While pitching has not really been an issue for the Yankees – as it has been their offense/run-production that has contributed to their recent struggles – several pitchers that once donned pinstripes have started the 2013 season with impressive performances. This article is, in no way, trying to criticize the Yankees for the moves and decisions that have sent these pitchers elsewhere, nor is it trying to make the case for the team to find a way to bring them back to the Bronx (although it wouldn’t be such a bad idea in some cases); it is simply reporting on the progress of pitchers that were, at one point, household names among Yankees fans.
For fans of the New York Yankees, A.J. Burnett is not a name that brings about warm feelings and fond memories. After signing a five-year, $82.5 million deal with the Yankees prior to the 2009 season, Burnett did not exactly live up to expectations. The righty was 34-35 with a 4.79 ERA in his three seasons with the Yanks. He led the majors in wild pitches in 2009 and 2011, and led the majors in hit batters in 2010. And there was also Burnett’s ongoing disruption to team chemistry, which came to a head in August 2011, after he felt he was prematurely taken out of a game by manager Joe Girardi.
It was clear to everyone that Burnett had to go, and he was eventually traded to Pittsburgh. While it was suspected at the time that perhaps he was simply another one of those players that is not made for New York City and the spotlight that is constantly focused upon its baseball teams, nobody could have predicted that – now a Pittsburgh Pirate and not even two years removed from the Bronx – A.J. Burnett would be one of the top starting pitchers in baseball.
After being traded, Burnett started 31 games for the Pirates in 2012, going 16-10 with a 3.51 ERA. He finished the season with a 2.90 K/9, which was his highest since 2006. With the Yankees still paying most of his 2012 and 2013 salaries, the Pirates continue to benefit from their gamble, as Burnett has picked up right where he left off last year.
Having his worst start of the season, Burnett gave up six runs in five innings and earned the loss Monday night against the Braves. The loss drops his record to 3-6, which doesn’t exactly imply a great start to the season, but, as we all know, wins and losses do not always tell the whole story. In all of Burnett’s losses, the Pirates have not given their ace much run support, scoring a grand total of six runs throughout those six games.
For the most part, Burnett has continued to pitch very well this year, albeit doing so while waiting for his team to score some runs and help him earn the wins he deserves. Taking the hill for the Bucs 13 times this year, Burnett has thrown nine quality starts. Monday’s loss actually ended his streak of consecutive quality starts at seven. Even with the loss, Burnett’s ERA is only 3.22 and he still leads the National League in K/9. The ejection of battery-mate Russell Martin in the fourth inning might have also contributed to Burnett’s subpar outing, as he gave up four of his six earned runs after Michael McKenry took over behind the plate.
The Pirates’ pitching staff also employs another ex-Yankee, one that is not nearly as well-known as Burnett, and one that could have easily faded from the memories of most Yankees fans. Mark Melancon only appeared in 15 games with the Yanks, recording a loss and an ERA of 4.87 in his 20.1 innings pitched between 2009 and 2010 – before being sent to the Astros in the deal that brought Lance Berkman to the Bronx. A solid middle reliever with the ‘Stros, Melancon was then traded to Boston, where he saw his ERA balloon to 6.20. But after being traded to the Pirates this past offseason, the 28-year-old from Colorado has transformed into one of the best setup men in baseball.
A part of the self-proclaimed “Shark Tank” that is the Pittsburgh bullpen, Melancon has only given up three runs in 30 innings and currently sports an impressive 0.90 ERA and 0.86 WHIP. His Major League-leading 18 holds have substantially impacted the team as well as the rest of the bullpen. Without him, there is no way the Pirates still lead the majors in bullpen ERA and opponents’ batting average, there is no way Jason Grilli leads all Major League closers in saves, and there is no way that the Pirates are 12 games over .500.
Solidifying the backend of the bullpen in D.C. is Rafael Soriano. As Yankees fans should know, after Mariano Rivera tore his ACL in May of 2012, Soriano stepped in as interim closer and performed exceptionally well, earning an ironic total of 42 saves. The two-year, $28 million deal given to him by the Nationals over the offseason currently makes Soriano the highest-paid reliever in baseball.
After shaking off a little bit of a rough start to the season, Soriano has looked pretty effective this year for the Nats. The 33-year-old closer has 15 saves – tied for fourth best in the NL – in 18 opportunities to go along with his 17 strikeouts, 2.74 ERA and 1.04 WHIP. He has not had many chances to build upon those stats lately, as the struggling Nationals have lost 14 of their last 22 games. Look for both the team to come alive and Soriano to get some saves soon, though, with Washington’s next two series scheduled against the Mets and Twins.
In contrast, the Oakland A’s have been very hot as of late, winning 15 of their last 17 games. Directly responsible for three of those wins is 40-year-old Bartolo Colon, who started 26 games for the Yankees in 2011.
Colon is 6-2 this year with a 3.33 ERA. Never a strikeout pitcher, Colon amazingly leads the American league with a 10.50 K/BB, thanks to his insanely low walk rate. Colon has only given up four walks in 70.1 innings; his 0.5 BB/9 leads all Major League pitchers. The veteran right-hander is coming off of a five-hit, complete-game shutout against the White Sox last week, in which he earned his third straight win. He will try for his fourth consecutive win today against Yovani Gallardo and the Brewers.
Also taking the hill Tuesday is Freddy Garcia, who was in the same Yankees rotation as Colon in 2011, when he went 12-8 with a 3.62 ERA for the Bombers. In his last start for the Orioles, Garcia threw eight scoreless innings against the Nationals, giving up only three hits while striking out six. The wondrous outing was the 36-year-old’s second consecutive win. In six starts, Garcia is now 2-2 with a respectable 3.57 ERA and 1.01 WHIP. He will be opposing Dallas Keuchel and the Astros – who will surely be feeling confident after completing a four-game sweep of the Angels – Tuesday night.
Last but not least is starter Ian Kennedy of the Arizona Diamondbacks. A former first-round draft pick of the Yankees, Kennedy’s name was spoken by many Yankees fans in years past, as the righty was one of the organization’s most-prized pitching prospects in recent memory. In 12 career starts with the Yankees, Kennedy was 1-4 with a not-so-attractive 6.03 ERA. The Yanks parted with Kennedy via the three-team trade that brought Curtis Granderson to New York.
In Arizona, Kennedy soon displayed the talent that was being so highly regarded by the Yankees. In 2011, Kennedy led the NL in wins, going 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA and finishing fourth in NL Cy Young Award voting. 2013 has not started all that smoothly for Kennedy; the 28-year-old is currently 3-3 through 11 starts with a 4.74 ERA. However, he does have five quality starts and has won two of his last three starts. In his most recent outing, Kennedy gave up three runs in the first inning against the Cubs, but settled down and ended up retiring 20 of the final 21 batters he faced.
Although Kennedy is going through an uncharacteristic rough patch, he should be able to turn it around. With the D-backs currently in a series against the Cardinals, the best team in MLB, and then moving on to the Giants and Dodgers, Kennedy will certainly have to step up again and return to his usual, dominant self.
All of the aforementioned pitchers have once called the Bronx home and, whether successful or not while in pinstripes, have contributed in some capacity to the rich, detailed history of the New York Yankees. That being said, it is interesting to keep an eye on them and observe their ongoing evolution as players now flourishing in new roles and in new cities.
(Photo: Charles LeClaire, USA TODAY Sports).