Archive for A.J. Burnett
The 2008 season might not have been as bad as 2013, but Yankees fans would still like to forget it. It seemed that every little thing went wrong that season. Whenever it looked as though the Yankees might have a charge in them, the suffered another blow.
Let’s consider a (perhaps incomplete) list of those maladies:
- Both Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes, top prospects who showed promise in 2007, started off the season in disastrous fashion.
- Then Hughes got hurt.
- Darrell Rasner started 20 games.
- Much worse: Sidney Ponson started 15.
- Save for a brilliant start here and there, Andy Pettitte was thoroughly mediocre.
- The only two starters under age 30, Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera, had wholly disappointing seasons. Cano was benched for lack of hustle, while Carbera got sent back to AAA after more than two service-time years in the bigs.
- Jorge Posada, fresh off signing a new contract, played the first half with a bum shoulder which required surgery, forcing a cast of offensively inept backups into starting roles.
- Hideki Matsui‘s balky knees limited him to under 400 PA and sapped him of his power.
- Chien-Ming Wang suffered a foot injury that would indirectly end his career.
- Derek Jeter had his worst season since 1996. (Sure, he won the AL Rookie of the Year Award that year, but we’d come to expect more of him.)
- Joba Chamberlain dazzled out of the pen, and then in the rotation — until he suffered a shoulder injury that cut his season short (and probably ended up causing a lot more long-term damage than we typically account for).
- They traded a reasonably effective Kyle Farnsworth and got back a wholly terrible Ivan Rodriguez.
- Xavier Nady hit .330/.383/.535 before the Yankees traded for him, .268/.320/.474 for them.
- Damaso Marte was terrible and then broke after the trade. Thankfully, they didn’t end up giving away anything of consequence.
- All told the Yankees used 27 — twenty-seven! — pitchers.
What went right? Mike Mussina’s resurgence was nice to watch. Bobby Abreu and Jason Giambi both stayed healthy and produced decent numbers. Alex Rodriguez wasn’t his 2007 MVP self, but he was still a top-five hitter. Unfortunately, he started his streak of six straight years on the disabled list. (Which he’ll have snapped at season’s end.) The Yanks did discover Al Aceves, which was nice, and Brian Bruney, which was nice for a very short period of time.
Despite all that, had there been a second Wild Card, or had the Rays improved by 22 wins, instead of 31, the Yanks would have made the playoffs. So how bad could the season have been?
It could have been a fatal sign going forward. The franchise players were getting older. Each had been hurt or saw diminished production during the 2008 season. The only starters under age 30 took steps backwards. Maybe it didn’t feel like it at the time, but the potential for disaster loomed during that off-season. The Yankees needed big changes, and that’s not easy to achieve through free agency.
Thankfully for the Yankees, the 2008-2009 free agent class featured a number of players who fit their exact needs. Even more thankfully, they shed a number of their biggest, and in some cases worst, contracts at the exact right time.
The 2008 payroll was a then-franchise-record $209 million (just a bit more than the 2005 payroll). Without some of those bigger contracts coming off the books, there’s now way that even the Yankees can afford to add contracts for CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeira (and to a lesser extent, Nick Swisher). But the exact right contracts expired at the exact right time.
Jason Giambi cost the club $22 million in 2008. They essentially shed $17 million, though, since they had to pay him a $5 million buyout on his 2009 option.
Carl Pavano cost the club $11 million in 2008.
Bobby Abreu cost $16 million, but with a $2 million buyout the Yankees saved $14 million.
Mike Mussina cost $11 million, but the Yankees probably weren’t glad to be rid of him at that point.
Andy Pettitte cost $16 million. Worthwhile in 2007, but not so much 2008.
They also saved some money when Ivan Rodriguez’s contract expired. Trading away Wilson Betemit’s $1.6 million was like finding some loose change in the couch cushions.
In total the Yankees shed more than $70 million in salaries, mostly for players they were glad to be rid of, of who were considerably overpaid in 2008.
Time to reallocate those resource to more productive players.
