One of the pet peeves people seem to have of writers is that they don't admit their mistakes. Well, I'm going to admit one here:
Maybe I was wrong about A.J. Burnett.
I loathed the signing of Burnett. He struck me, as they taught us in Bull Durham, as someone with "A million-dollar arm and a five-cent head"
He was a guy who rarely seemed to put it together year after year. He'd had three seasons with 200-plus innings pitched, and two of those three years were contract years. The first time he pitched 200 innings, in 2002, he threw 23 the next year. The second year, he followed it with 135 and 165 innings.
And now he was getting $82 million for five years. That's a lot of money to pay for a pitcher who is not durable with control issues. Especially for someone who pitched in the low-pressure locales of Florida and Toronto. (Note: No mention of: "He won a World Series with Florida in 2003!" He made four starts that year, none in the postseason. End of discussion)
Well, following his most recent start, he's now 10-4, with a 3.53 ERA. He's allowed well under a hit per inning. He's 8-2 since mid-May. Everything points to this being a great signing.
So why don't I feel good about it?
Maybe I'm a cynic, but there are warning signs.
Burnett's control has been awful this season. Heading into tonight's start, he led the American League in walks and his walk rate of 4.6 per nine innings was the worst number of his career (full seasons only). He's also uncorked 14 wild pitches, which is, amazingly, tied for his career high.
He's been helped by a high strand rate--number of runners left on base--of 79.4 percent, which is about 7.5 percent higher than league average. Also, his "Batting Average on Balls in Play" is a bit lower than league average at .285--league average is .300. If those numbers move closer to the league average, he's going to be allowing a lot more runs.
I know, I know. I'm "that guy". The Yankees are on a roll, so is Burnett, and I have to be the one who goes and spoils it with my doomsday talk.
Maybe I just don't think of Burnett as a good signing, and I'm looking for an excuse to bury him. Maybe I'm just a "hater" but consider:
Javier Vasquez's first 18 starts as a Yankee: 10-5, 3.56 ERA
Remainder of Yankees regular season career: 4-5, 6.92 ERA
Postseason as Yankee: 1-0, 9.80 ERA
I bring up Vasquez because he was a guy who, like Burnett, came from a place with no expectations coming off some of his best seasons--he had an ERA 25 percent better than the league average the three previous years.
He started off hot. And he didn't even make it past his first season.
I bring this up, not to rain on the first-place parade, but to try and get you to remember: A.J. Burnett's got a lot to prove. He's never pitched in a high-pressure situation before. No Marlins team he was on won more than 83 games (Again, excluding his 2003 injury-plagued team) The Jays teams he were on never seriously contended.
Fair or not, these are the rules when you sign a contract in New York. It's not about your first April and May, or even June and July. It's about September, and October, and the next one after that. And after that.
Ask Mike Mussina how it works. Mussina signed a massive contract with the Yankees before the 2001 season, and during his career, no Yankee starter won more games, or had more strikeouts.
But tell the truth. For all the love showered on him in 2008, when he was carrying the Yankees on his back and single-handedly trying to pitch them into the postseason, at the back of your mind, didn't part of you think, "Yeah, but he never got us a ring, and that's why we signed him"?
Isn't that what separated Tino Martinez from Jason Giambi? Scott Brosius from A-Rod? Even Chuck Knoblauch from Alfonso Soriano? Post-season glory.
There's a long road ahead A.J. You've made me look bad so far. Keep it up