Over at ESPN, Rob Neyer asks: Does A.J. Burnett deserve a playoff start?
The moment Burnett left the Blue Jays for the Yankees he went from excellent to (roughly) average. Why this happened, I don’t have the slightest idea. Regression to the mean. Normal wear and tear. Nerves. Something in that pristine Catskill Mountains drinking water. I don’t know. But Burnett’s just not the same pitcher that he was, not so long ago.
This was masked last season by the vagaries of luck and ERA. In 2008, Burnett posted a 4.07 ERA with the Jays. In 2009, he posted a 4.05 ERA with the Yankees. But there were definitely signs of regression, and aside from his ERAs, this season looks more like last season than last season looked like 2008. Last season, his ERA should have been — with just average luck, I mean — somewhere around 4.30; this season it should be somewhere around 4.60.
Essentially, what the Yankees have gotten for their $16.5 million per season is a league-average starting pitcher. Which wouldn’t be so awful, except when you’re spending $16.5 million you do feel compelled to let him pitch. Which wouldn’t be so awful, except Burnett’s signed through 2013 and if he regresses much farther he simply won’t be good enough to pitch for a team that needs to win 95 games every season.
Right now, though? If you don’t have to pitch him, don’t pitch him. If you don’t want to start Sabathia on short rest, tell Burnett you’re just looking for five good innings and then the bullpen will take over at the first sign of trouble. Because while he certainly is not good, neither is he bad.