Friday, January 20, 2012

Assessing the Value of AJ Burnett

Burnett's reaction after giving up a home run to Bengie
Molina in the 2010 ALCS
AJ Burnett has always been a point of controversy in Yankee Land. Most fans are frustrated with his lack of consistency over the past two years and want to trade him or outright dump him and his salary. Let's face it, Burnett is a shell of his former self. He is a two-pitch pitcher who is all too inconsistent. In 2010, he saw a minor drop in velocity. One would think that if a pitcher loses 1-2 MPH off his fastball, it is no big deal. That's not the case with Burnett. Being a two-pitch pitcher makes it more difficult for him to adapt. Players know that they will get one of two pitches, and they can sense a fastball that contains less velocity when it is thrown. He is a very streaky starter. He has bad months that cause his ERA to inflate. Without certain months added to the ERA, he is a league-average pitcher. What entices you is his ability to throw a no-hitter every time he steps on the mound. He has, when right, a filthy curveball that looks appealing to hitters and usually ends up in the dirt and with the batter looking like a fool. Burnett also consistently eats innings for the Yankees year in and year out and makes all of his starts. He pitches 200 innings every year and gives the Yankees a chance to win in a rare occasion. He has stepped up when he was needed. The 2009 World Series comes to mind where he went 1-1, but the game he won was spectacular and gave the Yankees the edge in the remainder of the Series. Last year, with the Yankees being on the brink of elimination in game four of the ALDS against the Tigers, Burnett stepped up and delivered 5.2 innings of one-run ball. We know that Burnett is VERY inconsistent, but he shows us why we are all eager to watch his next start to possibly witness a no-hitter.

Moving forward, Burnett has $33 million remaining for two years on his Yankee contract. The Yankees have a boatload of front-line starters not named AJ Burnett. Is it a possibility that he gets traded before the start of the season? Very unlikely. Teams do not want to be responsible for his salary and the Yankees do not want to pay the majority of it for a different team. The Yankees would rather have him on the team, knowing that he is an innings-eater. That is perhaps the only value that Burnett has right now, and it only means something to the Yankees because they are paying him to eat those innings and to have a great start now and again.

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