General Yankees

Where to From Here Cashman?

Lots of things fell in to place around midnight last night – the certainty of a good 3-5 straight years of Phillies playing deep into October; the certainty of the Mets not; a clear runway to the post-season for the Red Sox; a bumpy one filled with uncertainty for the Yanks.  But after all that stuff is said and done, what does Cliff Lee's abandonment of Brian Cashman at the altar mean for the Yankees going forward?

Cashman may very well have the plan B he spoke of over the weekend when the Cliff Lee-dread began to sink in and reporters pointed out the inconvenient truth that the Yankees appeared a bit desperate.  And maybe that plan B really is made up of more than one word: "suck".  Cashman has reportedly been working hard to land Russell Martin, perhaps to enable him some leeway in packaging Jesus Montero together with other young talent in a trade that would bolster the rotation.  Whatever the plan B is, we'll know soon enough.

But here are two things we know now, which are relevant to what the Yankees do going forward: 1. A big part of Andy Pettitte's motivation for returning for one more season just went to Philadelphia meaning that the Yankees probably need 2 new starters, not one; 2. There does not seem to be a difference-making top-of-the-roation starter who the Yankees could land for anything less than an absurdly high mortgage-the-future-price-tag.

First Pettitte: Yes, his leverage just shot up and he could squeeze a good dollar out of the Yankees right now.  (My how things have changed from two years ago, when the Yankees used their tremendous leverage at the time to cut his guaranteed salary by more than half from 2008, when he pitched through a hurt shoulder to lead the team in IP…even the loyal Pettitte must relish the prospect of turning that "it's just business, man" approach right back around on the Yankee FO).  But Pettitte does not seem to be motivated by the money at this stage in his career and hasn't been for years.  He has made it clear he would only play for the Yankees if he is to play at all so he doesn't seem to be leveraging anything.  No – Pettitte seems more likely to be motivated by the prospect of one more run at glory.  And the prospect of gaining that glory in pinstripes just got a lot more remote.  At this point I'd be surprised to see him return.

As for available pitching, already there is crazy-talk of the Yankees giving an arm and a leg plus a couple vital organs to the Seattle Mariners to pry King Felix loose.  As usual, delusional fans and talk radio hosts can only focus on the utopian end state (how nice it would be to lock up the reigning AL Cy Young winner at the age of 24 – there's one pitcher to whom you could give a 7-year or even longer contract and feel OK about it) while ignoring the current state that can usefully be referred to as "reality".  This guy was just locked up for another 5 years at a price the Mariners felt they could afford.  The only way they would let him go would be if the Yankees mortgaged their entire franchise, handed over the keys, altered YES-network programming to include "Marinographies" and to feature the '95 post-season on "Yankees Classics", and granted the Mariners front office Prima Nocta rights to their young prospects a la Edward Longshanks. 

Same goes for the Marlins' Josh Johnson, whose name is also being irresponsibly bandied about.  He just signed less than a year ago for 4 more years – and besides, do you want to make a long-term bet on a young pitcher who has thrown 200 innings exactly once to make the NL-to-AL East leap?

Given all this, could and should the Yankees look to 2011 as that thing that has never been uttered, let alone explicitly embraced in the Bronx for the past 15 years: a "rebuilding" year (shudder)? 

The only problem with that is that they do not seem particularly well-placed for that either.  They have aging stars out of whom they are trying to squeeze one or two more runs at glory before retirement and virtually all of their contracts run through 2012 with few appearing particularly move-able.  When you lock up your aging SS for 3 more years, your aging (though still brilliant) star closer for 2 more, you've got an aging superstar at third base locked up for the next millenium, and your ostensible #2 starter (and #1 headcase) locked up for 3 more years, how much substantial re-tooling can you accomplish in one season?  Jorge Posada and Nick Swisher are due to come off the books after the 2011 season (a total of $22 million).  That's about it.  Should the Yankees trade substantial portions of their considerable but still very young farm talent away now to try to strengthen their position going into 2011?  I don't think that makes much sense.

