Time To Stop Sucking Up To Burnett

If it were ever more evident that A.J. Burnett’s big, long-term contract was dictating the decisions made by the Yankees front office, it is right now.

After the Yankees cruised through the American League Division series with just three starters, the Yankees announced Monday morning that they will use a fourth starter in the American League Championship series. That fourth starter will be AJ Burnett.

Yankees fans have never been fed up with a pitcher more than they have AJ Burnett. And for a good reason. This season has been a disastrous one for the 33 year-old, and that is just one of the many reasons why this decision makes no sense.

First off, if the Yankees feel they need a fourth starter, why didn’t they initially have one in the Divisional Series? Furthermore, there was no evidence in the ALDS that a fourth starter was needed. After all, they never lost a game.

The Yankees have almost a week off between the last game of the ALDS and the first game of the ALCS. That rest will make it even easier for all the starters to get back into shape, especially CC Sabathia who would potentially pitch three games.

If you insert Burnett into the fourth spot in the rotation, Sabathia would pitch Game five, eliminating the possibility of him pitching a possible Game seven. If you can’t throw your ace in Game 7, you have something to worry about.

Then, there is the simplest argument of them all: Burnett is not the best the Yankees have. Even if they can prove a fourth starter is necessary, Burnett is not their best option.

With a 5.26 ERA on the season, and a 7.94 ERA in his final three regular season starts, Burnett should be out of contention for a starting spot. The Yankees mistakingly left Ivan Nova and Javier Vazquez off the roster, but they still left Dustin Moseley.

Now, of course you would not be comfortable putting Moseley on the mound in the ALCS. He, too, has an ERA of almost five, and he has never started a postseason game. However, as bad a case you could make for Moseley, it wouldn’t be very hard to make a worse case for Burnett. Bottom line: Neither Burnett or Moseley is fit for a postseason start, but if you really feel you need a fourth starter, Moseley would give you a better chance to win.

Although they likely don’t believe it, you will surely hear the Yankees sing the same song they have sang all year: “Burnett has great stuff, and he has potential to pitch a great game.”

Sure, he has potential to pitch a great game. But so does Kerry Wood, so does Mariano Rivera, so does Joba Chamberlain, so does Kei Igawa. It’s the postseason. You need starters who give you a chance to win nearly 100% of the time. Burnett is not that guy, regardless of what he can do.

The Yankees made this decision without any regard to winning. They instead made this decision because they are afraid to hurt Burnett’s feelings. He will be here for another three years, and the Yankees don’t want to upset someone who will likely be essential to their future success.

In Yankees history, only one pitcher has finished the season with at least 30 starts, and an ERA above five. That pitcher is AJ Burnett. The Yankees have treated him better than ever, regardless of his horrible numbers. They have made sure he is happy and comfortable without any regard to the teams success. That’s fine in April, that’s even fine in August. But in October, it should not be tolerated.

E-mail me at [email protected], follow me on Twitter @jesskcoleman, and check out more at jesskcoleman.com.

This entry was posted in Editorial and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Time To Stop Sucking Up To Burnett

  1. bob says:

    Thank you – you're exactly right. I'd prefer that the Yanks just start the series down one game than endure another Burnett start. The money Burnett is making is lost – why does the team have to lose games as well as money?

  2. Bronx Knight says:

    Of course, Burnett has beautiful stuff, and can pitch lights-out — when his head is on straight. And so now we're reduced to praying that Burnett's head will be on straight when he pitches game 4 of the ALCS.

    Speaking of Burnett's mental state, did we ever get an explanation as to how he got that black eye a few weeks ago? Did Kevin Brown punch him in the face?

  3. TC says:

    Excuse, me, but it seems your beef is not that the 4th starter is Burnett, but that there is a 4th starter at all. Given that the 4th is always the weakest pitcher, and would almost never be anyone better than Burnett, you can't say it's the fact that it's him that is a bad decision. However, considering that Pettite has been iffy healthwise, I am wondering if it's a bad decision in that it takes Burnett out of a potential replacement role should Pettite have to be taken out early or, worst case, miss a start? I guess they could make an emergency change in the rotation in that case? I don't know the rules on setting and changing starters in the playoffs.

    • TC says:

      I actually downloaded the rulebook! Can't find anything that says Giradi couldn't change his mind if we're, say, down 3 games to 1 (God forbid!) when AJ's turn comes up. Anybody know anything about this?

      • Wait, are you being serious? There are no rules at all to this. It's entirely arbitrary. Girardi doesn't even have to say who is going to start the game at all. He can even have two starters warm up in the bullpen before the game just to throw off the other team.