Add up the guys they signed. At $23 million for Sabathia. $22.5 million for Teixeira, $18.5 million for Burnett, and $5.3 million for Swisher, plus another $5.5 million for bringing back Pettitte, you get $74.8 million.
They were able to fill their needs with such high-priced guys, because they had a number of lower-cost players on both sides of the ball. It took some faith in them rebounding, but Cano and Cabrera cost them a combined $7.4 million in 2009. Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes earned the minimum, as did almost everyone in the bullpen. If they didn’t have those major-league-ready younger players, then spending $75 million on top-tier players makes less sense. You can have a core of great players, but you still need 25 players on the roster.
At the end of 2008, the Yankees were in a tough spot. Their younger players saw their flaws exposed during the season. There was plenty of uncertainty about the tested veterans. Without the perfect free agent class and money to lure them, the 2009 Yankees might not have been much better than 2008. Without some of those younger guys returning to form, or performing well for a change, the successful free agent signings might not have mattered.
The Yankees found the exact guys to fill needed spots. It cost them plenty, but each of the free agent signings (and trade bounty, in Swisher’s case) added significantly to the 2009 team’s production. Perhaps just as importantly, the Yankees stuck with those younger players and saw their patience rewarded. The entire off-season could have gone a lot differently. But it played out perfectly. We all know the reward.
Michael Pineda heads into spring training with a grand opportunity. After nearly two years of rehab following shoulder surgery, he again competes for a rotation spot. Perhaps no other player in camp means so much to the future of the organization.
If Pineda wins the spot, showing some semblance of the stuff that powered his 2011 rookie season, the Yankees will be better off not only in 2014, but maybe through 2017. Because they optioned Pineda to AAA last year, he remains under team control for four more full seasons.
When was the last time the Yankees had three pitchers age-27 or younger in the rotation?* Along with Pineda, Ivan Nova and Masahiro Tanaka help round out one of the youngest Opening Day rotations in recent memory. Barring trade or injury, all three could be in that Opening Day rotation through 2016, and two of them are set through 2017.
Well, Chien-Ming Wang was 28 in 2008 when the Yankees broke camp with a rotation including him, Phil Hughes, and Ian Kennedy. Darrell Rasner (27), and Joba Chamberlain did pitch at some point in the rotation that year. Also, in 2009 CC Sabathia was 28, while both Chamberlain and Hughes took turns in the rotation. It has only been a rarity in the most recent years.
There’s just one hitch in the scenario.
You can’t count on Michael Pineda at this point.
Every Yankees fan in the world should be rooting for him to succeed, for him to pitch his way onto the team and redeem himself after a two-year absence. But you know what they say about wishing in one hand. The Yankees need a decent contingency plan in case Pineda is not up to the task from the get go.
David Phelps and Adam Warren will also compete for the fifth starter spot, but they both might be better served in bullpen roles. Not only would they shore up a current area of weakness, but they’d perhaps be more valuables themselves as relievers than as starters. Both have pitched well out of the bullpen in the recent past.
This is why we undertake the unexciting task of examining long shot starters. Given the need in the bullpen, in addition to the need for a fifth starter, the Yankees can’t be content just with the pitchers they have now. They need a couple more guys to add a little depth — and fill out the AAA rotation.
Finally we get to the title character, A.J. Burnett. Yesterday we learned that he will not retire, and that he will not necessarily re-sign with the Pirates. He’s looking to test the market. Since he’d almost certainly sign a one-year contract, he could fit perfectly into the No. 5 spot.
Before anyone gets anxious, let’s acknowledge that this will never happen.
Unless Burnett feels he has something to prove, it’s almost impossible to see him entertaining an offer from NY (even if they were interested). He’s heard the boos. He had to sit around as the Yankees desperately shopped him around before the 2012 season. He apparently didn’t like that the Yankees always tried to tinker with his delivery. He’d almost certainly be better served elsewhere.