I say do all you can to lure Andy back and fill the remaining starter-slot with a journeyman if necessary (indeed, it may be your only option anyway).  Expose some of your young pitching to the big leagues a la the bullpen if they appear ready, including continuing the Ivan Nova experimental grooming process.  See how this lot is doing come June and July, specifically: Does Montero seem to be making the leap, is Gardner's production steady/improving from his solid though not magnificent 2010, has AJ remembered how to pitch, have Jeter, Teixeira, and A-Rod remembered how to hit, etc.  And then – and only then – consider trading for a run at 2011-glory.  This team should certainly be good enough to still be well in the post-season running at that stage and by then some of the leverage the Yankees don't have right now will have come back in the form of other teams imploding and looking to cast off contracts.

Of course, if it is the Yankees who have imploded, then yes, you embrace 2011 as a lost year and try to position for 2012 and beyond.  Just don't tell your season-ticket holders and other fans, for whom you have jacked ticket prices so high that they are now entirely justified in demanding an annual plausaible run-at-glory.

64 replies on “Where to From Here Cashman?”

The problem of the Yankees developing their own pitching comes clearly into fcus now. Out of the “Big Three” they now have a league average starter, a middling bullpen arm, and they traded the third (another average pitcher) for a moderate upgrade.
Cashman made a big deal about how they had to develop their own pitching. Maybe this non-signing forces them to. But I’l believe it when I see it. Cashman’s Yankees, in 13 years, have yet to develop one above average arm. But they have thrown alot of ducks at horrid signings. There’s decent chance that Lee could turn in that.
Great job by the Phllies though. They’re going to be alot of fun to root for. Still, the last time the Yankees lost a free agent pitcher, Maddux got one ring then Jeter got four. It will be interesting to hear if the Phillies losing to the Yankees made Lee want to get another crack at beating them for a title.

Good stuff, IH.
I have a couple of quibbles – one is about Pettitte’s motivation. We have no idea what motivates him, whether it is money or otherwise. He’s always been well paid, and I can’t imagine the Yankees sweetening their offer wouldn’t be an enticement. On the baseball side of things, I don’t really have any more fear of Andy Pettitte as a pitcher, and another year older and a year removed from a reasonably impactful injury (though not one to his arm or shoulder) he is even less daunting as a figure. He may be better than the rest, and that is probably all that matters to the Yankees.
As for trading Hernandez, why would the Mariners do this unless they were getting whatever was offered for Lee PLUS. Plus A LOT. I mean, they could send out a blast email to the entire League with the subject line “best offer for the King” and get something that may exceed Montero and others. On the other hand, many GMs aren’t entirely competent, so maybe he does get moved.

“Phil Hughes”
He’s decidely average, so far. In fact, compare Hughes’ 2007 and 2010. There’s ben no improvement in four years, unless you think more innings at the same rates is an improvement. Joba’s been the better starter, even.

Sorry, SF. Didn’t see you there.
On Pettitte, I agree. He’s not going to say boo until he sees what Cashman is going to do; come February and Cashman hasn’t given the rotation some kind of makeover, I believe Andy takes his pitching talents to Texas: As in home, not the Rangers.
Texas (as in the Rangers) will be quick to move on Grienke now, as they should. That would leave NY overpaying in terms of prospects for any pitcher available, in my opinion. Nobody in baseball is going to give NY a break after this week because as IH said, it reeks of deperation.

Phil Hughes’ VORP was 76 amongst ALL Major League pitchers out of 692, to pull just one stat. I am not sure how this makes him “decidedly average”, at least in terms of who might be able to replace him on the roster.

I expect Phil Hughes to develop into a very good pitcher (he’s still only 25 next season), but for now he’s been league-average as a starter.
The Yankees need Pettitte to return badly. If he doesn’t they’ve got significant rotation problems.
With him they’re good enough to make a run at the playoffs. ARod and Teixeira will probably rebound in 2011, and a rotation of Sabathia/Burnett/Pettitte/Hughes/YoungArm is enough to compete.

