A.J. runs away from AL East

The A.J. Burnett saga with the Yankees has finally come to an end. After two seasons that had Yankees fans pulling out their hair on a regular basis, Burnett found a new home. With a surplus of starting pitching, the Yankees were able to ship Burnett to Pittsburgh for a pair of medium-level prospects. They are stuck with paying all but $13 million of what was left on the five-year, $82.5-million contract that he signed before the 2009 season, but the addition-by-subtraction move was worth it to the Yankees.

Burnett was a perplexing figure during his three years with the Yankees in which he was 34-35 with a 4.79 ERA. His 2010 season (10-15, 5.26 ERA) was the worst for a Yankees starting pitcher with more than 30 starts in team history, and 2011 (11-11, 5.15 ERA) wasn’t much better. After coming to the Yankees fresh off an 18-10 season with the Blue Jays when he led the American League in strikeouts with 231 in 221 1/3 innings, Burnett was barely a .500 pitcher in pinstripes.

One of the dangers in assessing pitchers is how they perform against your club. Burnett had been something of a Yankee killer while in Toronto with a 6-3 record and 2.43 ERA in 11 career starts. The Yankees then gave him close to Mike Mussina money but got nowhere near the return that Moose had given them (123-72, 3.88 ERA over eight seasons). Burnett never came close to pitching for the Yanks as well as he pitched against them.

Backers of A.J. point to his victory in Game 2 of the 2009 World Series, which was huge, but in his other start Burnett failed to nail down the Series by lasting merely two innings in Game 5 and had a 7.00 ERA for the Series. His dismal showings against the Red Sox over the three years (1-4, 7.29 ERA) caused manager Joe Girardi to figure out ways to avoid pitching Burnett against Boston if he could.

The Yankees came close to a deal with the Angels for Burnett that would have brought Bobby Abreu back to the Bronx as the left-handed designated hitter they had been seeking to platoon with Andruw Jones. But A.J. utilized his no-trade clause which pertained to West Coast teams because he wanted to stay in the east. So instead of playing alongside Albert Pujols and for one of the game’s foremost managers, Mike Scioscia, Burnett chose to accept a deal to the Pirates.

Maybe it will work out for A.J. in Pittsburgh. The manager there, Clint Hurdle, a former catcher, is a great guy. Burnett gets away from the AL East and will face tamer National League lineups minus the DH. Yankees fans should wish A.J. luck even as they cheer that he is no longer at Yankee Stadium. Someone else will have to handle the pie-in-the-face ceremonies after walk-off victories. I nominate Nick Swisher. What do you think?

 

2 Comments

I think its wrong that the Yankees chose to trade him after he had a no-trade clause. He should’ve been given another chance with them. Especially now after that horrible accident he had to go through. He could’ve been easily traded next year if he didn’t do well this time or been in the bullpen. I always found him fascinating to watch despite his minor faults. As we forget every great pitcher has had their bad runs. Our tradition has always been to make great Yankees & I think he would’ve been one if given a chance. He also added fun to them which they haven’t had in a long time. He was not the worst thing to happen to the Yankees as everyone seems to think. Otherwise we wouldn’t have won in 2009 without him! I’ll miss him terribly, I just hope he recovers quickly.

I may be in the minority here but I think AJ was a victim of perception, the NY media and poor research and scouting. If you look at his performance indicators, his numbers were pretty consistant in his tenure with th pinstripes. Yes, he led the league with 231 K’s in his final year with the Jays, but he also pitched more innings that year than in any other year. His K/9 and BB/9 were consistant with his career averages. His HR/9 went up only by a fraction. This can be attributed in part to the short porch. The key to his performance is defense behind the plate and behind him in the infield. In 2 of his 3 years with the Yanks, AJ led the league in W/P’s and in all 3 years in the Bronx he gave up above career average walks and above career average hits. AJ has a plus slider breaking away from righties and in on lefties, a plus fastball and a wicked curve. Bottom line, he was paired with a two defensive liabilities behind the plate in Posada and Martin and a week left side of the infield. And, as much as I love Robinson Cano, he is at best an average defender at 2nd. That combined with a park that is friendly to left handed power hitters and you have a recipe for failure as a pitcher. On a final note, AJ did what the Yankees paid him to do which is take the ball to the hill every 5th day, starting at least 32 games per year in his tenure with the team. I wish AJ all the best in Pittsburgh and hope he can recover quickly from his eye injury. Hopefully the Pirate scouts are better at their job than the Yankee talent scouts.

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