This story really isn’t about Burnett anyway. It’s about depth. Having three or four guys (counting Vidal Nuno) competing for the fifth starter spot sounds nice. They’re all relatively young guys, which makes it sound even nicer. But this team has needs in many spots right now. Once the season starts, they’ll have more needs. How long will it be before someone in the rotation misses a start or two? The sixth starter will be called on soon enough.
That doesn’t even cover the bullpen, which is basically David Robertson and Shawn Kelley right now. If Warren and Phelps are swingmen, who takes their places when they move to the rotation? What happens if one of them gets hurt? What if they get shelled early in the season?
The answer doesn’t have to be Burnett. He just happens to make for the best headline. Given the unlikelihood of a reunion, it probably won’t be him. But it could be Ubaldo Jimenez, who might take a three-year, $39 million contract. That’s risk-heavy, probably risk-heavier than Burnett on a one-year deal. More likely it will be someone a bit cheaper, as outlined in the minor league pitcher post.
The Yankees did the heavy lifting when they added Tanaka to their top four starters. Now it’s time to add a little depth. It’s not the most exciting part of the off-season. It might be even frustrating, since it sometimes involves thinking about a reunion with A.J. Burnett. But if the Yankees want to return to the playoffs in 2014, it’s a necessary and ultimately important phase of the off-season.
Got seven questions for you this week. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us mailbag questions, links, comments, whatever.
Anonymous asks: Why not an A.J. Burnett reunion? He could easily eat up 200 innings and wouldn’t be that expensive and doesn’t require a draft pick.
I mentioned this to Joe yesterday. If it wasn’t for 2010-2011, wouldn’t Burnett be the perfect one-year stopgap for the Yankees if Masahiro Tanaka is not posted? He has a 3.41 ERA (3.17 FIP) over the last two seasons, he misses bats (8.90 K/9 and 23.6 K%), the walks aren’t out of control (2.95 BB/9 and 7.8 BB%), he gets grounders (56.7%), his velocity has been steady, and he’s thrown 180+ innings in each of the last six years. What more could you want?
Of course, it’ll never happen. Burnett was a disaster during his final two seasons in New York and I think the Javy Vazquez wound is still fresh enough to keep the team from trying a reunion. Burnett has said he will either pitch for the Pirates or retire next season, so maybe he wouldn’t even entertain the idea of coming to the Yankees. If he was open to it and his name was anything but A.J. Burnett … man he’d be a perfect fit.
Dustin asks: If the Yankees miss out on Tanaka or he doesn’t get posted, what do you think of the Yankees offering Ubaldo Jimenez or Matt Garza a one-year contract with a promise of not extending a qualifying offer? Yankees get a decent pitcher for one year that they can replace with one of the man good pitchers next off season, and Ubaldo/Garza can get to negotiate without having a pick attached to them. Do you think this is at all possible?
First, Garza will not cost a pick this winter, so that’s not an issue for him. He was traded at the deadline and a player has to be with their team for the full season to be eligible for the qualifying offer. Second, the Collective Bargaining Agreement strictly prohibits teams from promising they won’t extend the qualifying offer to help entice a free agent. I guess they could still do it under the table, but MLB is watching.
Third, I don’t think either guy would go for that. Ubaldo and Garza (and Ervin Santana for that matter) should have no trouble getting a nice multi-year contract as soon as the Tanaka situation is resolved. That is holding everything up, teams just want to know if he’ll be available before moving on to the alternatives. It would be hard for Ubaldo and Santana in particular to improve their stock in 2014 given their 2013 seasons. If any of those three are still sitting there unsigned when Spring Training rolls around, sure, make them a fat one-year offer. I just don’t expected them to still be on the board that long.
Kameron asks: Trey Haley was designated for assignment by the Indians yesterday. Do you think the Yankees should make a run at him? He has been around the 100 mph mark his entire career.
Yes, definitely. Haley’s name caught my eye when I saw the Tribe cut him to make room on the roster for John Axford. The 23-year-old had a 4.71 ERA (4.31 FIP) with 46 strikeouts and 39 walks in 44 innings at Double-A this season, so he’s a project. He has two minor league options remaining, so a team can afford to be patient with him.
