Albert Einstein is widely believed to have said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. He must have had the Yankees’ handling of A.J. Burnett in mind when he made that observation.
For two seasons, A.J. Burnett has been a terrible pitcher. Unless he can whittle his ERA below 5.00 before the end of the season, he will go down as the only Yankees pitcher in franchise history to have an ERA above that mark in two seasons of more than 110 innings. What’s more, among all pinstriped hurlers with at least 160 innings pitched, Burnett’s 2010 and 2011 each rank among the top-three worst seasons in terms of ERA. The anecdotes that illustrate Burnett’s futility are almost as limitless as the frustration he has inspired over the last two seasons, so it shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to know that the time has come to remove him from the rotation.
Despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman have instead preferred to remain willfully ignorant. Not only have the Yankees’ brain trust shoe horned the struggling right hander into a six-man rotation, but they have taken every opportunity to defend his performance. If the Yankees had no other viable options, perhaps the decision to keep running Burnett out to the mound would make some sense, but the Yankees actually have too many starters, not to mention several minor league/bullpen options that would also provide a superior alternative.
Yankee Pitchers with an ERA of 5.00 or Higher (minimum 160 innings), Since 1901
Not only do the Yankees have viable replacements for Burnett, but because of this weekend’s weather, there was also no reason to start him in the Friday series opener. Instead of using Ivan Nova on his regular rest, the Yankees instead opted for the struggling Burnett, which now ensures either he, or his replacement, will have to pitch in Boston. Some simple foresight could have avoided that unpleasant proposition.
So, why do the Yankees keep banging their head against the wall with Burnett? The most common theory revolves around the $32 million owed to the right hander over the next two seasons. However, that’s not a justification for continuing to abide his historically poor performance. The money owed to Burnett is already a sunk cost, so it makes little sense to compound that error by allowing him to provide a negative contribution every six days. Besides, the Yankees have a sunk cost of $46 million named Kei Igawa, who has been spent the last five years at triple-A Scranton, so it’s not like the organization is adverse to the concept.
The Yankees have two long-term options with Burnett. They can either release him outright and eat the remaining $32 million, or seek to swap his contract for another team’s headache. In the meantime, however, the only logical decision is to immediately remove him from the rotation. It’s time to stop the insanity. One needn’t be a genius to figure that out.