Yeah, I’m going to say Phil Hughes, league average in his first full season as a starter at the age of 24, scares me. The man was more valuable than Zack Greinke and John Lackey last season.
I agree with SF about Andy Pettitte, whose ERA against the Red Sox since 2003 has been 5.04, 5.24, 7.04, 3.75, 6.75. He doesn’t scare me, and if the Yanks are hanging their hat on his 130 ERA+ last season, then that’s as silly as last offseason expecting Jeter to replicate his 2009 resurgence.
As much as I want to believe that IH’s post is dead on, and we’re witnessing the Yankees’ free-spending policies coming home to roost — ironically because a player for the first time in 20 years actually spurned their enormous monetary offer — I still suspect the Yanks will find a way not just to be in the playoff hunt but to make life very difficult for the Red Sox and make the AL East a dogfight, like it is almost every season. Yes, statistically, I don’t know how that will happen, but I simply refuse to believe a team like that is done — not done making transactions and not done competing heavily for the postseason.

Step One: Sign Russell Martin.
Step Two: Sign Pettitte.
Step Three: Solidify the bullpen.
Really that’s the only moves that can be made at this point. Looking at 2012’s FA class (next year) who really excites you enough to try and pry them away from their team now? Chris Carpenter? Sure, he’d be great, but why would the Cardinals trade him. Wandy Rodriguez? I guess if the prices was right. Mark Buerhle? I don’t see the White Sox moving him now.
So that leaves the current FA market for SP’s: Brian Bannister? David Bush? Chris Capuano? Doug Davis? Justin Duchscherer? Jeff Francis? Freddy Garcia? Rich Harden? Andrew Miller? Kevin Millwood? Brad Penny? Ben Sheets? Chien Ming Wang? Brandon Webb? Chris Young? What an awful bunch. Of that group I’d say any of them other than Andrew Miller would need to be a short deal at the right price.
My thoughts are roll with what you have and hope something falls in your lap before the trade deadline. I wouldn’t be opposed to signing a veteran to a one year deal (Sheets, Harden, Millwood) just for depth, but anything more than that reeks of the moves the Sox made a few years back with Penny and so on.
Not being overly dramatic but are the Yankees better than the Blue Jays right now? The lack of pitching is truly worrisome. CC, Hughes and pray for rain. Certainly not how it should be with a 200 million dollar payroll.

“The man was more valuable than Zack Greinke and John Lackey last season.”
Paul you just made me spit out my coffee! John Lackey? Isn’t he slightly better than AJ Burnett? ;) That’s like saying I am slightly more handsome than that chubby kid from Superbad.

The sky is most certainly not falling. The yankees won 95 games last year with a very similar team to the one they have constructed for next year. Some players underperformed last season (Tex and AJ) and others we can expect a bit more of a slide. The sox certainly improved their offense but the two new flashy names dont take into account that they are replacing some lost offense as well. I think its just as crazy to expect similar numbers for Ortiz as it would be to expect a repeat of Jeter’s 2009. The Sox will indeed score more runs than last year but their pitching staff remains a bit of a question mark beyond Lester and Buchholz, and to a lesser extent Beckett. The pen is in massive flux as well.
As for Andy Pettitte, his numbers are essentially meaningless vs the Sox alone since he only have a couple of starts a year against them. Fact is he is a proven performer who can give the yankees good innings in the AL east. He is a valuable commodity and for that reason the Yankees should do all they can to bring him back. He’s not a replacement for Lee but part of solidifying the rotation and keeping the team in games to allow the offense to do their thing.

I agree that the sky is not falling, provided they do the 3 things I listed above. In that case I believe they have a reasonable chance to make the playoffs. Without Pettitte or a solidified bullpen call me Chicken Little!
Martin to me is an asset but also signing him keeps him from the Sox. I know Doumit is on the market and Bengie Molina is still out there, but he’s the best of that group if you ask me and I’d rather have him on my team than the Sox. Let’s let them start the season with Tek and Salty.

How about Montero? Cash tried to trade him for Lee so while it kinda sucks to not get Lee, we did get to keep Montero. No one is really talking much about the kid but if he is a good as the scouts say, he could make a difference as a rookie, no?
“NOBODY fucks with the Jesus…” :)

John Lackey? Isn’t he slightly better than AJ Burnett? ;) That’s like saying I am slightly more handsome than that chubby kid from Superbad.
Haha, point taken. I’m hanging my hat on Lackey’s second-half performance last season (3.97 ERA, 10 quality starts in 15 games), as opposed to his first half (4.78 ERA, 8 quality starts in 18 games).

