Not Just a River in AJypt

AJ Burnett is clearly in denial.  After his latest blow-up – against the AL basement-dwelling Orioles no less – he answered the now-familiar "what went wrong" question as follows: "Just one pitch today if you ask me".  You will forgive me if I am less reasssured than I am concerned by the fact that none of the other 40 pitches he threw in the six-run second inning of that game seemed to trouble him.

Postgame interviews need to be taken with a grain of salt.  Players often say what they need to say to maintain their confidence, put up a facade for the public so as not to let them (us) in, etc.  And if this is the case with AJ, that's fine, I guess.  But they are also some of the more unguarded moments you get from players.  And AJ does not strike me as a particularly complicated or calculating guy.  I think he believes that he really only threw one bad pitch in his last outing.

Now it is true, if it weren't for the grand slam he gave up in that second inning AJ's line would look pretty great – 2 ER in 7 IP with 2 BB and 6 hits.  But that's just it.  For weeks now, pondering AJ's latest outing brings to mind the famous question "Other than that, how did you like the play Mrs. Lincoln?"  One bad batter-faced is a problem but fairly standard, even in a great outing.  One bad inning, especially when your starter goes off the reservation for three, four, five, or six hitters in a row, is often the ballgame.  And in tight post-season games, it is likely the series and then the season.  It seems to me that if CC doesn't win the first game of the ALDS, this team is in deep trouble because the ostensible # 2 can't seem to limit the damage in the one bad inning-per-game that seems to be his quota lately.  And herein lies the concern.  Or at least, my concern.  When asked if he was concerned given that October is around the corner, AJ reiterated the one-pitch-mantra: "It's one pitch here or there.  You eliminate your mistakes and keep them to a minimum, we'll be all right."  Really?  Well I would assume throwing only one bad pitch out of 108 in a 7 inning game is pretty much "limiting your mistakes".  Unfortunately, when that one pitch is preceded by dozens of others that walked the bases loaded, it likely means the team won't be "all right".

AJ is 1-5 with a 6.14 ERA in his last 9 starts.  His WHIP over that preiod tops 1.500 (!!!).  I'm no expert, but I'm pretty sure that averages out to more than one bad pitch per game.  If he does not get it straightened out, the team with the best record in baseball will be awfully vulnerable come October.

36 comments… add one
  • Amen IH…not much else to say about that.

    sam-YF September 14, 2009, 5:35 pm
  • The thought of AJ standing on the mound in a must-win playoff game haunts my dreams..

    krueg reincarnate September 14, 2009, 6:31 pm
  • Glad that folks are finally coming around on Meathead. It was only a matter of time before he showed how little he’s developed. I know I wouldn’t be surprised to see him pull a Brown in the next few weeks.
    How does a guy with that much “stuff” never learn to throw a simple circle change? Hell, throw a frickin’ Stanley-special palm ball for all I care. The problem is he’s never been a pitcher. He’s a chucker. And they paid $82 million for that slop. Now when he can’t locate the curve he’s in big trouble because hitters just sit on the fastball. Seriously, he couldn’t develop one pitch to keep hitters honest?
    Just horrid and for four+ more years. Ugh. But at least Hughes is in the pen.

    Rob September 14, 2009, 6:58 pm
  • I’m happy he’s playing poorly for the Yanks, but it really is a shame to see a player with so much talent under-perform.
    In happier New York news, ROGER FEDERER LOST! YEAH!

    Atheose September 14, 2009, 9:14 pm
  • Great game tonight. For once – FOR ONCE – the Yanks beat the Angels at their own game, double-stealing Gardner and A-Rod in a tie game in the 8th with each advancing on the wild throw into the outfield by the catcher. Speed kills. For once it killed the Angels and not the Yanks. Homefield throughout not so far off…

    IronHorse September 14, 2009, 10:23 pm
  • IH funny you say that. I told my dad the same thing…said the yanks have lost so many games to the Halos on plays like that one.

    sam-YF September 14, 2009, 10:39 pm
  • Awesome game…huge win. Joba wasn’t awful for once.

    krueg reincarnate September 14, 2009, 11:12 pm
  • Cool Sam. And Alfredo Aceves has been the unsung hero of hte entire Yankee pitching staff. Need to do a post on him.

    IronHorse September 14, 2009, 11:22 pm
  • playoffs are going to be a crap shoot in any event, and the last aj outings don’t inspire confidence, but don’t get too crazy. he’s still got that k ability, there’s a short leesh in the playoffs. the yankee pen is strong, the yankee hitting can make up for some mistakes, and no team out there has a series of top of the rotation guarantees. yanks are the best team going. they might not win it all but that’s the best you can hope for.

