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A.J. Burnett’s “Nasty Stuff”

A.J. Burnett and Joe Girardi (Jim Mone/AP Photo)

A.J. Bur-not

As A.J. Burnett angrily left the game last Saturday after walking three, giving up four runs and leaving the bases loaded, he looked back at his manager and shouted expletives over his shoulder. According to the team, Burnett was expressing frustration at his last pitch; according to the television cameras and Burnett’s history of showing up Joe Girardi at the mound, he was speaking to his manager. Wherever Burnett’s words were directed, they pretty aptly describe his performance this past season, especially during the last few months.

Thus far in 2011, he has a record of 9-10. His ERA since the beginning of July is 6.93 and his August ERA is 10.70, which includes just one win in which his performance was mediocre at best (5 2/3 IP, 10 hits, 3 runs). Burnett’s last recorded victory against a team with a winning record came on April 13th versus the Baltimore Orioles, who are now 49-77.

Who Will Stay and Who Will Go?

On Saturday night, Girardi told the press that the Yankees are keeping their six-man rotation through next weekend because they play a double-header on Saturday, August 27th. He announced that Burnett will start on Friday, August 26th. After that, the manager indicated that the team will return to a traditional five-man rotation, which means that Girardi will be forced to make the decision he has been avoiding since Phil Hughes returned from the DL. One pitcher will be cut from the rotation (assuming Freddy Garcia comes off the DL as scheduled and pitches on August 27th).

Therefore, the (82.5) million-dollar question is whether or not Burnett, who the Yankees signed as a number two starter, will keep his spot in the rotation at all. Girardi and Brian Cashman have consistently defended Burnett since his losing season last year (he was 10-15 with a 5.26 ERA). They, along with countless broadcasters and writers, cite Burnett’s ability to throw nasty stuff. As far as I’m concerned, velocity without command isn’t so nasty. In key game situations, Burnett is generally unable to locate his pitches or get batters out.

Recently, Cashman said he feels that the media judge Burnett too harshly because of his large contract, which is $16.5 million dollars for each of five years. Conversely, then, his paycheck should not secure his rotation spot. The Yankees manager and brass must ask themselves which pitchers give the team the greatest chance to win. On the basis of performance to date, Burnett comes in last, despite Bartolo Colon’s recent struggles.

Not only should Burnett be cut from the rotation, but, come postseason play, he should be cut from the roster. The Yankees boast the deepest bullpen in the majors, which includes two 2011 All-Stars, set-up man David Robertson and closer Mariano Rivera. Since the Yankees activated Rafael Soriano, he has been close to lights-out (except for Wednesday night), and Cory Wade, Hector Noesi, Luis Ayala and even Boone Logan have also been coolheaded, efficient, and strong. Burnett has been anything but. In addition, he has never pitched out of the bullpen and has not shown the mental toughness to do so. Relievers often enter games in stressful situations and Burnett is notorious for buckling under pressure. Girardi can choose just 25 guys for his postseason roster, and wasting a spot on Burnett would be a mistake. Give me a pinch runner, give me a great defensive infielder, or give me another lefty reliever.

Not Worth His Weight in Baseballs

Yankees fans will never forget Burnett’s postseason contributions. However, he only pitched well in three of his six starts: Game 2 of the 2009 ALDS, Game 2 of the 2009 ALCS, and Game 2 of the 2009 World Series. Those games were undeniably important, but his performance in 2009 is not a predictor of how he will perform in the 2011 postseason. In fact, in his sole 2010 postseason appearance (ALCS game four), he left the game after allowing five runs in six innings.

As a Yankee, Burnett has had one winning season (2009), one losing season (2010), and one season that is best described by the expletives he spouted on Saturday night (2011). He has not lived up to the expectations of his contract nor does he deserve a spot in the current rotation because he doesn’t consistently put his team in a position to win games. Frankly, in terms of both talent and money, the Yankees can afford to bench Burnett right now, even though it would surely be a painful decision. Waiting for him “to get back on track,” as Girardi suggested after Burnett’s Saturday gem, will likely prove futile. We’ve waited for two years, and at this point, Burnett’s nasty mouth is making more headlines than his allegedly nasty stuff.

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2 comments for “A.J. Burnett’s “Nasty Stuff””

  1. New Post: A.J. Burnett’s “Nasty Stuff”

    Posted by Sports of New York | August 25, 2011, 4:12 pm
  2. […] ate my words Tuesday night, and they were delicious. Defying the expectations of fans and media alike, A.J. […]

    Posted by A.J. Burnett’s Clutch Pitching Carries Yankees in ALDS Game 4 | Sports of New York | October 5, 2011, 2:45 pm

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