Thursday, July 29, 2010

This Is Why I Don't Get Worked Up

My co-author chided me for not caring about issues affecting the Yankees two weeks ago. A.J. Burnett was in the midst of a massive cold streak, and he wanted to know why I wasn't giving it more attention. One reason, of course, is that a lot of it is about timing. As I said at the time, if the Yankees weren't winning, everybody's - not just Burnett's - struggles are magnified.

Another reason is that after going 0-5 with a 11.35 ERA in June, he is 3-1 with a 2.00 ERA in July. As Gunn and I said at the time, A.J. Burnett is who he is. The only way you are really going to be disappointed is if you raise expectations above what you should. At this stage he has 1704.2 career innings, he is what he is. You can't get too excited about the highs or the lows. Chances are both are going to be short-lived, as we saw in June. Not many pitchers can go from an 11+ ERA to a 2 flat seemingly overnight. That is what A.J. does.

The key for me goes back to something I said the day the Yankees signed Burnett. The biggest advantage to having him is that, despite being so up and down, his ups are as big as anyone's in baseball. This is evidenced by the fact that he leads baseball this year in scoreless starts with seven. When he's on, he takes care of the game all by himself. Very few pitchers can do this as often as he does. You live with the down starts to get these immense high end starts.

And no team is in more of a position to maximize this than the Yankees. I don't pretend for a second that more than a handful of other teams can pay that kind of salary for a player that - again for that kind of money - would have to be fronting their rotation. He is too inconsistent. But the Yankees are deep enough to somewhat hide his cold streaks, and thus get the most out of him by riding his hot streaks. It's really a perfect marriage.

What's more, the guy flat out wants to win and he's a great teammate. It all makes him very easy to like, much like the rest of the team. Do I wish he could find his curveball more consistently, which he admits is really the key to him having success? Of course. When he doesn't have his curveball, it's usually because he doesn't have his release point, which means it's going to be tough to locate his fastball. All of that spells some really tough starts to watch. But I'm more than happy to deal with those starts to get the one's when he does have his curveball, which means he has his release point, which means he's going to locate his fastball to both sides of the plate. Because all of that spells getting one of the best pitchers in baseball for at least half his starts all year. For the Yankees, it's better to have a player like this than someone who arrives at similar numbers to him by plodding along at a consistently above average rate all season. It's better to have the takeover potential. Few can takeover like Burnett, so I'm not going to get worked up about his cold streaks, especially because I know they are as inevitable as his hot streaks.

5 comments:

The GM said...

"Raise expectations above what you should."

Please enlighten me - where "should" the expectations be for AJ Burnett? I'd probably go by reputation and salary. You've heard about the electric stuff reputation. I think a great deal of people like yourself are out there, realizing that this guy is going to flat-out suck sometimes, and accept it.

My problem is that there is a large contingent of people out there, including several major media members, who are "AJ Burnett people." These people are similar to "dog people," who are not just dog owners, but have to put bumper stickers on their car about how much they love their dogs, take their dog everywhere including places they aren't supposed to be, basically make out with their dogs in public, actually believe their dogs are actual human beings. You know what I mean. AJ Burnett people are similar - they actually believe Burnett is better than what you realize he is. They think he will live up to his potential, have the electric stuff working, and turn into Roy Halladay. People need to get a grasp on reality.

Just like all the people hating on Coco Crisp, I am here taking an extreme to balance out these idiots. Pat is not one of these idiots, but there are way too many of them who just have complete wood over a pitcher who, as his career has indicated, is just not that good.

PF said...

The expectations should be what he's done across over 1700 career innings. Hot streaks and cold streaks resulting in total production that is less than great but better than average, otherwise known as above average. The one caveat being that when he's hot, you know you're going to win most days he pitches. That is huge in must win, playoff type scenarios, because he can win a game all by himself, and there aren't many pitchers you can say that for. Of course the flip side is that he could implode. But I'm not sure how different that is from a pitcher who is rarely terrible but rarely great, because while you are rarely out of games you rarely pick up wins where your offense can't muster runs off of opposing pitching, which is especially troublesome in the playoffs when most pitchers are good.

I understand your sentiments and why that bothers you. I'm similar in that few things annoy me in sports more than over and underrated players. That's why I've defended vazquez so vehemently, and am glad I did. But I think you're a bit late to the party on burnett. He was once a posterchid for being the kind of player people thought of in the way you referenced. "Burnett people". But I think those people are few and far between now. Most yankees fans that I know have accepted good aj and bad aj, as he has affectionately become known depending on how he pitches. Usually you can tell very early in the game which one you have, although it can change at any moment. I think the days of hoping burnett can be more than what he is are largely gone for most, and I think you need to accept that too. The question you could ask now is how good is what he is? As you know, I think its good, and think it's a particularly good fit for this team.

Anonymous said...

GM,

That was the single greatest comment of the last 3 months. Thank you for that. The comparison to the dog people was awesome.

Pat,

Your statements are well taken as well. If Burnett can get hot in the playoffs and carry you guys a bit then I think he's worth the contract.

Have a great weekend everyone.

the gm at work said...

Pat,

Problem is, while there are definitely far fewer Burnett people as there previously were as the guy has been in the spotlight, there are still a lot of them out there. Even after 1,400 innings, people still thought this guy was a Cooperstown lock.

I'm surprised that you'd prefer someone like Burnett to someone like Lackey, who won't pitch brilliantly too often but also won't typically get lit up. If you're scoring 6 runs a game, you'll win with Lackey virtually every time. Burnett, however, while he can singlehandedly win you a lot of games, he can also singlehandedly lose you a lot of games.

the gm at work said...

And Bandi, thanks for the nice words. If I have literally had no good comments between April 30 and now, but I had a good comment on April 30 and a good comment now, I will have had only one fewer good comment than 46's games played during that time period.

Enjoy yo weekend.