Discussion: Could Yankees Have Won In 2009 Without A.J. Burnett?

In 2008 the Yankees missed the playoffs for the first time since 1993 after a plan to insert two rookies into their rotation backfired.

So the Yankees planned on rectifying the problem by signing a pair of veteran starters, CC Sabathia and one other. That other player turned out to be A.J. Burnett and despite the fact that he came surrounding question marks he played a pivotal role in helping them with the World Series. The expense and uncertainty was worth it. Or was it?

The general consensus is that he played an integral part in a three-man rotation. Even I’ve made that argument from time to time. After all, he did make three starts where he pitched at least six innings and allowed two runs or less which the Yankees won all three games.

The problem is he also pitched in two clunkers in which he allowed a total of 12 runs over eight innings. The Yankees lost both of those games, one to the Angels and the other to the Phillies, despite scoring six runs in each game. It’s possible that even Sergio Mitre could have won either of those games.

That brings up the next point, who would the alternative to Burnett have been? Could they have beaten the Twins and won big games against both the Angels and the Phillies?

Internally the Yankees probably would have just stuck with Joba Chamberlain, Chad Gaudin, or even Mitre in the rotation. That’s not actually realistic though because the Yankees went into that offseason prepared to spend big on pitching and weren’t ready to stop at Sabathia.

Some of the other free agents that offseason included Ryan Dempster, Jon Garland, Rich Harden, Randy Johnson, Derek Lowe, Pedro Martinez, Carl Pavano, Brad Penny, Oliver Perez, Ben Sheets, John Smoltz, and Randy Wolf.

Here is the thing about that list though, a big part of the reason the Yankees won last season was because they had a three-man rotation. The only reason why they had a three-man rotation is because they viewed all three starters as big game pitchers and had faith in all of them. So there are a number of names on that list that would have changed this dynamic making it hard to know what would have happened or if the Yankees would have even won the World Series at all.

Considering the fact that Dempster and Pavano for different reasons were not realistic free agent options for the Yankees, the only name on there that even comes close to being good enough that they would have felt comfortable going with a three-man rotation is Lowe. If the Yankees signed any other pitcher on that list, they likely would have gone with a fourth starter in the playoffs last season.

Here is the deal with Lowe though, he wasn’t that great in 2009. His 4.67 ERA was higher than Burnett’s 4.04 mark and that came in a much easier league. He also struggled down the stretch pitching past the sixth inning once after August 12th and had a 6.65 ERA over his final nine starts.

It’s hard to see the Yankees putting their trust in him and going with a three-man rotation. After that we are back in the Joba, Gaudin, and Mitre discussion.

So not only would any of these free agents the Yankees signed instead of Burnett have to match his three high quality starts, but you are throwing in a ALCS and World Series start for the likes of Guadin too.

Now it’s possible that one of the other possible both Lowe and Gaudin could have pitched well in the playoffs and the Yankees could have won the 2009 World Series without Burnett, but that seems like a longshot.

After rethinking it, I’m going to say that the 2009 Yankees could not have won the World Series without A.J. Burnett. The fact that they are stuck paying Burnett $49.5 million over the next three years sucks, but the alternative – no ’09 title – is a lot worse.

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2 Responses to Discussion: Could Yankees Have Won In 2009 Without A.J. Burnett?

  1. david arkow says:

    I think this is a good analysis and I think the decision that you came up with in the end, to stick with your original idea, was a smart one. AJ was crucial for the 2009 Yankees and they would not have won without him. As a knowledgeable Yankee fan I’m not going to spew numbers and facts because we both know them, his era was ok and he was good at times and bad at time, typical AJ. But he was big in THE biggest start of the entire season. Game 2 at home down 1-0 was enormous. You lose that and you can start to panic. Aj out dueled Pedro and was sensational. His 2nd start in the WS they were up 3-1 and it was vs Cliff Lee, hardly the spot where allowing 6 runs and struggling really hurts you, at that point it’s house money. When we NEEDED him, he was there. Gaudin or Mitre might have lost game 2 and then at that point game 5 would have been a totally different scenario.

  2. Matt says:

    I agree, Rob, especially because they went with the three man rotation. The only other free agent on that list I would have trusted (at that point in his career) was Derek Lowe, who is a postseason bulldog. The only other way I see it is if they got Pedro for the second half and went with a four man (with Gaudin or Joba).

    The length of AJ’s contract is painful, but without him it would have been really difficult and quite unlikely to have pulled 2009 off.