Fantasy Baseball 2011: Should A.J. Burnett Be Put on the Back Burner?

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Fantasy Baseball 2011: Should A.J. Burnett Be Put on the Back Burner?
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
May 5, 2011: A.J. Burnett softens up a baseball in Detroit. He's not pitching like the softy from last year.

Is A.J. Burnett putting his struggles from last year on the back burner and performing better this season?  From all indications early, it appears he is.

A mirage, though, can be a dangerous thing in MLB early seasons.  I’ll hold out to see if he can find an oasis this summer.  Read on to find out how I think this season will go for Burnett.

If by back burner you’re thinking in terms of benching him, or holding off on starting him, reflect on A.J.’s latest outing in the park.  It could provide some insight for you.

I can help.  Last Thursday, he took his second loss of the season, but he was pitching a no-hitter against the Detroit Tigers into the sixth inning.  He gave up five runs—two earned—on three hits in seven innings, striking out five while walking one.

But he found hope for his style:  "That’s the best I’ve felt out there in a while as far as repeating delivery out of both the windup and the stretch," Burnett said, according to the team’s report.

It’s not a stretch to say his defense let him down against Detroit.  The Yankees played like the Bad News Bears before Kelly Leak rolled through on a Harley at the alleged age of 12—no relation to Cincinnati Red Mike Leake.

Burnett’s latest performance wasn’t red hot, but it was a lot different from the many "Papooses" he pulled out of the hat in the "Boogie Down" Bronx last year.  American League hitters were raking him like leaves all last season—especially in the fall.

If you don’t know what a "Papoose" is, then it’s similar to signing a million dollar deal and getting the money without earning it—stealing money. 

Papoose, Shamele Mackie, is a hip-hop artist from Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn who allegedly signed a $1.5 million deal with Jive Records, left the company and kept the money without releasing a record.

Yes, Pap is from the same Bed-Stuy where Mike Tyson, Notorious B.I.G. and Jay-Z grew up.  A.J. Burnett is trying to grow up at this stage of his career and prove he’s still worthy of starting in the American League.

Going back to the 2010 ALCS, he was so bad that it was unclear who would start Game 4 against the Texas Rangers.  The Yankees were coming off an 8-0 thrashing in the third game after facing Cliff Lee.

Earlier in the season, they’d made a failed run to sign Lee—who was magnificent against them in Game 3 of the ALCS.  Throwing several changeups for easy outs, it was very hard to diagnose his delivery, and his pitches were dissecting the corners.

The lefty also laced them with cut fastballs and knuckle curves, while taking a two-run lead into the top of the ninth, 2-0.  The Rangers exploded for six runs and cruised to victory. 

The only runs against Pettite—who started against Lee for New York—came from Josh Hamilton’s two-run homer in the first-inning.  The Yankees built their own coffins via the implosion of reliever Dave Roberts. 

Yankees manager Joe Girardi wasn’t relieved to reveal A.J. as the starting pitcher for Game 4, although Joe looked confident in the press conference after the game when asked who would start Game 5. 

I was thinking—what difference does it make if Burnett gets beat in the fourth game or in the fifth game?  Speculation was that A.J. Burnett could start, but he may ride the bench in favor of southpaw C.C. Sabathia, who only pitched four innings in the first game.

The then-struggling right-hander Burnett hadn’t pitched since October 2; 16 days.  He lost Game 4 to Tommy Hunter.

Pettite is probably hunting or fishing somewhere in Texas—or trying to.  He retired before this season.  I’m not suggesting the pasting he took by the Rangers had anything to do with his retirement. 

Maybe it did.  It was the worst shut out home loss in Yankee history, but it doesn’t matter  He’s Andy Pettite, and it wasn’t his fault.  Maybe he didn’t want to pitch in the same rotation with Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova and A.J. Burnett. 

Maybe Burnett contemplated the same move.  In Game 4, he gave up five runs in six innings.  The Yankees fell into a 3-1 hole and ended up losing the series 4-2.

Burnett’s curve was breaking out of the strike zone and, instead of nibbling just off the plate all night, his pitches were just a bit outside.  Dieting on hits, New Yorkers tried to munch off Hunter’s fastball, but he ate their gosh darned snacks.

Burnett struggled mightily after the All-Star break.  It was like he was a totally transformed pitcher from the one who helped win the 2009 World Series.

Trying to put 2010 behind him, Burnett now has a 3.71 ERA—below the league average of 3.87.  Jared Weaver, the league leader, is at 1.39.  A.J. has 33 strikeouts, while the league leaders are close to 60.

Burnett’s WHIP ratio of 1.17 is below the league average of 1.31.  Most impressive, though, is his 4-2 record.  On a first place team, he was under .500 (10-15) last year.

The 34-year-old is not getting any younger, and he’s probably not going to recapture the magic of his 2008 season when he won a career-high 18 games for Toronto.  He could win 15 games, though, and reverse his record from last season.

As a seasoned writer, I can sum it up like this: A.J. Burnett should be in your starting lineup because the Yankees win a lot of games with their bats.  He’s averaging about five strikeouts per outing and should stay there this year.

He’s a good third or fourth starter for your fantasy team.  Put him on the back burner—bench him if his ERA balloons to above 4.00.  Follow that rule for any pitcher.

This has been my pitch for deciding what to do with A.J. Burnett.  For more championship-winning advice, catch me on the next lovely edition of Reasoning on the Riverwalk

Remember, a baseball flies through the sky and is white like a dove.  Here’s to peace.  Here’s to one love.

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