Why The Worry Over AJ Burnett? He's The Same Pitcher Signed Last Winter.

Joseph DelGrippoAnalyst ISeptember 14, 2009

NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 12:  A.J. Burnett #34 of the New York Yankees sits in the dugout against the Baltimore Orioles on September 12, 2009 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

With his most recent bad starting pitching performance, AJ Burnett has proceeded to scare the bejesus out of New York Yankee fans across the country.

It is a relief that NFL football started yesterday (Sunday the 13th) because instead of Jets and Giants football talk over the radio and TV airwaves, it would have been more of the up and down, Jekyll and Hyde AJ Burnett talk.

There is a great Talking Heads song called "Once in a Lifetime" where a passage reads "same as it ever was, same as it ever was" over and over again.

That is the synopsis of AJ Burnett's major league career. The Burnett signed by the Yankees this past off eason is the "same (Burnett) as he ever was."

But what are you really worried about, Yankee fan? This is the same guy General Manager Brian Cashman paid $81 million to over 5 years. That same guy who was 18-10 last season, but with a high ERA and WHIP (4.07 and 1.342).

Look at the comparison number this season to last year:


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There is really not that much of a difference except for walks, and more walks led to more base runners (higher OBP and OPS), and also more stolen bases against him.

The key for Burnett last season was that he did most of his damage against the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, combining for a 5-1 record, 2.05 ERA. 

That type of work will get you a big free agent contract.

But the Yankees and Red Sox were the only teams last season Burnett started more than one game against and had a winning record and sub-4.00 ERA. If you subtract Burnett's Yankee games (only because AJ can't pitch against the team he plays for now), he had an even higher 4.57 ERA in 2008. 

AJ was also 4-1, 3.73 ERA against the weaker National League in Inter League games, further depleting his AL East value. 

As I said in my piece in the off season about AJ Burnett, he is inconsistent, only pitches effectively right before a big pay increase season and is often injured due to his terrible mechanics. While he hasn't been hurt (yet, give him time) as a Yankee, his mechanics could be reason that he walks too many hitters and then has to throw the ball over the plate, where it gets hit hard.

A perfect example is that big second inning this past Saturday against the Baltimore Orioles. After a one out walk, Burnett started to throw the ball over the plate and was hit hard to the tune of five runs, including a grand slam off the bat of Brian Roberts.

Burnett doesn't have the necessary command of pitches, that is, control of the ball within the strike zone. It's easy to throw the ball over the plate, but to throw it where it doesn't get whacked is another story,

He is the same pitcher this season as he was last season and his entire career before that -- up and down, very inconsistent.

Last season AJ was bad in April (6.07 ERA), good in May (3.43 ERA), bad in June (5.06 ERA), good in July (3.86), bad in August (4.43) and good in September (1.82).

This season he has been bad in April (5.40), better in May (4.18), good in May (2.10) and June (2.43), but bad again in August (6.03) and thus far in September (6.38).

For the record, that is three bads and three goods in 2008 and three bads, two goods and one better in 2009. Did you really think Yankee fans that you were going to get the 2009 May and June AJ Burnett without a lot of the bad month AJ’s sprinkled in?

Burnett is consistently inconsistent, but not worthy of that big offseason contract—or a big rotation spot in October.

Of course, Joe Girardi doesn’t have the necessary rocks to not give AJ Burnett a start in a first round playoff game, even though another embattled Yankee starter, Joba Chamberlain, is 2-0, 1.33 ERA in two starts this season against the Tigers (and with 14 K’s/13 IP and 0.878 WHIP). 

Yankee fans are scared that an inconsistent Burnett will not have a good start when playoff time rolls around. And if the Yankees play the Detroit Tigers, it is a really good chance that AJ will not have a great day.

Over the last three seasons, Burnett is 2-1 against the Tigers, but has a 7.41 ERA and 1.93 WHIP.  In five starts over that span, he has thrown 24.3 innings, allowing 30 hits, 20 ER's and 18 walks. He has struck out 17 and allowed five home runs!

That is an average of less than five innings per start and at least one home run per appearance!

Not good if you are a scaredy cat Yankee fan.

So the Yankees will likely go with an inconsistent Burnett in Game 2 versus Detroit, AJ’s first ever post season start.

Why then are the Yankee fans worried? Their team got what they paid for, the same inconsistent pitcher he has always been year after year. One who had a sub-.500 record, near 4.00 ERA injury plagued career entering the 2008 season.

Of course, a big game or two in October and the fickle Yankee fans will love you, AJ.


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