    YF September 15, 2009, 12:00 am
  • Question: Who is not smarter than a fifth grader?
    A.J. Burnett or Kyle Farnsworth?

    SoxFan September 15, 2009, 3:31 am
  • Sadly, either AJ or Kyle could be Jonathan Papelbon’s tutor.

    IronHorse September 15, 2009, 6:31 am
  • AJ Burnett is the type of pitcher who can absolutely dominate a playoff series…or absolutely sink one. Much like our friend Josh Beckett out east.
    However, I’d much rather have AJ Burnett taking the mound than 2007 Roger Clemens, or 2006 Jaret Wright, so there’s improvement there.

    AndrewYF September 15, 2009, 9:00 am
  • Nice IH…

    krueg reincarnate September 15, 2009, 9:23 am
  • Agreed on AJ > old-Clemens or Wright or Brown, etc. Re: Beckett, you can’t be serious.

    IronHorse September 15, 2009, 9:27 am
  • Let’s see Burnett dominate, or squander, even one playoff game before we start comparing him to Beckett.
    I really hate this crapshoot stuff though. Was starting Jaret Wright a crapshoot? Was starting Wang on short rest, after an awful Game 1, a crapshoot? Somehow I don’t think the Yankees won four championships in five year because they were lucky every year. It’s because they had Hall of Famers at SS, CF, and, in 1998-on, C. In 2001 when they were the luckiest (Jeter flip, homeruns against a closer who shouldn’t have been in there), they lost.
    No, the Yankees have by far the best team this season. It’s not even close even after all their injuries. We’re talking a 110 win club. If the Yankees lose the first guy I’m looking at is AJ Burnett. And how he performs isn’t a crapshoot. He’s been in the league for 11 seasons and got paid well for that “experience”.
    The real problem is the second-best pitcher on the staff is stuck in a largely meaningless role. Just as he could have helped in 2007, and perhaps 2006 too, instead they’ll throw inferior pitchers for more innings. It makes no sense, and especially not after how much time they’ve had to get things right.

    Rob September 15, 2009, 9:33 am
  • I’m ready for the playoffs to start…let’s just hope AJ lives up to his “stuff”.

    krueg reincarnate September 15, 2009, 10:02 am
  • I should have said it seems. Of course he’s not that guy yet. However, it’s just as unfair to label him a guy who will torpedo a playoff series as well. I just see him as a boom-or-bust type of playoff pitcher, and noted that Beckett has been the same way. No doubt Beckett is a superior pitcher, and has had the superior career.
    And yes, the playoffs absolutely are a ‘crapshoot’. No doubt about it. The only reason why the Yankees had to rely on Jaret Wright (who, by the way, was no less of a pitcher than Jake Westbrook, or Nate Robertson, or Kenny Rogers circa ’96, and their teams all won a postseason series), was because Mike Mussina couldn’t hold a lead. Mike Mussina was a top 10 AL starter in ’06.
    And you can’t tell me the Yankees should have expected Wang, another top ten starter in ’07, to completely implode.
    Should the Red Sox have expected Beckett to single-handedly cost them a trip to the World Series last year?
    Basically, once you enter postseason play, you have a 1 in 8 chance of winning it all. Sometimes you can have a talented enough team to have, say, a 1 in 4 chance, but the nature of the short series dictates that even the ’27 Yankees would lose a 5-game series 20% of the time against any playoff opponent. It’s what makes the playoffs at the same time wonderful and terrible.
    And it’s pretty stupid to call Hughes the ‘second-best pitcher on the staff’. He’s the second-best RELIEVER on the staff. He has proven pretty much nothing as a starting pitcher, and would likely be doing worse than Joba is currently had he been a starter. And then Brian Bruney and Phil Coke would be manning the 8th inning, and the Yankees wouldn’t be hard-pressed to hold a lead or keep it close. Having Hughes in the bullpen for the playoffs is going to help the Yankees a hell of a lot more than having him as the fourth starter over Joba Chamberlain. This is the one time where an 8th-inning guy is more valuable than a fourth or fifth starter.

    AndrewYF September 15, 2009, 10:43 am
  • Should the Red Sox have expected Beckett to single-handedly cost them a trip to the World Series last year?
    Well, when the guy is injured, yes. Given his injury, should they have expected him to come out and give them five innings in Game 6, allowing only two runs despite throwing nothing but “sh*t” to the Rays’ batters (Beckett’s words, not mine)?
    The real culprit was Francona letting Beckett start the fifth inning of Game 2 when it was clear his injury had led to the disappearance of his fastball. The Sox had just taken the lead, and Francona himself after the season was over said his decision was a mistake.
    The fact is, when Josh Beckett has been healthy, he’s dominated eight of nine postseason starts (Game 1 of the 2003 NLCS the lone exception).

