Yankees Can (and Should) Hide AJ Burnett in the Bullpen
On Thursday, New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi announced that AJ Burnett and Phil Hughes were officially "on the bubble" as the Yankees planned to set their five-man starting rotation for the upcoming road trip and beyond.
But then what does proven starter Freddy Garcia do? He cuts a finger of his pitching hand during a kitchen incident and has been scratched from Sunday's scheduled appearance. His newly "split-finger" has disabled him from throwing his signature split-finger fastball.
That's no easy task: "Phantastic Phil" pitched six solid innings on Saturday against the Rays, allowing only two runs and five base-runners, all without his best fastball. Over his last three starts, Hughes has been pounding the strike zone, picking up two wins in the process. Although Burnett's 2011 season looks better from afar, it's really Hughes who has performed better when healthy.
Burnett is a mental case. The 34-year-old features a mid-90s fastball and a dramatic knuckle-curve, yet doesn't deliver on game day. His M.O. is to come out strong, but then implode somewhere between the 3rd and 7th innings. Burnett's latest outing is a perfect example: after five scoreless frames against the Angels, the bleach-blonde bum gave up a crooked number in the 6th and New York would never regain the lead.
Considering the expectations coming in, which Yankees' signing (since 2005) has been most disappointing?
His control problems since signing a 5-year/$82.5M deal with the Yanks in 2009 are well documented. Over that period, he has led the Majors in walks, wild pitches and heckling from his own team's fans. Barring a miraculous effort from AJ in Kansas City, he'll be banished to the bullpen once Garcia's boo-boo gets better.
Luckily, the Yankees organization can afford to take this course of action. Simply put, other organizations would be screwed if their $16.5 million-a-year investment had a losing record. San Francisco is an exception because although their big-money bust Barry Zito continues to struggle, they've developed great arms in their farm system, like Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, and Tim Lincecum.
To some degree, Hughes and Ivan Nova are the Yankee equivalents. However, New York's real advantage is in its massive payroll. Burnett is merely the fourth-highest earner on their roster and incomparable to the organization's top priority, CC Sabathia.
Management has waited and waited and waited and . . . well, you understand. In three seasons in the Bronx, he hasn't improved. In fact, his decreasing fastball velocity suggests that he'll only be easier for opposing hitters to handle if he remains wild in the strike zone. There's no indication that he'll change his approach or mechanics, and what he's done the last seven weeks isn't working (1-4, 5.40 ERA since June 24).
Bye bye, Burnett! Hopefully—after Monday—you'll never again start a game for the Yankees.
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