Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Burnett, Revisited

My father is a big Yankee fan. A lot of his childhood and college friends are Yankee fans. I will often end up on e-mail chains with them about the Yankees. One of the interesting things about talking Yankees - and really baseball in general - with them is the different way we view stats. The grew up on wins, batting average, home runs, and RBI. I obviously grew up in a very different era. They have definitely caught on to a lot of the new metrics, and place a good deal of value on them. But they still like the stats they grew up on.

Two of those in particular - batting average and pitcher win totals - have become obsolete on account of better ways to evaluate performance in those areas. But my father and his buddies largely stick by them. My father and I went back and forth on batting average for a number of years. At the height of my sabermetric schooling, 5 or so years ago in college, I was adamant that batting average just wasn't that important. My father's position wasn't that it was the most important statistic - he recognized the merit of the new evaluation metrics - but rather that you needed a balanced lineup, including some guys who hit for average in addition to your OPS/plate patience/HR guys. As I've come back from the sabermetric extreme, I couldn't be more in agreement with him. I still prefer the new-age approach, but I recognize that if your lineup is all that kind of guy you become somewhat one-dimensional. I'm very pro-balance, and that includes having a few guys who can rack up hits with a high average.

I was never against wins, I just recognized it wasn't one of the best ways to evaluate a pitcher. You had to look at the context. That pretty much remains true for me. One of my father's buddies has always been of the belief, however, that Burnett stinks because he should be able to get more wins on a team that scores so many runs, has such a good bullpen, and wins so many games. Whether you think wins really matter or only matter in context, the case against Burnett on this front is really growing.

I had this post in mind since Burnett's abomination against the Twins on Saturday (a team the Yankees had beaten 21 times in their last 24 games against them, and he couldn't get out of the 2nd inning, with 7 runs ultimately being charged to him total). But in today's Post, Joel Sherman took a very similar angle, and did it superbly.

In sum (with some of my own additions), the Yankees have scored the most runs in the majors, and their bullpen has the lowest ERA in the AL. Burnett is 9-10, the only of their 6 starters who is under .500. Since the Yankees signed Burnett prior to the 2009 season, the Yankees have won 275 games, most in the majors over that span. Burnett is 32-34 as a Yankee.

At some point, these win totals - or lack thereof - really tell a story. Especially as the sample size grows and grows. All the Yankees have done the last three years is win baseball games, and Burnett can't join the party.

I detailed last week how Burnett's overall numbers really aren't as bad as they seem. Despite the atrocious ERA - that is mostly the result of a few terrible starts - and he has mostly kept the Yankees in games. But at some point a lot of that has to go out the window. Burnett does not find a way to win games with the team that it is easiest to win games for.

We can develop all the new metrics that we want, but sometimes it's hard to argue against basic longstanding outlooks. In this case, this longstanding outlook regarding wins certainly isn't very helpful to Burnett.

What's interesting is that last week I defended Burnett and still concluded he should be the one removed from the rotation when the time comes. This week I'm not defending him, but I'm less sure that he should be the one removed. The way Colon has started to tail off (5.21 ERA in his last 9 starts, although he was at 4.33 across the first 7 of those), the way Colon's great fastball and control might play nicely out of the bullpen, and the way Burnett's stuff might not play so well out of the bullpen makes it a continually tough decision.

9 comments:

the gm said...

The way AJ Burnett is contorting you in such a painful way and the fact that this is so obvious by watching you post day by day is absolutely making my day. Whereever From the Bronx is, I hope he's smiling down on this fact, too.

As you know, the day Theo Epstein puffed out his chest about JD Drew's OPS after yet another mediocre season was the day sabermetrics completely died to me. Even before this happened (and it started to die to me when Moneyball II started to happen and when the Sox signed Drew), I like to remember myself in a way that still respected the traditional stats.

The sabermetrics are more indicative of future performance and "underlying" (a Theo word) performance. The stats like wins and batting average indicate whether the guy got the freaking job done. That's why I still use the batting average stat here, and that's why they should keep that stat on the little graphic when a new hitter comes up.

Electric Stuff has been the opposite of John Lackey this year. A stat the guys on the radio found today is that even after going sub-6 on the ERA mark, John Lackey has the highest ERA of anyone in the majors with more than TWO wins. What does this mean?

It means that (as stupid as it is), Lackey has been the Patriots' defense in all but maybe three outings. He's been bend-don't-break. He's bent, all right. But he hasn't broken since the July 4th implosion and has only broken twice since returning from the DL.

Burnett is break. If he had the run support Lackey had, it's very likely he would have imploded on just that much of a bigger scale. He's imploded just enough to do damage and screw the Yankees.

the gm said...

By the way, KO - COCO. Have some of that. I can't even sit right now.

Anonymous said...

to say that i don't understand the first paragraph of your first comment would be one of the great understatements in this blog's history. aj burnett does not bother me that much.

- pf

the gm at work said...

I am entertained by the AJ Burnett journey you've been going through here over the past several years. Obviously it was a controversial signing and there were a lot of haters that you basically had to protect the guy from. You gloated and said he was worth it when he helped the Yankees win the 2009 World Series, and continued to defend him for much of the last two years. You said he was the victim of one bad inning (which was reasonably critical), and in this one, you were slightly more critical. I like how you came out with the guns blazing, and now it just seems like you're uncomfortable with the situation. The way your stance has evolved (I'm not going to use the Romney/Kerry word) has been wildly entertaining for a guy who's been ready to unfairly pounce on the guy since the day he signed.

Anonymous said...

i can understand how it might look that way on the outside, but burnett has not caused me turmoil. i am not at all uncomfortable. it was annoying when people tried to give him heat when he didn't deserve it. and i rightly defended him. but now he certainly deserves the heat. if anything, i think i've been pretty matter of fact with burnett. when he's been good i've said so, and when he's been poor i've said so. i think any emotional attachment you may be attributing to me in relation to him has to do with some of my vehement defenses of him. but that was not burnett specific, i can't stand when people get heat when it isn't deserved. i'd probably defend any yankee in a similar situation.

- pf

Ross Kaplan said...

AJ is the JD of pitchers. Both are overpaid malcontents who just don't give a shit about being great and both convinced some fans they were worth based on a single playoff performance - though in AJ's case that's negated somewhat if you recall that he couldn't even get out of the 2nd inning of Game 5 of the 09 World Series.

Anonymous said...

the last thing i will add is that game 2 of the 2009 world series had a lot to do with it. the yankees needed that game as badly as they had needed a game in a long time, and burnett delivered and they went on to win it all. that game makes it all worth it to me, because i'd much rather be '09 champs and have issues later than not be '09 champs and avoid the issues entirely.

- pf

the gm at work said...

PF,

Maybe it was the four missed calls I got between 11:43 and 11:52 on Saturday night. Sure, you say you were pocket-dialing me. But we all know you were looking for Burnett salvation.

Anonymous said...

I can't imagine Pat getting overly emotional about anything to do with the Yankees. You're way off base DV.

Bandi