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Burnett or Fade Away?

Alex Belth’s post yesterday, which highlighted Jack Curry’s stance on A.J. Burnett, ended with the word, Amen. It was an emphatic agreement of a report detailing what many Yankees fans feel at the moment. In my own post about Jorge Posada’s demise, I wondered if Joe Girardi would have the guts to pull Burnett from the rotation and give him what we might as well start calling “The Posada Treatment.”

Girardi’s dilemma is not a matter of “will he or won’t he,” it’s more “should he or shouldn’t he.” Jon DeRosa, in his recap of Wednesday night’s loss, made an interesting and salient point:

… Nova was better tonight than Burnett was last night. Burnett ran into trouble in the sixth. Nova made it to the seventh and that’s an important distinction. But the difference was not nearly as great as will be felt tomorrow.

Ivan Nova has pitched seven innings or more and let up two or fewer runs five times this year. Same as Burnett. Nova’s been better and I’d rather see him on the hill than Burnett, but it’s not as simple as Jack Curry made out … A.J. Burnett is going to be on the team for another two years after this season. The Yankees are able to marginalize Posada because his career is over in a month and a half.

No doubt, Nova has pitched better than Burnett. He’s been more consistent, more aggressive, and gotten better results. Burnett’s outings have consistently looked like the last 99 holes of competitive golf Tiger Woods has played. Talk radio hosts and fans alike are calling for his head like he’s Piggy from “Lord of the Flies”.

My question is: Is this thought process too drastic?

Consider that in the last 10 years, the Yankees have employed luminaries like Jeff Weaver, Kevin Brown, Javier Vazquez, Esteban Loaiza, Randy Johnson, Carl Pavano, and Jaret Wright. Now put Burnett in that context. When Joe Torre summoned Weaver to pitch in the extra innings of Game 4 of the 2003 World Series, did you trust him? Esteban Loaiza in the extra innings of Game 5 of the 2004 ALCS? How about Brown and the mutant glove he wore to protect the broken knuckle on his left hand in Game 7 of that series and Jay-vee Vazquez afterward? Or Wright in what would be a decisive Game 4 in Detroit in ’06, looking like a shell of the phenom who nearly delivered a championship to Cleveland in 1997? Joe Torre didn’t have many more, or better, options. But Burnett, even in his current, scrambled state, would be an upgrade from those other misfits.

Through all his struggles, and 2 1/2 winless Augusts, Burnett has not shied away from reporters. His willingness to be held accountable breeds respect. You won’t hear Burnett sell out his teammates and say, “They play behind me like they hate me,” like Weaver infamously did. He did pull a Kevin Brown last year, cutting his hand while hitting the plastic casing on the lineup card on the clubhouse door; so we know he’s capable of fits of idiocy that don’t involve him throwing a 57-foot curveball.

The thing is, we know Burnett is capable of succeeding in big spots. The Yankees don’t win in 2009 without his October contributions. His performance in Game 2 against the Phillies may have been the most important game of that entire season. Two other games he pitched that postseason, against the Twins and Angels — both of which resulted in Yankees losses — were not his fault. (Coincidentally, Phil Hughes, the other side of this rotation / bullpen coin, was the losing pitcher of record in those games.) Part of why it’s so infuriating to watch Burnett is because as a fan, you want to root for him, but you have a hankering feeling he’s going to disappoint you at any moment.

Buried at the bottom of Curry’s column is the following nugget:

If the Yankees took Posada’s job away from him, they should be able to take Burnett’s job away from him, too. Even if it’s a temporary move, the Yankees could tell Burnett that he’s being bypassed in the rotation for one turn to work with pitching coach Larry Rothschild to improve. The Yankees can tell Burnett that he’s important to their success, so they want to get him better now, not later.

… how Burnett fits in to the rotation isn’t a question for the future. It’s a question for the present.”

So what’s the answer? Should the Yankees keep Burnett in the rotation because the glass slippers may fall off of Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia much like they did for Shawn Chacon and Aaron Small in 2005?

I’d like to see the Yankees take Curry’s suggestion and pull him for a few starts, see if he gets his head right, and then get him going for the stretch run and the playoffs. I say this because I’m still not sold on Hughes, either. A.J. Burnett has major league stuff, and it’s still in there somewhere. Burnett and Rothschild just need to work together to figure out where it is.