    Paul SF September 15, 2009, 11:29 am
  • Hmmm, Wright was on his way out of the league. Where is he now? And Wang shit the bed in Game 1. But they still ran him out there on short rest. How many years of burying a guy like Hughes before they actually try to use him in the best possible way? They’ve only been running Mitre and Gaudin out there for two months.
    For all the faults with how the Sox handled their pitching this year, they’ll have their best pitchers fronting their playoff rotation. For the Yankees and in the first round, they’ll have two of their top three pitchers in the bullpen…because the eighth inning is so important when you’re already down six runs.
    Now, as for the crapshoot idea, I guess getting heads up for four out of five years, was luck? Please. I’m not saying there’s no luck. It’s just overstated – like saying the ’27 Yanks lose 20% of the time. That’s ridiculous. I’m sure the simulations have been run. Sure, anything can happen…but it’s very, very dependent on the players involved.
    If the Yankees fail most people will realize the problem was paying a guy with a career 110 ERA+ like a #1 or 2 and expecting him to ever pitch like a #1 or 2. He’s not that and has never been. He’s never received a single Cy Young vote in 11 years and he’s never started a playoff game. He’s a fine #4 or 5. And by the end of his contract hopefully that’s exactly what he will be when the actual pitchers in the organization are finally given the length of rope they deserve.

    Rob September 15, 2009, 11:39 am

  • AJ Burnett is the type of pitcher who can absolutely dominate a playoff series…or absolutely sink one. Much like our friend Josh Beckett out east.
    Posted by: AndrewYF | Tuesday, September 15, 2009 at 09:00 AM

    This post really shocked me until I saw that it was by Andrew.

    Atheose September 15, 2009, 11:42 am
  • Just trying to keep it topical. Is this not a joint YF and SF web site?

    AndrewYF September 15, 2009, 11:58 am
  • Honestly, that’s what kills me about Burnett. He is what he is. Always has been. But the salary and contract make him seem much more than that. So in three years, even after we see the inconsistency year in and year out, they’ll still run him out there for Game 2 or Game 3 when his results have shown he’s the guy that should get skipped in a first round series. But they won’t. So every year we’re going to have to put up with this nonsense. Awful, especially when we consider how much time they’ve had to get things right.

    Rob September 15, 2009, 12:05 pm
  • “It’s just overstated – like saying the ’27 Yanks lose 20% of the time. That’s ridiculous.”
    No, it’s not. Simulations have been run, and the nature of the 5-game series is that, yes, ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN.
    And I’m certainly happy the Yankees paid AJ Burnett instead of Derek Lowe. They needed another starting pitcher. That’s what happens when you give a rotation spot to a rookie pitcher and he completely screws it up.
    “How many years of burying a guy like Hughes before they actually try to use him in the best possible way?”
    The Yankees handed Hughes a spot in the rotation in the beginning of 2008. He was really, really bad. The Yankees gave Hughes a spot in the rotation this year when Wang went down. He was still pretty bad. The Yankees put Hughes in the bullpen so he could actually provide positive value to the team this year. He was really good. Maybe, this year, the Yankees are using him in the best possible way? Next year, when Joba doesn’t need innings limits, the Yankees can turn Hughes into a starting pitcher, ready to contribute positively to a Yankee team.
    Phil Hughes is the fifth-best starting pitcher on the team. Maybe sixth-best, if you like Aceves. Stop with this nonsense that A) The Yankees ‘buried’ him, and B) he’s an amazing starting pitcher. It’s just not true.

    AndrewYF September 15, 2009, 12:10 pm
  • Just to fend off argument that Hughes was actually good as a starter this year: he had a 5.45 ERA in starts this year. Even taking out his worst and best outings, his ERA is 4.65, which is worse than the top four starters in the rotation.

    AndrewYF September 15, 2009, 12:19 pm
  • Show me a simulation, any simulation, that shows the ’27 or even the ’98 team losing 20% of the time.
    As for Hughes, time will tell. But Burnett has had 11 years to get better and hasn’t. I think you’re going to be very wrong on Hughes. But no one can deny that his development, even more than Joba’s, has been helter-skelter.
    I hammered the Sox on Smoltz and Penny. But they’ve got a formidable front three. And Buchholz, like Hughes, has been projected for years to be better than Burnett has ever been. Now he’s showing that.
    Worse, for your case, explain why these last two months they couldn’t figure out what Hughes could give? Oh wait, what about the 8th inning? Nah, then they would have only won the division by 7 games.

    Rob September 15, 2009, 12:53 pm
  • Yes, and then bounced out of the playoffs when Brian Bruney comes in and walks in 3 runs. Meanwhile, Phil Hughes is waiting for that one ever-important Game 4 start that may never come!
    You’re also forgetting that the Yankees did the whole starter/bullpen/starter thing last year. That guy hurt his shoulder, and the injury has probably lingered into this year, if not physically, then mentally. So maybe they’ve decided, justifiably, that doing so with Hughes is also a bad idea.
    As for the simulations, look no further than here: http://www.diamond-mind.com/articles/playoff.htm
    Yes, it was 1998, but the rules of math and baseball haven’t changed since then, so I would say it’s still valid. Upsets are not only possible in a short series (and the shorter you go, the more possible they are), but relatively LIKELY. And when you have MANY short series in a row, those odds just keep getting longer. In fact, saying that the 98 Yankees would lose 20% of the time is actually a vast understatement. The article says they would not win the World Series over 60% of the time! I’m not going to lay out the math here, since it’s all in the article. And there are caveats, like the game is played on the field and not on computers, and maybe some teams are top-heavy and better suited for the playoffs and all that, but they don’t drastically affect the outcome. Baseball isn’t football. No team in baseball history has won more than a .716 clip. The nature of baseball is that anything can happen on any given day. That’s what makes it so wonderful of a sport, and also so maddening.

    AndrewYF September 15, 2009, 1:44 pm
  • I agree with Andrew re: handling of Hughes. They tried, he showed flashes of brilliance, but wasn’t fully ready. He is now both gaining experience, learning from the veterans around him, and contributing substantially to the team’s success. Could they have bounced him back from pen to rotation late in the year? Sure. Except they already had one starter in the rotation who was nearing his innings-limit so to tax the bullpen (not to mention the other 3 starters) with another starter who for sure wouldn’t be going deep into games while simultaneously depleting that same pen of the guy whose addition marked its turnaround-as-a-unit this year doesn’t strike me as a very good idea. Not to mention that mid-season pen-to-starter transitions are much more problematic and prone to injury than the reverse mid-season transition. The Yankees have handled Hughes just fine. And I certainly do hope that when he gets another shot at starting next year that he is markedly better than he was in that role the last two years – even good enough to bumped veterans down the rotation. But let’s not act like a successful Hughes in 2010 will be at all proof that he should have started earlier. On the contrary, the more success Hughes has from here on out the more it will seem like the Yankees handled him perfectly.

    IronHorse September 15, 2009, 1:58 pm
  • I misspoke. My quote was that the Yankees would lose a 5-game series 20% of the time. That’s still true. It’s in the article, under the title “The 1998 Post-Season and the Atlanta Braves”. In fact, it’s more like 24%.

    AndrewYF September 15, 2009, 1:58 pm
  • Let’s not be ignorant of the math, please. Hell, the 116 game (or something like that) winner Seattle in 2001 lost to the Yanks, who had 95 wins, which is _21_ games behind the Mariners! And the Yanks won in 5 games!
    Of course there’s a bit of luck, and err, as you can see by the next 9 years, the Yanks only even got to the World Series twice or so, despite having insane records in the regular season. Ya, you can say the Yanks weren’t built for playoffs, but really it’s just odds evening out.
    Most of the reasoning is that there are simply more playoff series – more chances for luck to dominate skill. I don’t have to tell you that back in the day, they didn’t have 5 game series, and they only had the World Series..
    And even then, they lost the World Series with some frequency..

    Lar September 15, 2009, 3:11 pm
  • Actually, that article says the Yankees had been not only the most successful team, but also the luckiest from 1947 to 1998 in terms of how many WS they were expected to win, and how many they actually won.

    AndrewYF September 15, 2009, 3:13 pm
  • You know, these sorts of statistical arguments about postseason series are kind of silly and tiring.
    First off, talking so incessantly about the odds of one team winning over another eventually makes it seem like nobody’s actually playing the games. This isn’t a game of DnD.
    Second, I don’t see how all those stats really show that a 5-game series is a “crapshoot,” any more than any game or series is a crapshoot.
    Right now, the 8 playoff teams have an average win% of .586. So, against their average opponent, they’d only win 2.9 games in a 5 game series, 4.1 games in a 7 game series, and 11.7 games in a 20 game series. That’s not a crapshoot, that’s what happens when you tend to win fewer than 60% of your games.
    In professional sports, the difference between ok and good and great isn’t very dramatic on paper. The Red Sox are a very good, playoff-worthy team, while the White Sox are pretty mediocre, but if they each played 10 games against their average opponent, Boston would only win 1 more game than Chicago. One!
    It just gets to the point where we’re talking like it’s not people playing against each other. Good teams don’t lose playoff series because they had bad luck, or because the numbers were evening out. Luck can play a role, but more often than not they lose because they played poorly, or made bad decisions, or, you know, because the other team is maybe pretty good, too.

