During the game last night and all day today many fans and pundits have been repeating the old tired mantra that AJ Burnett sucks, “has no clue”, should be traded or is a liability. While it is true that AJ is 3-5 in his last 10 starts and has an ERA of 4.50 in the month of June just looking at these numbers or using the mantra from 2010 is neither fair or accurate. A more detailed examination of the numbers within his starts will actually show that he has done a pretty good job of keeping the Yankees in most of the last 10 games, had not been all that wild, and does not get the run support that other pitchers might get which certainly affects his record.
Let us first look at those five losses over his last ten games so we can get them out of the way and end discussing them.
There were two games that were very bad, no doubt, and these were the losses to the Rays in which he gave up six earned (including three HRs) and versus the RedSox in which he gave up 7 earned (8 in total). The Yankees lost these two games 6-5 and 11-6. So what about the other three losses?
In the game versus the Tigers on 5/5 he gave up 2 earned runs (5 in total) with one walk and five strikeouts. While he did hit two batters and had one error it was the errors in the field by Nunez that ultimately doomed AJ as two runners scored on a fielding error that he made in the 7th. The Yankees would go onto lose this game 6-3.
AJ took another of his losses over his last ten games while pitching one of his best games since he became a Yankee versus the Indians. In 7.2 innings he gave up one run (earned) on five hits, one walk, and struck out eight. And how did he get rewarded for this great performance? The Yankees went 0 for 7 with RISP, only got 5 total hits, and no runs. The Yankees and AJ lost 1-0.
His latest loss was last night in which he had a pedestrian outing allowing four runs (all earned) on seven hits and five walks over 6.1 innings. That said the Yankees were only able to score two runs on five hits and went 1 for 6 with RISP.
So in the five losses AJ had two really bad, two mediocre, and one excellent pitching performance. If the Yankees could have pulled out wins in these games AJ’s record could easily be 9-4 or at the very least 7-5 which would mute some of the attacks on him.
In addition to the losses there have been two no decisions over the last 10 games. In both of these games the Yankees were leading when AJ left the game (2-1 versus the Royals and 3-2 versus the Mariners) but the Yankees lost both these games and in the Royals game they lost it in extra innings after going 2 for 16 with RISP. One cannot fault Girardi for pulling AJ from these games as he was grinding it out in both (gave up 5 walks and got 6 Ks ion both games but pitched only seven and five innings). That said if he had remained in the game and/or the Yankees had won wouldn’t people be talking about how “gritty” AJ was and how he battled but still kept the Yankees in the games?
And then there are the three wins. In these games AJ gave up 3 earned runs versus the Mets in 6.1 innings, 2 earned versus Oakland in 7 innings, and 2 earned versus the Cubs in 5.1 innings. His ERA in these wins is 3.46 which is just a shade over CC Sabathia’s ERA on the year of 3.25.
So over AJ’s last ten games he has pitched there has only been two to three really bad games, five to six very good games, and a couple of games that were in the middle. So in his last 10 starts AJ has kept the Yankees in the game around 70%-80% of the time which over a full season would equate to 25 of 33 starts per year. For comparison purposes CC Sabathia has been rocked twice in the last ten games versus Boston (gave up six earned in both losses) but by going 8-2 in his last ten as opposed to 3-5 with two no decisions it is easy to forget that CC has had as many bad games as AJ over the last ten and an argument could be made that his pitching in some of these wins has not be ace quality.
One issue that many have brought up about AJ Burnett is that he has been wild and it is this lack of control that has gotten him in trouble. While he has given up an average of three walks per game over his last ten and is fourth in the AL in walks this year his WHIP is 1.26 for the year and 1.31 in June which favorably compares to his career WHIP of 1.32. In addition his WHIP last year was 1.51 so he most certainly shown improvement over last season. I am also going to make the point here that AJ’s ERA this year of 4.15 is better than last year at 5.26, is in line with his career numbers, and is actually pretty close to his ERA of 4.07 in 2008 when his record was 18-10 before he signed with the Yankees.
An argument could also be made that AJ Burnett has been the victim of non-support during his starts and it is this lack of run support (particularly in comparison to the others in the Yankees pitching staff) that accounts for both his record and how other pitcher’s performances are seen.
In AJ’s last ten games the Yankees have scored a total of 37 runs and in his three wins they scored 7, 4, and 4 runs, in his 5 losses they scored 3, 5, 6, ZERO, and TWO runs, and in both of his no decisions they scored three runs. So in AJ’s last ten games the Yankees have averaged five runs in his wins, 3.2 runs in his losses, and 3 runs in his no decisions.
In comparison let us look at CC Sabathia’s run support over his last ten games. In these games the Yankees have scored 73 runs and in his eight wins they scored 12, 13, 5, 7, 3, 12, 10, and 8 runs and in his two losses they scored ZERO and three runs. So in CC’s last ten games the Yankees have averaged 8.75 runs in his wins and 1.5 runs in his losses.
It should also be noted that over the last 10 games AJ Burnett’s ERA has gone up by just 0.44 and CC’s has also gone up over the last ten games by 0.36 and CC’s ERA in June is 4.60 and AJ’s ERA in June is 4.50. In addition in the last ten games the opposing team has averaged just 4.4 runs per game in AJ starts versus 3.9 runs per game in CC starts. Am I saying that AJ is as good of a pitcher as CC? No but the numbers when looked at side-by-side show that AJ is not as horrid of a pitcher as some would like to act.
I would admit and agree that perhaps AJ Burnett is not showing ace stuff on a consistent basis right now. But to say that he sucks, cannot pitch under the pressure of NY, is not a valuable member of the Yankees pitching staff, or that he should be shipped off somewhere shows a lack of understanding the facts and shows a tremendous bias against AJ. His pitching has shown just the opposite of this and provided he is given the same support and benefit of other pitchers he will be just fine.