It’s safe to say in all the time that I’ve known Cliff, I’ve never seen him so emotional. I’ve seen him livid about specific plays and games–heck, he was furious (and rightfully so) when the Yankees didn’t sign Carlos Beltran in favor of Pavano, Wright and Womack. But never anything that approaches his disgust over the AJ Burnett deal.
During the course of the season, Cliff and I will chat during a game and I’m the emotional one, flying off the handle, shouting at the top of my lungs when Alex Rodriguez just misses his pitch and fouls the ball off. And Cliff is always collected, rational, measured. Not a vulcan, just not easily led by his gut.
Now, I’ve savaged AJ Burnett for the past few years. But my initial reaction here is to look for the positives. Maybe I’m just reacting to Cliff’s reaction, and I want to keep the balance in the Bronx Banter universe (we can’t both be raving mad men at the same time, can we?), but maybe Burnett will produce. One thing for sure–the Yankees now have a starting staff with STUFF. Throw CC, AJ, Joba and Wang at you? That’s STUFF, man. When’s the last time you could say that?
My feeling is that this is Cashman pushing his chips into the middle of the table and saying, “All In.” He’s got CC for three years, which will coincide with the end of the careers of Mariano and Posada and maybe even Jeter. This is all about the Yankees winning now.
Same as it ever was. I’m not defending this deal–I think five years is crazy too–and I’m not saying that I’ve ever rooted for Burnett, but I’m open to jumping on the bandwagon. What’s the alternative? That he’ll be the lovechild of Kyle Farnsworth and Carl Pavano? I already suspect that. All I can do is be pleasantly surprised.
And Burnett really does have STUFF.
Over at SI.com, our pal Jay Jaffe thinks the deal could come back to haunt the Yanks, still he does point to some bright spots:
Burnett’s combination of fragility and perceived squeamishness calls to mind the darkest chapter of Yankee GM Brian Cashman’s tenure, the two deals he inked at the 2004 winter meetings with a pair of injury-riddled pitchers coming off rare healthy, effective seasons, Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright. The Yankees just cleared the former’s four-year, $39.95 million deal from the books this fall. A teammate of Burnett’s with the Marlins from 2002 through ’04, Pavano signed with the Yankees in December ’04 after a season in which he’d gone 18-8 with a 3.00 ERA in 222 1/3 innings — figures that were all career bests, but representing just the second time the pitcher had been healthy and effective over a full season. Pavano made just 19 starts in his four years in the Bronx, and his litany of injuries reached such an absurd level that his initials came to stand for “Can’t Pitch.” Wright was coming off his first healthy and effective season since 1998; he managed just 43 starts over the next three years (the last one in Baltimore) and was rarely effective. Suffice it to say that the Yankees’ recent record of banking on pitchers with sketchy track records isn’t a good one.
To be fair, Burnett is a good pitcher when healthy. Though he had never won more than 12 games prior to last season — a function of his lack of availability and the occasionally meager offensive support he had received — his ERAs have been 13 percent better than the park-adjusted league average over the past four years, which ranks 16th among pitchers with at least 700 innings in that span. His 4.07 ERA this past year was inflated by about half a run thanks to his .318 Batting Average on Balls In Play, 18 points above league average.
Burnett’s strikeout rate over those four years, 8.89 per nine innings, is even better, ranking third among that group behind Cy Young winners Jake Peavy and Johan Santana. As noted in discussing Sabathia, strikeout rate is the key indicator of a pitcher’s future success because it provides the window into his ability to fool hitters with his offerings. A pitcher’s strikeout rate generally declines as he ages, but a high strikeout rate gives him more headroom before he does so. To the extent that the Yankees must look five years into the future on Burnett’s deal, his strikeout rate offers some assurance of future effectiveness — if not availability.
Anyhow, while we roll this all over, here’s a couple of You Tube delights to give you a smile.
Hey, what do you think of the AJ contract, Babs?
What about you, Joe?
C’mon now, let’s just dance it off: