It’s been no secret that the Yankees are looking for pitching. The names that are most often mentioned are CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, and Derek Lowe. Sabathia is a no-brainer. He has great numbers and would only be better as a lefty pitching half his games in Yankee Stadium. Unfortunately for the Yankees, Sabathia has said that he wants to be in the wrong league and on the wrong coast. That’s not to say that the Yankees can’t show him enough money to make him learn to love the AL and the east coast, but since it’s fairly obvious that bringing him in would be a good move, I’m going to focus on the other two. Specifically, today’s topic will be AJ Burnett.
Burnett went 18-10 this year and led the AL with 231 strikeouts. Sounds like a good pitcher, right? Look closer at his numbers. He had a 4.07 ERA and his ERA+ was 105. ERA plus is similar to OPS+ from my previous blog. Burnett’s 105 says that his ERA for this year after being adjusted for the parks he pitched in is 5% better than the league average. That sounds like he was a little lucky to end up at 18-10.
One season doesn’t always give you the full picture though. Burnett has pitched for 10 years and has had 6 seasons in which he had a winning record. Before this season he’s never been more than three games over .500 and he’s never won more than 12 games in a season. He won 12 games twice, but he’s also lost 12 games twice. His career ERA+ is 111, which is not bad, but not great.
Burnett is also somewhat susceptible to giving up the long ball. He was OK this year giving up 19 HRs in 34 starts, but in 2007 he gave up 23 HRs in 25 starts, which is terrible. In 2006 he gave up 14 HRs in 21 starts.
Many will point out that he’s been hurt a lot, so he wasn’t able to get a lot of wins. That’s true, but that’s also a problem. Before this year he’s only had two other seasons in which he’s thrown more than 175 innings (both of his 12-win seasons). Can the Yankees afford to give a large free agent contract to another guy who spends a lot of time on the disabled list?
Being a Yankee fan, I have seen Burnett be very good. In 11 starts against the Yankees he’s 6-3 with a 2.43 ERA while pitching 77.2 innings against the Yankees. The only trouble is that if he’s on the Yankees he won’t get to face their lineup, making his numbers against the rest of the league even worse. To his credit though, in 8 starts against the Red Sox he’s 5-0 with a 2.56 ERA in 56.1 innings. Although it would be nice to get someone who doesn’t lose to the Red Sox, I don’t think he does enough against the rest of the league to make him worth a big money contract with the Yankees.
The Yankees are looking for an ace. To me an ace would be someone who wins at least 15 games while posting an ERA+ of 115. Burnett has never done that in his career. On top of that he’s never pitched for a playoff team during the heat of a pennant race (he was hurt in April of 2003 when the Marlins won the World Series) and has never thrown a single pitch in post-season play.
In short, Burnett has been an above average pitcher who can be very good, but he’s also been inconsistent, unreliable, and is untested in the post-season. That’s not the type pf pitcher the Yankees need to win another World Series, and I hope Brian Cashman doesn’t think so either. (Please come to NY Mr. Sabathia.)