A.J. Burnett’s Five Best Starts As A Yankee

(Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

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.

5. July 27th, 2009 @ Rays (box) (video) (RAB recap)
Pitching Line: 7 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 114 pitches
Game Score: 74

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.

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Loose, winding thoughts about the A.J. Burnett trade

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.

Girardi Speaks: CC, Rotation, Lineup, A-Rod

New year, same buzzcut.

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…

Pitching

  • 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]

Position Players

  • 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]

Miscellany

  • “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]

The Morning After: A.J. Burnett

"Two words dude: Primanti Bros." (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

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.

Burnett headed to Pirates in salary dump trade

So long, A.J. (Nick Laham/Getty Images)

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.

Mailbag: Burnett, Kennedy, New CBA

So here it is, the final mailbag of the offseason. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send in any links, questions, comments, etc.

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Andrew and many others ask: If the Yankees do trade A.J. Burnett and eat $23m of the contract, does that $23m still get attached to the Yankees’ luxury tax figures over the next two years?

We’ve been getting this question a few times a day, but I have absolutely no idea how this stuff works. I have to think we’ll get a definitive answer if and when a trade does go down.

Let’s just say they do eat that $23M split evenly over the next two years, does his luxury tax hit become $11.5M ($23M divided by two)? Or does it become $14.5M ($23M + $16.5M annually for the first three years of his contract divided by five)? It would have to be the first way, right? Otherwise they’re paying luxury tax on money they’re not paying Burnett.

Ryan asks: Does the possible A.J. Burnett trade make the possibility of signing a big time free agent like Cole Hamels more likely now, with the subtraction of his salary on the payroll?

I suppose it does, but they’re not going to save a ton of money by trading Burnett. If they’re going to drop huge money on one player next year, it’ll be because they’ve replaced Nick Swisher on the cheap. His salary ($10.25M) plus Hiroki Kuroda‘s salary ($10M) is where your $20M a year player is coming from. Either that, or they Yankees will have to raise payroll further. Freeing up some money by trading Burnett will help, but it won’t be the only reason they go after Hamels or someone like that.

Jon asks: Any chance the Yankees take a Jon Lieber-esqe flier on either Scott Kazmir or Brandon Webb?

Well, the Lieber contract was two guaranteed years knowing that he’d miss the first year after Tommy John surgery. There’s no way in hell you can guarantee Kazmir or Webb anything, it’s been far too long since they were effective big league pitchers. Plus those guys both had serious shoulder problems, not just an elbow. Minor league contracts? Fine. Nothing more though, otherwise you’re just wasting time, roster spots, and money.

(REUTERS/Jeff Haynes)

Joseph asks: IMO, while I can’t doubt his NL West success, I don’t believe [Ian Kennedy] would be anywhere near the pitcher he was last season if he was on the Yankees in the AL East. He doesn’t have blow-me-away stuff and in my opinion, a lot came together last year for him. So, what’s your take? I don’t dive too heavily into advance stats, so my analysis is lacking.

We don’t even have to bring up his stuff or his command or anything like that. This applies to every pitcher ever: moving from the NL West to the AL East will cause your performance to suffer. It doesn’t matter if you’re Ian Kennedy, Tim Lincecum, Clayton Kershaw, or Pedro Martinez in his prime. It’s unavoidable. The lineups in the AL East are far better, there’s a DH instead of a pitcher batting, and the ballparks are much less forgiving. In terms of pitching environments, the AL East and NL West couldn’t be any more different.

Kennedy is no exception like I said, and in fact his numbers would probably take a bigger hit than most because he’s on the best team in the division and doesn’t have to face his own lineup. Since moving to Arizona, 145.2 of his 416 innings (35.0%) have come against the punchless Giants, Dodgers, and Padres. Replace those teams with the Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Rays, and he’d do worst. It’s just the way it is. IPK is a really, really good pitcher, but his performance would absolutely suffer if he was still in pinstripes.

Will asks: I feel as though big market/high payroll teams are being put in an disadvantaged spot by the draft process/new CBA. Now that there is a cap on the draft/international market I feel like it is unfair to winning teams. How else are those teams going to acquire talent besides free agency? Picking so late in the draft is already a disadvantage, now the new CBA and possible worldwide draft would really hurt teams like the Yanks. What do you think?

The spending restrictions put in place by the new Collective Bargaining Agreement hurt everyone, but they hurt good teams the most. The more you win, the less you have to spend on top amateur talent without hurting themselves in the future (by forfeiting picks or future spending money per the new rules). Instead of being rewarded for winning, you’re punished. Good teams like the Yankees will be stuck signing free agents to improve their roster long-term, unless they just completely out-scout and out-player develop everyone else. It sucks, but at least the Yankees have more money to use on free agents than any other team.