[Photo Credit: Fickle Feline]

Categories:  1: Featured  2010s  Bronx Banter  Will Weiss  Yankees

Tags:  A.J. Burnett  Jack Curry

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1 ms october   ~  Aug 12, 2011 9:09 am

just a few of my thoughts/complaints on the whole aj/rotation situation:

- if he stays in the rotation the chessmaster needs to have an even shorter leash. in his last start he should have been pulled before the intentional walk.
- i also agree that i'm not fully sold on hughes, but i would rather he get a chance to improve as i don't think there is improvement to be had from aj.
- almost every aj start includes a a costly fuck up that is demoralizing to me and based on comments many yankee fans. does his shit have an impact on the yankees? if so, more reason to drop him from the rotation. in a typical work place it is hard to have someone in your department who is often not pulling their weight - it starts to impact everyone in the department (maybe that's why the yankees played like they hated jeff weaver).
- aj tried throw russ under the bus in his start before last - saying the pitch sequence was too predictable. that's a bs move. you really only have two pitches and you are the pitcher - if you don't like what the catcher is calling shake him off or call your own game.
- also in his press conferences it is the same god damn broken record after every game. "i really wouldn't change anything." "i would just want that one pitch back." "i'll just have to do it in 5 days."
this is pure speculation, but it doesn't seem that he is able to recognize what he needs to do differently or better.
- at some point when the yanks recognize that he is costing the team games and there are clear upgrades on him he needs to be treated as a sunk cost. just pick up most of his salary and get a nice bench player for him.

2 Will Weiss   ~  Aug 12, 2011 9:17 am

[1] Good points all. ... And he could very well be a lunkhead. Here's the thing, though, there isn't a catcher in the game right now who calls pitches. The sequences are determined in pregame meetings with the pitching coach, catcher, and the pitching staff. They may just make some changes on the fly. I'll give J Martin the benefit of the doubt there. ... He's Nuke LaLoosh. Really. Get him to breathe out of his eyelids, wear a garter or something, and be done with it. He's a guy who needs to have his butt kicked every once in a while on the mound, and that's OK. ... Someone just needs to be willing to do it.

3 Sliced Bread   ~  Aug 12, 2011 9:52 am

by now, we (not including Girardi) all know AJ has to work with a short leash. Even if he's grooving the slightest breeze can knock him off course.
For now, the short leash should be used to guide him straight to the DL. He needs a break as much as the Yankees need a break from him.
This is Cashman's job now.

4 Sliced Bread   ~  Aug 12, 2011 9:59 am

(0) good stuff, by the way, Will. Who's the adorable little girl in the photo, and what does she suggest we do with Burnett?

5 RIYank   ~  Aug 12, 2011 10:21 am

Seems like the best solution is to give Burnett some kind of a 'break'. DL would be good. Because as you say, Will, even though he's been the worst of the six, it could easily happen that Colon, Garcia, or Hughes will blow up or fizzle out at any time, so it's important to have AJ ready to go back in, if they do pull him out of the rotation.

This Feinsand and Brennan article gives me some hope that this is exactly what Girardi is working his way towards.

6 ms october   ~  Aug 12, 2011 10:39 am

[5] yeah that has been my preferred solution too.
put him on the dl. if there is something mechanical to work on do so. if their is fatigue let him ret some. keep him from messing up a chance at the al east. and if there is a need to get him back in the rotation due to an actual injury or someone else not pitching well insert him into the rotation.

7 Will Weiss   ~  Aug 12, 2011 11:02 am

[4] She's supposed to be "the little girl with the curl", which Kay and Sterling have annoyingly taken as the most apt and cliched means of analyzing Mr. Burnett. What does she suggest? Ice cream.

[5] Agreed. The missed point about Tuesday's mess was that Girardi set him up to fail. By issuing the IBB to Izturis, you're basically telling your No.2 starter that you don't believe he can retire the 8th place hitter in the lineup. Yes, he still has to make the pitches, but your manager has to show confidence in you, in order to help you bolster your own confidence, right?

8 RIYank   ~  Aug 12, 2011 11:26 am

[7] Indeed.
I logged on to post once during that game, and it was right at that moment, to excoriate Girardi for that IBB.

9 ny2ca2dc   ~  Aug 12, 2011 11:45 am

Assuming Hughes is solid in his next turn, AJ needs to take a little sabbatical: BP, DL, whatever.

10 ny2ca2dc   ~  Aug 12, 2011 11:50 am

To elaborate a bit, we went thru this with Moose a few years ago (as IPK took his spot, mas or menos), and he came back the next year and won 20 in a brilliant renaissance. Granted Moose was just the guy you'd expect to do that, and AJ just the guy you'd bet against, but it's worth a shot. He can still compete for (or be penciled into) the rotation next year. He can be our own little Timmy Wakefield, with just a slightly different repertoire and contract.

11 Sliced Bread   ~  Aug 12, 2011 12:29 pm

(7) ah, yes, the little girl with the curl. Yeah, Sterling and Kay have beaten that to death. but the cliche fits so you must acquit, as Johnnie Cochran would say.

ice cream is always the solution, too!

12 briang   ~  Aug 12, 2011 1:15 pm


good post. i constantly root for this guy and i don't curse him as much as i could. i was looking at his game log the other day and it's not that bad at all. 6 to 8 inning, 2 to 4 runs...except the white sox bummer. give him the ball. hughes stinks too. the yanks just gotta score in his starts. let's go AJ. let's go NOW!!!!!!

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver