Even with his struggles against the rival Red Sox this season, CC Sabathia is irreplaceable. He is among the best pitchers in the Major Leagues and has ZERO chance of being removed from the New York Yankees' starting rotation.
The same cannot be said of the remaining starters. Joe Girardi is temporarily employing a six-man staff, but when third baseman Alex Rodriguez returns from the disabled list, one of the five "non-Sabathias" will move to the bullpen, while reliever Hector Noesi will likely be optioned down to Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre.
Who will Girardi strip of their starting role? Will it be A.J. Burnett?
His Yankee Career in About 100 Words
Although win-loss record is not on its own indicative of a pitcher's performance, it is especially telling in Burnett's case. New York has had the most prolific offense in the Majors since the start of 2009—his first season in the Bronx.
Despite this, Burnett has somehow compiled a losing record of 31-33. The worst of it is that Burnett has been completely healthy over that span. During these past three seasons, A.J. has led the team in walks, wild pitches, home runs allowed and losses. Unfortunately—until now—the Yankees haven't gotten the opportunity to kick him out of the starting five.
Why He Might Stay
Burnett's ludicrous five-year/$87.5 million contract—which is thankfully closer to expiration than implementation—keeps him on the Yankees. Believe it or not, there are several franchises (think Baltimore Orioles, Houston Astros, Kansas City Royals, etc.) who would entertain the thought of adding this goon—if his salary was one-tenth of what it is.
However, he is impossible to trade with two-plus years and $40 million remaining on the deal.
So, the Yankees are stuck with Bum-nett, and their thought process is, "Hey, we might as well start this guy who won 18 games and led the American League in strikeouts the season before we got him."
Yeah, the Yankees' gross over-payment was based mostly on the results Burnett had against them during his solid 2008 campaign as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays.
Why He Should Go
Here come the stats:
- Among Yankee starters, only Phil Hughes has a higher 2011 ERA, and he was pitching with a dead arm.
- Burnett's average fastball velocity has dropped for the fourth straight year, now down to 92.6 mph from 95.1 in 2007. Not a good trend for a power pitcher.
- His mediocre season hasn't improved despite a somewhat-lucky .268 BABIP. What does that mean? His year could be going a lot worse without a little help from his defense.
- Opposing baserunners love him: they've been successful on 51-of-60 stolen base attempts since the start of 2010. No MLB pitcher has allowed more, and it's unlikely that Burnett will change his slow delivery at this point in his career.
- (Just for fun.) Spending less time on the mound would allow A.J. to dedicate more time to his celebratory shaving cream pies. Currently reserved only for walk-off wins, Burnett could loosen those guidelines to make them a daily occurrence.
On A Scale of One-to-Sabathia
Obviously, all other Yankee starters—and most active pitchers in the game today—fall short in a comparison to big CC. Burnett is no exception. As I mentioned, his effectiveness isn't the only factor determining his status as a starting pitcher on this team; if it were, he'd really be on the hot seat.
Anyway, on a scale of "one to Sabathia," where "one" is the weakest starting option available on active MLB rosters and "Sabathia" is a Cy Young candidate, I round Burnett up to a four.
Do New York's other starting options rank better? Feel free to comment, but don't waste your energy. My piece on Bartolo Colon is ready.