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]