wondering if you think the Yankees should have any interest in Kelly Shoppach. He has the AL East pedigree and would provide some desperately needed RH pop. Too expensive?
Shoppach, 32, has spent most of the last three seasons with the Rays and Red Sox, so he’s certainly familiar with the division. His overall offensive performance is pretty bad (even for a catcher) during those three years (.202/.294/.374, 85 wRC+), but that doesn’t tell the whole story. As a right-handed batter, Shoppach pounds lefties (.246/.336/.437, 115 wRC+) and gets completely dominated by righties (.156/.248/.301, 52 wRC+). It’s worth mentioning that since 2010, only one batter (Mark Reynolds) has made less contact on pitches in the strike zone than Shoppach (73.4%). His career 33.4% strikeout rate is ghastly for a player without huge power.
The various catcher defense rankings (2010, 2011, 2012) rate Shoppach as anywhere from average to above-average behind the plate, which surprised me. He’s also thrown out 31.5% of attempted base-stealers over the last three seasons, which is much better than the league average. For some reason I thought he was a butcher back there. The Yankees already have three right-handed hitting catchers in Frankie Cervelli, Chris Stewart, and Austin Romine, but that shouldn’t stop them from pursuing Shoppach at a reasonable (one-year, $3M?) price just so they could get some offense from the catcher position, even if it’s just against lefties.
The 2008-2009 offseason was all about CC Sabathia, but the Yankees acted quickly to sign a rotation running mate in A.J. Burnett just a few days after landing the big left-hander. Ken Davidoff reports that although they signed Burnett, the Bombers actually preferred Lowe. They just had concerns about his reliance on the ground ball meshing with their porous infield defense.
Both the Yankees and Braves were in on Burnett, offering identical five-year, $82.5M contracts according to Joel Sherman. He took New York’s offer because of the club’s proximity to his Maryland home. Atlanta then turned around and signed Lowe to a four-year, $60M deal. I was actually pro-Lowe back then, thinking that the Yankees needed stability and an innings-eater. Burnett has since gone on to become a workhorse, but his injury history at the time was scary. Since those contracts were signed, the two right-handers are essentially tied in fWAR (8.6 vs. 9.0) while Burnett has a huge lead in bWAR (5.6 vs. 0.5).
Once upon a time, the Yankees had a surplus of starting pitching. So much so that they traded one of the only 16 pitchers to make at least 32 starts in each of the last three seasons to the Pirates for a pair of fringe prospects and $13M in salary relief. New York’s rotation has been inconsistent and adequate at best while A.J. Burnett has toiled in relative obscurity in Pittsburgh. Contending is a pipe dream, but Burnett recently told both Brian Costa and Andy McCullough that he’s enjoying his new surroundings.
“It’s completely different,” he said. “I can go out there and do what I want, how I want, when I want to. If I want to turn around upside down, I can do it — as long as I throw a strike. It was always the pressure I put on myself to do so good. And now, I’m just out there, just doing it.”
Like every other ex-Yankee, Burnett takes advantage of the freedom to don some horrible facial hair. He traded a college fund for a uniform number and keeps fishing poles at his locker in PNC Park while his 2009 World Series ring is tucked away at home. He still talks to CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, David Robertson, and others regularly but also acknowledges that he prefers the levity of his new situation.
“I’d get 3-0 on the first batter, and you’d hear a bunch of people,” he added. “My first start, I walked the bases loaded here. I can’t even imagine what [Yankee Stadium] would have sounded like over there, and there was maybe like two words that came out of the crowd here. So it’s just different.”
Burnett owns an unsightly 4.78 ERA in six starts for the Pirates, but most of that stems from a 2.2-inning, 12-run disaster against the Cardinals a few weeks ago. He’s allowed no more than two runs or thrown fewer than six innings in any of his other five starts, including seven shutout innings against St. Louis in his first appearance of the year. As you know, he missed the first few weeks of the season after fouling a ball off his face in Spring Training and fracturing his orbital bone. His 3.46 FIP is by far his best since a 3.45 mark with the Blue Jays in 2008, the year before he came to New York.
Do the Yankees miss Burnett? Despite their sketchy rotation, I don’t believe so. Burnett helped the Yankees win a World Championship and if you do that, you’re cool with me. That doesn’t mean you get to keep your job forever though. He was good for innings but not much else these last two years and the move to the easier league seems to have served him well at this point of his career. It doesn’t sound like A.J. misses the Yankees but not in a mean-spirited way. Things here had run their course.
“I had my good times there, though” said Burnett. “I don’t regret it at all. I don’t. I regret not performing better.”
No, this has nothing to do with a Yankees, but it’s a cool story and does involve two familiar names. According to Bill Brink, A.J. Burnett will open a college savings plan for Dan McCutchen’s unborn daughter in exchange for his jersey number, #34. “When a veteran comes in and takes a number, some of the guys usually get something,” said McCutchen, who went from the Yankees to Pittsburgh in the Xavier Nady/Damaso Marte trade back in 2008. “I know he has kids. He asked me what I wanted, I brought that up.”
Usually you hear stories about watches or fancy dinners or whatever, but bravo to McCutchen and Burnett for thinking outside the box. Obligatory Snark: I’m glad to see some of the money the Yankees are paying Burnett is going to a good cause.
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.
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.
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.
