Posts Tagged ‘AJ Burnett’

Before the Yankees’ adopted a six-man rotation at the end of July, the team’s starters had posted one of the lowest combined ERAs in the league. Since then, however, the Yankees’ rotation has ranked 9th in the league with a 4.85 ERA. Coincidence or correlation?

When Joe Girardi first decided to expand the rotation to six, it was presented as a temporary solution to the Yankees’ glut of starters. In reality, however, it was really a structure designed to keep the struggling A.J. Burnett in a starting role. Six weeks later, not only has Burnett continued to weigh on the team, but now it seems as if the efforts made to accommodate the erratic righty have brought the rest of the staff down with him.

Yankees’ Starters ERA vs. American League, by Defined Period (click to enlarge)

Note: Yankees began using six-man on July 30; August 1 used for comparison to league because of ease of calculation.
Source: fangraphs.com

Luckily, the Yankees’ offense produced at season-high levels during August and early September. As a result, the team’s winning percentage has actually been higher since the Yankees’ adopted the six-man rotation (.614 vs. .600). However, the end doesn’t justify the means. Not only could the Yankees have won even more games during this period, but the team now finds itself with a rotation in flux only two weeks before the start of the post season. The six-man rotation may have been designed to accomplish something, but it’s hard to figure out exactly what.


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Maybe the grass isn’t always greener on the other side? While Yankees’ fans have been lamenting the historically poor performance of A.J. Burnett, Red Sox Nation has been home to an even bigger bust, both in terms of performance on the field and zeros on the pay check.

Following his latest meltdown against the Texas Rangers, John Lackey’s ERA ballooned above the six run level, placing him dead last (by over seven-tenths of a run) among all qualifiers in 2011. On a more historic scale, Lackey’s ERA+ of 68 ranks as the 65th worst rate compiled by a pitcher with at least 140 innings since 1901. In other words, Lackey hasn’t just been bad; he’s been down right terrible. Somewhere, Francisco Cervelli is clapping his hands very loudly.

Adding insult to injury from the Red Sox’ point of view is Lackey’s contract, which calls for the ornery right hander to receive $46 million over the next three seasons. By comparison, AJ Burnett only has two years remaining at $33 million, so financially speaking at least, the Yankees are in much better shape. That’s nothing to get too excited about, but in the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry, even small victories warrant a round of applause.

Tale of the Tape: AJ Burnett vs. John Lackey
*aWAR = fWAR + bWAR/2
Source: baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.com

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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.

Even Burnett has found it hard to look when he takes the mound (Photo: AP).

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

Player Year ERA IP W L ERA+
A.J. Burnett 2011 5.31 161 9 11 ~79
Bump Hadley 1937 5.30 178.1 11 8 85
A.J. Burnett 2010 5.26 186.2 10 15 81
Roy Sherid 1930 5.23 184 12 13 83
Melido Perez 1993 5.19 163 6 14 80
Snake Wiltse 1902 5.10 164 7 11 74
Dwight Gooden 1996 5.01 170.2 11 7 100
Randy Johnson 2006 5.00 205 17 11 90
Richard Dotson 1988 5.00 171 12 9 80

Source: Baseball-reference.com


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Joe Girardi’s personality exudes loyalty. In his three-plus years as manager, it’s hard to think of one instance in which he publicly criticized a player. In many ways, that’s an admirable trait, one that his players must surely appreciate. However, there is a difference between throwing a player under the bus and acknowledging his deficiencies. Unfortunately, at least with A.J. Burnett, Girardi has been unable to make that distinction.

AJ Burnett watches from the dugout after being pulled in the second inning (Photo: AP).

After surrendering four runs and loading the bases in the second inning, AJ Burnett received another early hook from Girardi. As he departed the mound, the right hander seemed to mouth something in his manager’s direction. Then, the YES cameras caught Girardi following Burnett into the clubhouse. Had there been a confrontation? With the score lopsided, the remaining innings became a formality leading up to the post game.

