(This post was originally published in February 2012. The scariest thing was that a lot of the information in it was from memory. I, of course, consulted different sites for verification to make sure things were correct but overall, numbers, dates and events were burned into my brain. Not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Anyway, I picked it because A.J. Burnett wore #34 from 2009 – 2011 for the Yankees. – Stacey)
When he was signed by the New York Yankees in December 2008, A.J. Burnett was on a high. He just had the best season of his career with the Toronto Blue Jays – winning 18 games – and was a coveted free agent pitcher. Now, it’s three seasons later and those same Yankees are about to trade Burnett to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The writing was on the wall for Burnett after the Yankees made a trade with Seattle for starter Michael Pineda and signed free agent starter Hiroki Kuroda in January. The question that was on everyone’s mind had been “What will the Yankees do with high priced, low performing starter A.J. Burnett?”
In his three full seasons with the Yankees, Burnett has been just a tad below mediocre record-wise with scant flashes of brilliance and with many abysmal outings under his belt.
Since joining the Yankees, Burnett has amassed a 34-35 record. His best year was his first season – 2009 – when he was 13-9 with a 4.04 ERA and helped the Yankees with a big start in Game Two of the World Series. Facing the prospect of heading to Philadelphia in an 0-2 hole, Burnett out-pitched Pedro Martinez to knot the series at one game apiece and helped the Yankees win their 27th Championship.
Unfortunately for Burnett, baseball fans – and especially fans of the New York Yankees – are of the “what have you done for me lately?” mentality. 2009 was a long time ago. What they care about is the recent past and the recent past isn’t very pretty.
The past two seasons for A.J. Burnett have been collectively gruesome with an occasional great start or two thrown into the mix. In those two seasons he’s 21-26 with an ERA north of five.
Also, in each of the past two seasons, Burnett actually started off strong. In 2010, he was 6-2 going into the month of June but then went completely off the rails. He lost his next five decisions and didn’t earn a victory until July 7.
Many people thought the absence of Dave Eiland – the Yankees pitching coach at the time – contributed to Burnett’s losing streak. Eiland requested a leave of absence and was gone from the team for nearly four weeks from June 4 – June 29, 2010.
Burnett fared a little better in July going 3-2 but as the calendar changed to August, his troubles reemerged and he was winless for the month. To be fair, he did suffer one bad luck loss on August 15, 2010. Burnett pitched a complete game, giving up only one run on four hits. Unfortunately for him, his teammates were shut down by a Royals rookie and the Yankees lost the game 1-0.
Between July 28 and October 2, 2010, A.J. Burnett only won two games. Deservedly, he was left off the postseason roster for the first round of the 2010 playoffs – though the Yankees didn’t need more than three starters as they swept the Minnesota Twins three games to none to move onto the 2010 American League Championship Series against the Texas Rangers.
Burnett was added to the pitching rotation for the 2010 ALCS. He was named the Game Four starter much to the chagrin of fans who felt he didn’t deserve the chance to pitch.
For the first five innings of his start, Burnett did all he could to silence his critics. He held to Texas to two runs and seemed to be on the way to a victory. Vlad Guerrero led off the sixth inning with a single which was followed by two outs – a ground out and a fly out. The Yankees then made the decision to intentionally walk David Murphy which set the stage for Benjie Molina. Molina who Yankee fans claimed was a Yankee killer promptly smacked Burnett’s first pitch offering over the wall in left field. The Yankees having been up 3-2 were now in a 5-3 deficit and the good feeling that fans had for Burnett dissipated in one swing.
Burnett’s 2011 season wasn’t much better. Again, he started off well enough, winning his four of his first six decisions.
And his June, while not spectacular was certainly not as dreadful as the previous June. He had a .500 record for the month.
In 2011, Burnett’s troubles began in July. After ending June with a victory over the Milwaukee Brewers, Burnett would not win his next decision until August 15 – ironically, against the Kansas City Royals. It was his first August win as a Yankee – even in his 2009 season, Burnett was winless in August.
In his very next start on August 20 in Minnesota, Burnett only lasted 1.2 innings and was embroiled in the middle of a controversy when his manager Joe Girardi snapped at YES Network’s Jack Curry’s line of questioning. When Burnett was taken out of the game it appeared that he yelled at his manager in the dugout and that Girardi followed him into the tunnel. So when Curry brought it up, Girardi took our his frustration on him. Burnett insisted after the game that he was not yelling at his manager and that he was frustrated with a call by the umpire.
And just when Yankee fans thought that would be the low point of Burnett’s 2011, his next start topped it. On a Friday night in Baltimore, Burnett gave up nine earned runs to the Orioles in five innings. In the bottom of the second inning, the Orioles hit six extra base hits in a row – two home runs which bookended four doubles. The Yankees lost the game 12-5.
Girardi, much to Yankee fans’ astonishment sent Burnett out to face the Boston Red Sox on September 1 – his next scheduled start. They were astonished again when Burnett actually pitched well enough to lead the Yankees to victory. He only lasted five and a third so he didn’t get the decision. He gave up two earned runs on five hits.
His last four games of the season resulted in two no decisions and two victories. The biggest game was his September 25 start against the Red Sox. Burnett lasted seven and two-thirds innings – his longest outing since July 29 – and he held the Sox to two runs on five hits while collecting six strikeouts.
Burnett’s improved September numbers earned him a start in the American League Division Series against the Detroit Tigers and it turned out to be a big one. It was Game Four and with the Yankees down two games to one in the series, it was win or go home.
The bottom of first inning was a tad hairy for Burnett and if it weren’t for a fantastic diving grab by Curtis Granderson to end the inning, the Yankees would have been in at least 3-0 hole before their second time at bat.
Burnett settled down nicely and held the Tigers to one run on four hits. He was taken out of the game in the bottom of the sixth after giving up a single to Austin Jackson. The Yankees were in the lead 4-1 at the time and blew the game open top of the 8th. The final was 10-1 and the Yankees lived to see another day.
Alas, we all know what happened next to the Yankees but for Burnett that start put his postseason record back up over .500.
Another thing we also know is that A.J. Burnett played a big part in helping the Yankees win their 2009 World Series championship. If it weren’t for his performance in Game Two, Philadelphia would have gone back home with a commanding 2-0 lead in the series. Instead, Burnett pitched a great game in a high pressure situation, the Yankees were able to build on that momentum and they captured their 27th championship.
Burnett also played a part in loosening up the somewhat rigid Yankees clubhouse. He – along with another recent acquisition Nick Swisher – helped the players relax and watching that team gel in 2009 was really fun to watch. Burnett’s post walk off celebration pies became must see TV, so much so that the Yankees made it a point to show them on the big screen at the Stadium.
I’ll admit to having a soft spot for A.J. I was one of those pesky people who didn’t root against him and actually wanted him to do well. He was on my favorite team and in order for that team to succeed, he needed to do well. Burnett also seemed like a nice guy so it was hard to watch him unravel so badly at times.
But now, the wild ride is nearly over. We’re about to pull into the station after a three season roller coaster adventure. We’re all out of breath and some of us just want to get off the ride as quickly as possible.
So thanks for the good memories A.J., I wish you success in Pittsburgh.
A.J. Burnett finished 2012 with a 16-10 record and a 3.51 ERA (his lowest since 2005). Pittsburgh ended up missing the playoffs but were a surprise for most of the season before they hit a bit of a wall and couldn’t recover.
Burnett even flirted with a no-hitter on July 31st against the Chicago Cubs, making it into the eighth inning before giving up a hit to pinch hitter Adrian Cardenas. It was the only hit he gave up.