Everyone knows by now that A.J. Burnett is pitching terribly, leading to speculation that he, like Javier Vazquez, will be skipped in the rotation. Perhaps this will be the case, but it doesn’t seem like the solution for the Yankees or Burnett.
First off, would skipping a turn actually benefit Burnett? Obviously I am not a pitching coach, but it doesn’t seem like AJ’s velocity has been down (like the case was with Javy) or he’s been overtired. If some extra rest is really what he needs, then it’s a no-brainer: skip him once and see what happens.
Otherwise though, the Yankees have too much invested in Burnett to let him sit in the bullpen. Unlike Vazquez, Burnett is under contract for 3 more seasons. Also, the playoffs are a little over a month away, and it’s hard to imagine the Yankees going deep into them without him. Presumably Burnett will still be taking up a roster spot no matter what, so isn’t the best solution just to run him out there and have a shorter leash with him and bring in Sergio Mitre as soon as it’s clear Burnett doesn’t have it?
We all know by now that AJ is the type of pitcher who can be dominant and tends to go in streaks. However, if he’s not allowed to pitch, there is no chance he’ll ever straighten things out. Being in a pennant race complicates matters, but it’s not like there is some can’t-miss pitcher waiting the wings. They had one young arm who was ready, and that’s Ivan Nova and he’s already up. Putting Vazquez back in the rotation in favor of Burnett just makes the Yankee rotation start to look like a game of musical chairs – whoever is the last one to have a bad start gets skipped.
Also, Phil Hughes will be having his workload cut down in September and really it’s his innings that Nova should be replacing, not Vazquez or Burnett.
On a slightly related note, all of this really makes me wonder what the long-term plan is for Joba Chamberlain. The Yankees went to great lengths last year to stretch him out as a starter, presumably so he could be a starter again in 2011 or 2012. With Kerry Wood, Boone Logan, and David Robertson throwing important innings out of the bullpen, the Yankees could have stretched Joba out a bit and let him take a couple starts down the stretch. At this point, there are likely way too many moving parts to try and make Joba a starter again this season, but I am still surprised that throughout the year he has made so few appearances of longer than 1 inning. I have to wonder if the Yankees could go back and do it again, if they would have kept Joba as a starter, even if that meant him starting the season in the minors.
Getting back to the current rotation though, there are no options in the minors or on the waiver-wire that are going to necessarily be more effective than AJ Burnett. The Yankees still have over a month to get him on track and that needs to be their focus.