After the game, Girardi was livid. However, his anger wasn’t directed toward Burnett’s rampant ineffectiveness, nor was it inspired by the way in which the right hander expressed himself while leaving the mound. According to the Yankees’ manager, those events were much ado about nothing. Instead, what sparked Girardi’s post game tirade was the unfair way he believes the media has been treating Burnett.

I’m tired of people looking for something between me and A.J. Me and A.J. have mutual respect for each other. I cheer for this guy. He cheers for me, and we cheer for this team. I want the guy to do well.” – Joe Girardi, quoted by AP, August 20, 2011

Instead of taking the opportunity to hold his erratic right hander accountable for his actions and performance, Girardi choose to make him the victim. In some ways, that has become the organization’s party line. Just last week, Brian Cashman launched into a similarly impassioned defense of Burnett. According to the GM, Burnett’s struggles were as much a media creation as a reflection of reality. Unfortunately, the statistics don’t support the claim.


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When the Yankees signed A.J. Burnett before the 2009 season, one of the motivating factors was how well he had pitched in the division while a member of the Blue Jays. In particular, Burnett dominated the A.L. East bullies, going a combined 10-3 with a 2.50 ERA in 18 starts against the Yankees and Red Sox.

A.J. Burnett’s Performance Against the Yankees and Red Sox, 2006-2008

NYY 10 5 3 71 2/3 55 19 18 72 2.39 64.3
BOS 8 5 0 56 1/3 44 16 21 53 2.56 61.4
Total  18 10 3 128 99 35 39 125 2.50 63

Source: Baseball-reference.com

According to the blueprint, not only would the Yankees benefit by no longer having to face Burnett several times each season, but they would also get to enjoy his mastery of the rival Red Sox. Unfortunately, that part of the equation hasn’t gone according to plan.

A.J. Burnett’s first game in pinstripes against the Red Sox started out exactly as the Yankees had drawn it up. In the first three innings, the right hander needed only 37 pitches to keep Boston off the board. Meanwhile, the Yankees’ lineup was busy building a 6-0 lead against Josh Beckett, Burnett’s former teammate with the Marlins. Then, all of a sudden, the bottom fell out. Over the next two innings, Burnett relinquished the lead by surrendering eight runs, which was only one fewer than he had allowed to the Red Sox in 27 2/3 innings during 2008.  


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The last two slots in the Yankees’ starting rotation remain up for grabs, but the order of the first three has been officially established.

To the surprise of some, Joe Girardi announced that A.J. Burnett, not Phil Hughes, would follow CC Sabathia in the pecking order. Many have speculated that Girardi’s commitment to Burnett is really about instilling confidence in the enigmatic right hander, but in reality, the decision accurately reflects the current state of the Yankees’ rotation. For better or worse, Burnett is the Yankees’ second best pitcher.

Ten Worst* Seasons by a Yankees Starter, 1961-2010

Player Year ERA+ ERA GS IP W L
Terry Mulholland 1994 71 6.49 19 120.2 6 7
Richard Dotson 1988 80 5.00 29 171 12 9
Mike Kekich 1972 80 3.70 28 175.1 10 13
Scott Sanderson 1992 80 4.93 33 193.1 12 11
Mike Kekich 1971 80 4.07 24 170.1 10 9
Melido Perez 1993 80 5.19 25 163 6 14
Andy Hawkins 1989 81 4.80 34 208.1 15 15
A.J. Burnett 2010 81 5.26 33 186.2 10 15
Ron Guidry 1984 84 4.51 28 195.2 10 11
Rudy May 1981 86 4.14 22 147.2 6 11

*Ranked by ERA+. Includes pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Burnett’s 2010 season was historically bad, but it should also be noted that it was a career outlier. His ERA+ of 81 and WAR of 1.3 were both the lowest totals for any season in which he pitched at least 100 innings. Burnett’s next lowest ERA+ in a full season was 104 in 2008 (the same year he won a career high 18 games).  In other words, it would be shortsighted to project Burnett’s 2011 performance based on one extraordinarily poor year. (more…)

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