AJ Burnett is 33-years-old, 2010 will be his 12th season in the major leagues, he’s played for two World Series winning teams and despite all of that experience he is still learning valuable pitching lessons to this day.
Last season when the Yankees signed Burnett the biggest knock on him was his extensive injury history. A knock he countered by explaining that he had matured as a pitcher. He said that working along side Roy Halladay had taught him that he didn’t need to go all out on every pitch to be effective and that taking it easy would save a lot of stress on his arm.
Coming into this season Burnett has been talking about the fact that he’s been trying to improve his changeup to give hitters a different look. He’s even been working with Arthur Rhodes on the pitch. It turns out that by pitching along side CC Sabathia last season, he’s learned that the changeup can be important even to a power pitcher.
“Watching CC throw last year, being a power guy and how much he uses it, just kind of opened my eyes a little bit,” Burnett said. “Why not work on something.”
Now obviously it’s a lot easier said than done. Burnett has to actually improve his changeup and learn to incorporate it into his arsenal for this to mean anything. But it is a good sign that after all of this time and a 5-year $82.5 million contract Burnett is not getting complacent.
Avoiding complacency is going to be big for Burnett and going to help the Yankees get the most out of their huge investment. Burnett relies heavily on his power his contract does not end until he is 36 years-old. By that time power pitchers are usually in trouble as they’ve lost most of their gas. The only way they survive is by continuing to reinvent themselves and learning new ways to get batters out.
Just as learning to keep himself healthy was important, learning a new way to attack batters could be equally important. So far it sounds like the work he has put into his changeup is paying off.
“I had some depth to it and some run to it,” Girardi said about Burnett’s improved changeup. “He threw some good ones.”
Burnett was strong as the Yankees no. 2 last season, hopefully his changeup and his desire to learn even as he cements himself as a veteran presence can help make it so we can say that in three years.