    Rex Manning Day September 15, 2009, 3:35 pm
  • I don’t see what we’re arguing about, RMD. Playing well and playing poorly are a part of the game, and that’s where the numbers come from. The 116-win Mariners played poorly at the wrong time, and the 2001 Yankees played well at the right time. Is it some sort of innate skill, or were the Yankees simply more fortunate that they ran into a good stretch of baseball? Luck doesn’t have to be how a ball bounces. Baseball teams tend to go into hot streaks and slumps. It happens. That’s baseball. No team has ever learned how to time these slumps, so one must consider the possibility that there is a large element of good fortune that plays a part in a team’s postseason success.
    If you have about a 1 in 8 chance of winning it all, as history has shown the average postseason team to have, then I think we can call it a ‘crapshoot’, simply due to the nature of the game.

    AndrewYF September 15, 2009, 4:19 pm
  • I opened up that can and obviously I was wrong based on the simulation data. But I should have been clearer on the type of data needed, and I’m not sure simulations really help all that much. I think RMD has done a better job expressing my particular problem with “crapshoot” – especially the difference based on WPCT between obviously good and obviously bad teams. But I’m going to have to think about it more. For instance, what are the odds that an AL East team makes the World Series in 7 out of the last ten years? I have no problem seeing a simulation that could predict that “streak” from odds alone, but that’s very different from saying the AL East just tends to be better in the wild card era. That sort of gets at my real problem. In using winning percentages to predict outcomes, they already have a huge swath of data (162 games per team) influencing the predictions. That isn’t
    isn’t a crapshoot because the prior conditions are very much tied to the outcomes – a set constrained to almost universally fall between .700 and .300. A roll of the dice it ain’t. Still, I need to think about why that formulation bothers me so much.
    On Hughes, it would perhaps be justifiable given his 2008. However, now they’re looking at having to restrict his innings in some way in 2010 – bullpen or this shortened start silliness. With how long Wang has been out, and now with his replacements, it’s simply inconceivable that they’ve buried him in the pen. And yes, they buried him there in 2007 when he was a far better choice to start Game 4 ahead of Wang (though maybe they don’t win Game 3 without him saving Clemens). And in 2006 I also thought a kid who dominated the minors like he did should have absolutely been used in the post-season. Most other organizations in those playoff runs use the dominant kid. They played it conservative instead – for three post-seasons now. How’d the first two turn out?
    Back on topic: The problem isn’t Burnett. The problem is the expectation that he’ll ever be more than a #3 or #4.

    Rob September 15, 2009, 5:49 pm
  • I guess you should think about it this way. The Yankees, this season, have played well enough in 64% of their games to win. Their likely opponent will have played well enough in about 56% of their games to win. This is baseball, where your team can play either crappy or well or in between on any given day. The amount of talent helps move that mark towards one or the other, but it certainly doesn’t even come close to eliminating either possibility. Is it really so unreasonable to state that the Yankees have about a 60% chance to win a 5-game series against the Tigers? I don’t know about you, but 60/40 odds are awfully close to that 50/50 mark. I certainly wouldn’t bet any money on it.

    AndrewYF September 15, 2009, 6:25 pm
  • To turn that around – 60/40 odds are also like a .600 team playing a .400. Sure, if you simulate enough series you’ll get a non-significant number going the underdog’s way. But I wouldn’t call that a crapshoot. It’s the game but it isn’t random. Some teams really are better than others and the point of 162 games is to ferret out which is which. The next 11 wins may not always go to the best team. But I can’t simply shrug and say it’s luck when I’ve watched a team dominate for a season.
    I wonder if Pythagorean records could help, but I’m dubious.

    Rob September 15, 2009, 6:47 pm
  • ” But I wouldn’t call that a crapshoot. It’s the game but it isn’t random.”
    It could be random. How many times have we seen a pitcher just ‘not have it’ that day? How many times does a batter just seem lost at the plate for a period of time? Until we figure out exactly when these things will happen, then yes, it might as well be random. Good teams can play like crap for a few games and crappy teams can play well for a few. That’s exactly the nature of the game, and exactly why there’s 162 of them a year.

    AndrewYF September 15, 2009, 11:00 pm

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