  4. Jason from The Heart says:

    I'm sorry, Jess, but I have to disagree with a few things you wrote here. There is a fundamental difference between scheduling pitchers in a five-game series, and a seven-game one, with a possible second seven-game series looming. In the ALDS, it is both the shorter schedule, and the time off between series, that allows for a three-man rotation in the ALDS, which can be somewhat re-set even without the sweep the Yankees earned. Circumstances and schedules change considerably in seven-game series the rest of the way, especially without the extra days off mid-series, which MLB eliminated this year–rightly, to me.

    Also, it is really overstating the situation to claim that the "Yankees made this decision without any regard to winning." Winning is first and foremost with the Yankees, both their players and management. Look at the off-season after 2008. They wasted no time pursuing players to get them back on top.

    Their thinking now–about which we must speculate to a degree until a rotation is announced and explained why in interviews–likely revolves around not overworking C.C., who threw a total of 266 1/3 IP last year (including playoffs, sometimes on short rest) and, thus far, has logged 243 2/3 innings (including playoffs, with less rest down the stretch than last season), or Pettite, who is 38 and had a nagging groin injury. Maybe C.C. goes in games 1, 4, and 7 in the ALCS; maybe Burnett throws game 5 only, with Pettite taking games 2 and 6, and Hughes game 3. We don't know the slate yet, but placating Burnett probably doesn't rank at or near the top of the Yankees' playoff priorities.

    Burnett pitched much better last year and also had a couple very good starts in the playoffs, including a crucial Game 2 gem in the World Series. That's not lost on the Yankees, his struggles this year notwithstanding. You're right in saying that the Yankees, hitched to Burnett's wagon and the big, five-year contract they offered him, probably want to get all the value out of him they can. That's been their way, and explains why they held onto Igawa and others. They typically don't deal guys if they must eat some of their salaries. However, they sat the guy who was their number 2 starter last postseason for the 2010 ALDS. That doesn't exactly constitute coddling Burnett. Surely, he'll not have a short leash in any playoff start he'll make, either.

    Let's not blow this out of proportion.

  5. slowleftarm says:

    Totally disagree. A 3 man rotation just isn't an option so Burnett is the right guy for the #4 spot. Moseley and Nova haven't been any better and AJ has experience, has pitched well in a number of postseason starts in the past and still gives you the possibility that he'll have his good stuff and be really good (granted, that hasn't happened much this year).

    To say the Yankees aren't thinking about winning when they made this decision just doesn't make any sense.

    Hopefully, the Yankees can score a lot of runs in his start and make his performance somewhat moot.

    • Matt says:

      I agree, slow'. They have to go with four starters because of Andy's health and Hughes' inexperience. As bad as AJ's been this year (and I know because all three games I went to this year I "lucked out" with AJ on the mound) there are strong arguments against Moseley (inexperience, mediocrity), Nova (inexperience, poor finish), and Vazquez (poor playoff history and poor season).

      With a 3-2 record in his October starts last year they have to go with AJ. He's the best choice, even though I have no confidence in him (or the other three options).

  6. Richard says:

    Jess, you seem to have an axe to grind with Burnett… Saying that the Yankees are sucking up to him IN THE PLAYOFFS is utterly ridiculous. They are trying to win, and Girardi wouldn't put his team in a position to lose a ballgame ever. He must have a hunch or information we don't have.

    And why aren't you defending your position through the comments?

    Every other author on this site that I have read (Rob, Lucas, Brian, Steve) all defend their stances or explain their reasoning. You don't…

  7. Jess, I have to take issue with this part of your post:

    "Yankees fans have never been fed up with a pitcher more than they have AJ Burnett."

    I can name a half-dozen pitchers off the top of my head that Yankee fans were more "fed up with" than Burnett, starting with Carl Pavano, continuing with, in no particular order, Kevin Brown, Javier Vazquez, Ed Whitson, Kenny Rogers, Kyle Farnsworth, and Kei Igawa.

    Burnett has had a horrible year, and I'm frustrated with him as well. But at least he, unlike any of the pitchers above, won a World Series game for the Yankees.

    • Jason from The Heart says:

      You're absolutely right, Lisa. I was thinking the same thing. Reaction to Burnett doesn't approach how fans rightly treated PaVoldemort (He Who Shall Not Be Named) and the others you named. Nuke LaFarnsworth got booed even when he actually had a good half-year in 2008.

    • Richard says:

      Yankee fans haven't… Jess K. Coleman has.