Gauging whether “the sky is not falling” can only really be done when we agree on what that phrase means. If it means the Yankees are good enough to have a fair shot at making the post-season (likely a la wildcard), sure – the Yanks certainly have enough talent now and with whoever they pull in to fill out the starting rotation to do this. If it means they are good enough to seriously challenge other teams for going deep into that post-season, I frankly don’t see it unless they either make a major in-season trade (or two!) or calm down and decide that maybe they should use trading chips like Gardner, Cervelli, and their young farm-talent plus their substantial financial resources to try to build a nucleus around which to compete seriously in 2013 and beyond. Yes, 2013. I just don’t think it is such a big deal to take such deep breaths every once in a while. Especially when reality is sort of forcing you to. But the last line of my post was not meant as sheer sarcasm. The Yankees have priced themselves into a corner with their fans. If you’re going to pay over $50/game for a mediocre seat to an April game vs. the Orioles, you want to see a very special team out there every day every year. And paying to watch A-Rod hit number 700 or Jeter gt 3,000 hits will only carry you so far…

Krueg, I think Montero is a big factor. Problem is Catchers in general, regardless of their offensive prowess progress at such a slow rate. Matt Wieters, Chris Iannetta, etc…Wieters was supposed to come up and be an impact bat from day one, that obviously didn’t happen. So the way to combat that is to platoon Montero with a veteran, like Martin. Offensively the Yankees are fine, it’s the lack of pitching right now that is worrisome.

Jeter, Tex, A-Rod, Mo, Cano, CC, Hughes, a young guy like Montero, Gardner, even the aging Posada. That’s a pretty “special” product, frankly. I mean, the Yanks not getting Lee is really good news for me as a Sox fan, but the idea that this team is now a mediocrity with no stage value is absurd. The team is full of stars (albeit a little older at this point), but seeing A-Rod play, seeing Teixeria play, seeing Mo come in from the pen, that’s a compelling product. This is still a good team, a dangerous team, and a marquee team.

SF, I agree. But I also don’t think “no stage value” is at all what I was saying. Worth more money than any other fan pays to go to a game? That’s something else. I’ll still go. When I can. But even before the Lee issue I had decided to forego a season package this year. I think many others in this economy will. The Mets just lowered their tiket prices while the Yanks raised theirs. Now the Yanks are infinitely more worth watching than the Mets. But still, the Yanks were raising prices from an already absurdly high level if you ask me…

seeing A-Rod play, seeing Teixeria play, seeing Mo come in from the pen, that’s a compelling product
But to the less … educated … Yankee fans in the bleachers, is this true?
All offseason long, I’ve been pissed off at the idiocy of the average Red Sox fan. Complaint after complaint about Theo not “doing what it takes” or “John Henry is spending money on Liverpool so he can’t spend on the Sox” or “I’m not buying tickets unless the Sox prove they care about winning.”
I mean, this is an ownership grouo/front office that has won more World Series championships than any other team in baseball this century, and fans are acting like they don’t know what they’re doing .. right up until the whole Adrian Gonzalez/Carl Crawford thing, of course. NOW everything’s OK.
All that to say, the average fan doesn’t get as in depth with this kind of stuff as we do, and they also I think tend to get a lot more entitled about success than perhaps those of us who have been around to remember the bad days before mostly perennial success. So I can see Joe Schmo Yankee fan, used to annual playoff teams, World Series appearances, etc., looking at the club and ignoring the forest because it’s missing a tree — despite the fact that it’s still arguably one of the five best clubs in baseball.
To be clear, that’s not a comment about the Yankees or their fans as much as it is a comment about the relative dumbness of the average fan of a perennially successful team.

“more World Series championships than any other team in baseball this century”
Paul, you’re the numbers guy, but does 2000 not count any more as this century? If we’re using the same calendar it does. But year. The Sox FO has delivered as many WS as has the Yankee FO.

For me, honestly it’s more about the Yankees not having 5 major league pitchers. Cliff Lee was not only the best pitcher on the market, he was the market. I am ok with missing out on Lee, provided the Yankees can fill the remaining spots in the rotation with Major League pitchers. Ivan Nova and Sergio Mitre not included. I am not spoiled, nor do I believe asking for our 4th and 5th starters not to be named Nova or Mitre is too much to ask.
Martin, Pettitte, Wood and I am a happy man.