Baseball America (subs. req’d) ranked Haley as Cleveland’s 14th best prospect before the season, saying his “fastball now operates at 93-98 mph (and) has touched 100 (with) late, heavy life” and his “curveball had good depth … it shows flashes of becoming a plus offering.” The raw stuff is awesome — the Indians paid him $1.25M as a second round pick in 2008, so he didn’t come out of nowhere — but the general strike-throwing ability needs a lot of work. The Yankees have a tight 40-man roster but they could make room for an arm like this. Someone is going to trade for Haley or claim him off waivers and it would be cool if it was the Bombers.
Dale asks: If Seattle needs a backup catcher and are trying to move one of Dustin Ackley or Nick Franklin, would a Austin Romine for one of the two of them be fair enough? Or would we have to include another outfield prospect?
I don’t think Romine would be enough for either guy but especially not Franklin, who hasn’t been a Mariner long enough to have his value destroyed. A package of Romine plus a second prospect (Nik Turley? Jose Ramirez? Peter O’Brien? I have absolutely no idea) might be enough to land Ackley at this point, who I prefer to Franklin. I like the idea of buying super low on a guy who is only 25 and two years removed from being arguably the best hitter in the minors. Franklin is expected to be more of a solid regular long-term, and while that’s pretty good, I’d rather take a shot on Ackley’s talent while he’s still relatively young.
Adam asks: Thoughts on Carmol Marmol for the pen? Could he be a fit or is he done?
I don’t think he’s done, he’s just incredibly erratic. Marmol, 31, struck out 59 batters in 49 innings this past season (4.41 ERA and 5.19 FIP), but he also walked 40 (!). He’s got a 7.33 BB/9 and 18.0 BB% over the last two seasons. Few batters can miss bats as well as Marmol but few hit the strike zone less often. I’d take him on a minor league contract in a heartbeat — there’s always a chance it clicks and he has a Kimbrelian year or something — but I’d be wary about guaranteeing him a roster spot.
Jorge asks: Would you rather have a lineup composed of all 100 OPS+es or half 150 OPS+es and half 50 OPS+es?
Well, there are nine lineup spots, so let’s call it four 150 OPS+es, four 50 OPS+es, and one 100 OPS. The idea is that the nine spots would average out to a 100 OPS+ but that wouldn’t actually happen in real life. The four 150 OPS+es would be stacked at the top of the lineup and they’d get more at-bats than the 50 OPS+es. Instead of averaging out to a 100 OPS+, that lineup would average out to a 105 OPS+ or something like that.
Anyway, I’d much rather have a lineup of nine 100 OPS+ players. I prefer a deep and circular lineup to a top-heavy one. Those four 50 OPS+ spots are just killers. That’s three full innings in any given game where you have close to no chance to score. The lineup of league average hitters might not be sexy but the more good hitters you have, the better your chances are of scoring. Simple as that.
Jamie asks: What’s the difference between WAR used on Baseball-Reference.com and Fangraphs.com? And why can’t they just agree on one? I think a universal WAR algorithm would go a long way towards old school guys taking it more seriously than they do.
I agree that having one universal WAR would lead to it being taken more seriously, but I also think the different versions (we could throw WARP from Baseball Prospectus into this ring) are a feature, not a bug. The WAR model isn’t perfect and as long as the various systems are coming up with different numbers, they will continue to be tinkered with and improved. I consider that a good thing.
As for the differences, B-Ref uses Total Zone for position player defense while FanGraphs uses UZR. The different defensive stats lead to different player values. On the pitching side, B-Ref’s WAR is built on runs allowed while FanGraphs’ WAR is built on FIP. I prefer FanGraphs for position players and B-Ref for pitchers — FIP is theoretical and if you want to but a number on a player’s value, it should be based on what he’s done, not what we think he should have done — but either way WAR is not definitive. It’s one tool in the shed. The concept of WAR (combining everything a player does into one number) is a really good but it’s not close to being a finished product.
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]