AJ Burnett has always been a Jekyll and Hyde pitcher, but this season he has taken his schizophrenia on the mound to extreme proportions. The old joke about the good and bad AJ is simply no longer funny because the good version rarely makes an appearance. In nine starts this season, Burnett has surrendered at least six runs, a level of futility matched or exceeded by only seven Yankees starters since 1920 (ironically, included on that list are three Hall of Famers). From a personal perspective, Burnett’s ERA+ of 77 is by far the worst of his career. In other words, it is no longer a case of Burnett being inconsistent, but rather his quite frankly not being any good.
After another disastrous start in which he surrendered nine runs in 3 1/3 innings, Burnett declared “enough is enough”, but perhaps that sentiment would be best expressed by Joe Girardi. Although his hands are tied by a rotation that has fallen to pieces, Girardi’s frustration with Burnett seems to have reached a boiling point. The normally “look on the bright side” manager wouldn’t commit to Burnett making his next start, which considering the other options is a pretty extreme reaction.
The reason the Yankees likely won’t remove AJ Burnett from the rotation is because they can’t. With Andy Pettitte still weeks away from returning, the Yankees rotation consists of C.C. Sabathia and a collection of question marks. If the Yankees are going to make the playoffs and have any chance of success in the playoffs, they need Burnett to turn it around. Having said that, it might be time to give Burnett a kick in the pants. Even if it means skipping his turn one time through the rotation, it might be a worthwhile move if it gets a strong message across. Even though Burnett is known to be a tireless worker, it could be that he needs a little extra motivation. The Yankees have been waiting for Burnett to figure things out on his own, but now may be the time to force the issue.
If the playoffs started today, the Yankees wouldn’t have a reliable starter to follow C.C. Sabathia. Fortunately, the Yankees have another month to see if Pettitte can get healthy, Burnett can turn it around Hughes can more consistently recapture his early season form. Of course, if one of those doesn’t happen soon, the Yankees may not have to worry about their playoff rotation because they’ll all be watching the post season at home.
Most Starts Surrendering Six or More Runs in a Season, Since 1920