The century started Jan. 1, 2001, IH. No year zero. :-) I’m willing to concede that decades as commonly understood start on the even years (hard to say the ’90s don’t include 1990, after all), but I stand firm on centuries. The first hundred years A.D. were 1-100, then 101-200, 201-300 … 1901-2000, 2001-2100, etc.

“The century started Jan. 1, 2001, IH…(hard to say the ’90s don’t include 1990, after all)” So the decade of the 90s was actully 11 years long?? I’m sorry man, but this is really the kind of tit-fot-tat silliness that really is unnecessary and I don’t think we should engage in here. Decades go from 0-9, not 1-10. That’s not something you or I “concede” to one another so much as – you know – reality.

Technically, decades also start with Year 1. The first “decade,” the first 10 years A.D. would have been 1-10. Unless you put a nine-year decade in there, the 1990s are technically 1991-2000 and the first decade of the 21st century is 2001-2010.
But because we label decades based on the last two digits of the years they include — the ’70s, the ’80s, etc. — and because those labels are far more ubiquitous than the fairly rare occurrence when we might be discussing an event in the one year that happens to be mislabeled in the wrong century, it makes sense to just say decades encompass the years 0-9, even though that means we’re short-changing a decade somewhere.
It may be silly, but that’s how I am. It took me a long time to cede the decades battle to the forces of ignorance, and I’m not about to start giving ground on centuries. It has nothing to do with the Yankees, except to the extent that they happened to win in 2000, which is often mistakenly included in the 21st century.
If you want to say the Yanks and Sox have won the same number of titles in the 2000s, that’s fine. Like the decades, I can accept that as a slightly different formulation of a commonly accepted period of 100 years. Just know that if I say “this century” or “the 21st century,” I’m starting where it rightly starts, in 2001.

It is very simple, there was no YEAR ZERO. Hence, everything started at 1. 2001 = first year/decade of the new millenium/century, whatever. I am with you, Paul. This is a huge pet peeve of mine, the assignment of 2000 to this millennium.

Unless you live in reality…are we really going to get into this stupid conversation? Really? Talking about past championships?
Just say the word…and I’m all in.

OK. As long as you also acknowledge that the Yankees won it most recently :o) (I only say that because given recent events I am getting the queasy feeling that I may not be able to in another 1 or 2 years…)

Feel free to talk about championships all you want, krueg. I’m talking about the Julian and Gregorian calendars, which have been used as the basis for western civilization for millennia, and neither include the year 0.

krueg fires the warning shot…I would agree that we stay away. I am honestly surprised that there is real debate on whether 2000 was the start of the 21st century. Seriously Paul and SF. And I honestly would have disputed this regardless of the Yankees, baseball, or whatever. But cool – Paul has come up with the elegant solution: our teams have won equally in the 2000s…

The only people that use this technicality to define a decade are Sox fans trying to somehow chop up history to say that the Sox are better than the Yankees in one, SMALL, specific timeframe.
The entire world celebrated on Jan. 1, 2000 as the start of the new millenium, right? So technically speaking or not, that’s when the 2000’s started to the entire world…besides some SF’s. The year 2000 is considered the “90’s”? Really?
Don’t kowtow IH…he brought it up.

The only people that use this technicality to define a decade are Sox fans trying to somehow chop up history to say that the Sox are better than the Yankees in one, SMALL, specific timeframe
Not for me. This has everything to do with an intellectual pet peeve and nothing to do with baseball for me.

So technically speaking or not, that’s when the 2000’s started to the entire world.
I’m willing to acknowledge that’s when “the 2000s” began, as long as you’re willing to acknowledge that “the 2000s” are not synonymous with “the 21st century.”
I celebrated on Jan. 1, 2000, as well, despite knowing even then that it wasn’t accurate. And that was before the Yankees won the World Series.
And it was acknowledged in some quarters at the time. For example.

“Don’t kowtow IH…he brought it up”
Krueg – I know where you’re coming from and I’ve stated what I view to be a pretty indisputable reality. It’s just that with all the other interesting stuff being discussed here right now, I think this is a really really really dumb waste of time so I’m stepping out of this debate as of now. This particular thread is about what the Yankees do going forward – and I find that much more compelling (not to mention more than a little troubling) than a calendar discussion.