Travel problems delayed Joe Girardi‘s arrival to Spring Training, but he made it to Tampa safe and sound prior to today’s workout session, the first of the 2012 season. Girardi spoke to the media about the state of his team afterward, so here’s a recap…
- CC Sabathia will get his seventh consecutive Opening Day nod, but after that? “You go [in] with an open mind,” said the skipper. [Marc Carig]
- Girardi said it’s important that Sabathia maintains his weight, and “stays there or close to it.” It’s most important that he “stays strong,” obviously. [Jack Curry]
- Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia will battle it out for the fifth starter’s spot, though Girardi said he still envisions the former as a starter. [Curry]
- “I’m always amazed at how big players are today,” said Girardi about new pickup Michael Pineda. “They’re large humans.” [Mark Feinsand]
- David Robertson will remain the Eighth Inning Guy™ while Rafael Soriano gets stuck in the seventh inning. I’d like to see Robertson in more a fireman role rather than be married to one inning, but whatever. [Feinsand]
- Girardi is leaning towards a 3-4-5 of Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira, but he qualified it by saying: “I’m not married to that.” Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson figure to remain atop the lineup. [Feinsand & Carig]
- Girardi doesn’t have a clearly defined plan for A-Rod regarding his rest and time at DH, and he’ll probably play it by ear. He does expect Alex to have a big year, though not necessarily 45 homers big. [Carig & Curry]
- “I anticipate it will be [Frankie Cervelli],” said the skipper when asked about the backup catcher. Others like Austin Romine will get a shot to take the job in camp though. [Erik Boland & Carig]
- “If not for [A.J. Burnett], we may not win that World Series,” said Girardi about his departed right-hander. “I felt A.J. did everything we asked him to.” [Marc Carig]
- “I thought our guys came in good shape,” Girardi said. “I thought they were all ready to go.” [Chad Jennings]
[Photo via Bryan Hoch]
Via Jon Heyman, A.J. Burnett has passed his physical and MLB has given the deal a thumbs up. The trade sending him to the Pirates for $13M in salary relief and two nondescript minor leaguers (Diego Moreno and Exicardo Cayones) is now official. Give ‘em hell in Pittsburgh, A.J. Thanks for Game Two.
After far too much back-and-forth, the Yankees and Pirates finally agreed to a trade that will send A.J. Burnett to Pittsburgh for two minors leaguers and $13M is savings for New York. Let’s round up some miscellaneous links surrounding the move…
- Burnett will take his physical on Sunday, and the trade should become official on Monday afternoon. Once that happens, the Yankees will move toward signing both Raul Ibanez and Eric Chavez for roughly $1M each. (Sweeny Murti, Erik Boland, Jon Heyman & Joel Sherman)
- Remember all that talk about the Mystery Team? Apparently it was the Phillies, who would have had to trade Joe Blanton for salary relief to make it work. That’s just … weird. Not sure I follow Philadelphia’s logic there. (Buster Olney)
- If you’re still curious about Diego Moreno and Exicardo Cayones, I recommended reading the trade recaps at Pirates Prospects and Baseball America. There’s a tiny chance Moreno turns into a semi-useful reliever, but I wouldn’t count on it. This deal was all about freeing up money.
Every since we first found out that the Yankees were shopping Burnett, I’ve been saying I didn’t expect them to trade him. I certainly didn’t expect them to get $13M salary relief in a potential deal. I figured they’d be lucky to get $8M back. Then again, I’m constantly wrong about this stuff. Saving that much on a pitcher they had very little use for is a good deal in my book, even though paying $20M for A.J. to pitch elsewhere is less than ideal.
After three years, A.J. Burnett‘s time in pinstripes is coming to an end. The Yankees have agreed to trade the right-hander to the Pirates for prospects Exicardo Cayones and Diego Moreno. Pittsburgh will pay $13M of the $31.9M left on his contract, broken down into $5M in 2012 and $8M in 2013. The deal is pending physicals and MLB’s approval because of the amount of money changing hands. Ken Rosenthal, Joel Sherman, Dejan Kovacevic, Buster Olney, and Jonathan Mayo all had a hand in breaking the news.
Burnett made 98 starts in three years for the Yankees, pitching to a 4.79 ERA and a 4.63 FIP. Kinda hard to believe that his greatest attribute was his durability when that was the biggest question at the time of his signing. Burnett helped the club to the 2009 World Championship but was a total dud in the two following years. At age 35, he is unlikely to improve in a meaningful way going forward. Moving out of Yankee Stadium and the AL East and into pitcher friendly PNC Park and the NL Central should certainly help his performance.
Moreno, 25, is a hard-throwing right-handed reliever. Pirates Prospects says he routinely runs his fastball up to 97 with a mid-80s slider. He struck out 45 (9.1 K/9 and 23.4 K%) and walked 18 (3.6 BB/9 and 9.4 BB%) in 44.2 relief innings split between High-A and Double-A last season. No team took a shot on him in December’s Rule 5 Draft. The Pirates suspended Moreno in 2010 after he got caught kissing a fan in the bullpen, believe it or not.
Cayones, 20, hit .228/.333/.325 in 135 plate appearances split between the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League and Short Season NY-Penn League last season. Pirates Prospects says he has an advanced approach to hitting (career 9.5 BB%) but apparently not much power (.108 ISO), which is a problem because he’s a left fielder. His best tool is his name, which is a straight 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale. Neither Cayones or Moreno were among Pittsburgh’s top 30 prospects in Baseball America’s Prospect Handbook, and neither would have cracked my Top 30 Prospects List.
The Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda acquisitions crowded the pitching staff, leaving Burnett to fight for the fifth starter’s spot with Freddy Garcia and Phil Hughes. The Yankees obviously decided that getting some salary relief was the best way to go. Rumor has it they’ll soon sign Eric Chavez and Raul Ibanez to fill out their bench and DH spots, respectively. Burnett was incredibly frustrating to watch, especially the last two years, but he came across as a stand-up guys in interviews and was generally regarded as a positive force in the clubhouse. I’ll miss A.J. the person, but not the pitcher.