SO with Martin added…shore up the bullpen with Wood, if he is willing to setup for Mo still, grab a journeyman starter and let’s get it on!
By not spending the money, the inevitable disgruntled pitcher around the trade deadline this season could be a perfect fit for us? Money and need depending on how the season turns out to that point…of course if AJ gets it together…this may all by moot.
Man, depending on AJ is not an enviable position to be in. The guys HAS to be embarrassed with how he pitched last year and that HAS to be motivation to have a comeback year for the ages!!!

“…The entire world celebrated on Jan. 1, 2000 as the start of the new millenium, right? So technically speaking or not, that’s when the 2000’s started to the entire world…besides some SF’s. …”
because it’s convenient for the sf’s krueg…more sox spin/propaganda…we had this millenium discussion 100 times already and it always ends up the same way…the only reason the calender referenced by the sox fans doesn’t include a 0 is because there is no roman numeral equivalent to 0, so the yahoos making up the calendar said “f-it, we’ll start with 1…conventional wisdom and the rest of the world’s numerology recognizes values less than 1…sheesh…and yes, it’s also convenient to cherry-pick portions of history to prove a point…guess who the best team was from ’04-’07?…how ’bout the best team in ’09?…see how the game works?…

I very much hope you’re right re: AJ krueg. I can’t say I have high confidence. Or any for that matter. But I agree with your gameplan — journeyman + Wood (+ Pettitte), and let’s go.

I think I remember that same 2000 vs 2001 debate on Seinfeld between Newman and Kramer…
“The guys HAS to be embarrassed with how he pitched last year and that HAS to be motivation to have a comeback year for the ages!!!”
Guys that theory didn’t work on: Kevin Brown, Javier Vazquez, Carl Pavano…I don’t think these guys are motivated by failure, especially not with the money Burnett, Pavano and Brown made or are making. Burnett needs to learn how to pitch, problem is he’s 33. Throwing 95 down the middle of the plate and pouting when the ball ends up in the bleachers ain’t cutting it! I would not take any odds on him having a comeback. What we need from him (sadly enough as he makes a gazillion dollars) is to be a serviceable #4. That’s it. Just be mediocre and earn your GIANT paycheck.

If anything, I would say that under-performing one year adds more pressure to a player the following year to make up for past performance. Especially when there’s the added pressure of playing in New York and dealing with their media.

IH, I should have said “cash” your giant paycheck, as earning it really is next to impossible at this point.
Not that I want this and I can’t believe I am saying it but do you think the Yankees kick the tires on a 1 year deal for Manny? It’s outside the box but what if they moved Gardner to CF, Granderson to LF and platooned Manny in LF with Grandy RHP/LHP…Maybe even spell Swisher a little. I despise Manny, but there is ground that needs to be made up here…

What hole do they plug by landing Manny? I don’t think a big bat is what they need right now. Not to mention that I’m not even sure how big his bat is now anyway. And that’s quite apart from the prospect of Manny patrolling death valley being mildly terrifying to me. They need starting pitching. And youth. Manny brings neither. And he brings a whole lot else that I don’t want anywhere near this team (i.e. quitting when the going gets tough).

From purely the baseball POV, his bat, even if diminished brings some relief to two players that are pretty bad vs lefties. Does the offense need help, probably not, but I am really, really concerned about Swisher and Granderson getting over exposed. Imagine how good Granderson would be if he only played against RHP? Same for Swisher, to a lesser degree though as he’s at least bearable against LHP. It’s definitely not a need, just fodder, that’s all.

I know – but the unintended (and yet, I believe eminently foreseeable) consequences of adding Manny Ramirez to your team seem to me to outweigh and benefit he would bring. I’d feel that way evenif a righty slugger was their biggest need. And I definitely feel that way given that it is not (notwithstanding your good poitns re: Swish and CG’s limitations)

“Guys that theory didn’t work on: Kevin Brown, Javier Vazquez, Carl Pavano…I don’t think these guys are motivated by failure, especially not with the money Burnett, Pavano and Brown made or are making.”
Am I crazy for thinking that AJ has more “talent” than those other guys though??? It’s funny that I of all people would be the one defending AJ…(insert laugh track)…but the way he carried himself last year, while seemingly smug to me at the time, looks more like pride in hindsight. I have to think/hope that the year he had, coupled with Rothschild (who has a PHD in K’s) should lead him to have a much better season? How many times was he up 0-2 on guys, but not be able to put them away? I would say a million. And that’s the reason they got Rothschild…
*fingers crossed*

Re: A.J. Burnett.
There are some problems, I think, with the idea that Burnett just had an off year.
For one, his BABIP was .319, up 17 points from his 2009, yes, but lower than in his very good 2008. So he didn’t get unlucky with hits falling in.
Similarly, his LOB%, the number of baserunners he stranded at the end of an inning, was 68.8 percent, lower than the 75.9 he posted in 2009 — but basically the same as the 70.5 he had in 2009. Which means the sequencing of his hits and outs was not really unlucky either.
Yet his K/9 has cratered, from 9.56 to 9.39 to 8.48 to 6.99. His walk rate, meanwhile, is basically unchanged, from 3.59 to 3.50 to 4.22 to 3.76. So, while, his FIP indicates he was a little unlucky, he wasn’t inordinately so: 4.83 FIP versus 5.26 ERA.
So what happened?
According to Fangraphs, he used his fastball a whole lot more — 69 percent, most since he was with the Marlins, and well above the 66 percent he had in 2010 and 64.7 percent in 2009 — and his curveball a lot less (27.4 percent, versus 31 percent last season). His changeup, which used to make up a not-inconsiderable portion of his pitches (5-10 percent through 2008), has dropped to 3.5 percent.
What’s problematic about that is his fastball in both seasons with the Yankees has been tattooed — 14.3 runs below the average fastball, according to linear weights. His fastball was never incredible, but it always stayed within a -6 to +8 range.
And it’s not hard to see why. Here are Burnett’s fastball velocities by year since 2004, when he began posting 120-inning seasons consistently:
2004 – 95.4
2005 – 95.6
2006 – 94.9
2007 – 95.1
2008 – 94.3
2009 – 94.2
2010 – 93.2
So why get away from the curve? Well, because in 2010 it went from being a +16 pitch (and +13 in 2008-09) to a -3.9 pitch.
Stats can only tell you so much. Did Burnett’s curve look flat this season? I wouldn’t know. I do know that, despite not swinging at more of Burnett’s pitches than normal for his career, batters made contact with more of them than in any other season, fueled mostly by the fact that batters against Burnett made contact on an eye-dropping 63.7 percent of all the out-of-the-strike-zone balls at which they swung, after a previous career high last season of just 51.1 percent.
That seems to indicate a major problem with the curveball not diving far enough away from the strike zone to induce swings and misses — and his swing-and-miss percentage was just 14 percent for the second year in a row, after being at 18 percent in 2007 and 2008.
Is the problem with his curve correctable? I don’t know because I don’t know what’s wrong with it. But even if it is, that velocity drop on the fastball is troubling. Burnett has never been a control artist (hasn’t had a BB/9 below 3.5 since 2006), so getting by with just a fastball is going to get tougher and tougher.

Paul – nice stuff about AJ Burnett. I’d make that a top post, it’s a shame to have that work buried in a comment thread. I can put it up top or if you want to brush it up a little I’d suggest you do it on your own terms.
Good work!

Well, I guess he’s done then. Throw in the towel. The stats say so.
(rolling eyes)
As someone that watched every single game the guy has pitched since he became a Yankee, I don’t need a bunch of stats to tell me that his curveball and off-speed pitches were flat. That led to him throwing more fastballs that were also flat…thus the beatings.
So, as I said, maybe a pitching coach that is known for getting more K’s out of his staff would be able to help AJ improve his breaking pitches, which would then increase the perceived velocity of his fastball. Right? I’m not sure how his average fastball speed dropping less than 2 MPH’s over 6 years is somehow indicative of him losing it? Not to mention, AJ himself has said that not trying to “throw the ball through the wall every pitch” is what has kept him on the mound the last few years. So the drop in average velocity is easily explained as such…

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