All the New York Yankees news the past week or so has been about Derek Jeter and his new deal. How much will Jeter “settle” for and will the Yankees come up from their three-year, $45 million deal. Also, some Mariano Rivera news has popped up. Will the Yankees give him a two-year deal?
But one big story a couple weeks ago was the hiring of new Yankee pitching coach, Larry Rothschild. His big job would need to be “fixing” A.J. Burnett, a bad pitcher locked into an $82.5 million body.
Larry Rothschild really has his work cut out for him.
Tons of articles about how Rothschild needs to find out what is wrong with A.J. Burnett, identify those faults (which are many) and “fix” A.J. Burnett’s mechanics.
That is going to be very difficult.
You see, Burnett is entering the third year of a five-year contract which is paying him $16.5 million per year. Chump change for most of us, but real money to Burnett.
Burnett is also going to be 34 years old in 2011, has a dozen seasons of pitching in the major leagues on his ledger and has thrown 1,770 major league innings. Rothschild has pitched a total of 8.1 innings during his major league career.
Do you really think Burnett is going to scrap the way he has pitched for more than 12 seasons to go along with a guy who doesn’t have enough innings for even one complete game?
I don’t think so, because even though A.J. is deemed “a good guy” by most of the Yankee beat writers, I see Burnett as a guy who cares only about himself.
Burnett has had his share of incidents with the teams he has played. First, he was kicked off the Florida Marlins team in September 2005 for detrimental comments about the manager, Jack McKeon, and the organization.
He was kicked off the team! The Marlins said, “Get lost, we don’t want you around here anymore!”
Burnett also showed up one day this season with a black eye. No one has said what happened, but I would not be surprised if Burnett popped off to someone in the locker room (Jorge Posada?) who took matters into his own fists… I mean, hands.
As I wrote in the past, I would have stayed far away form A.J. Burnett two winters ago. He showed to have a bad attitude and only performed well in arbitration and his walk years. I even had a huge discussion about it on 1050 NY ESPN radio host Michael Kay. His last comment was “that is who the Yankees really want.”
The Yankees should have passed on Burnett. When you look into Burnett’s career, he really hasn’t had one dominant season, not even a few really good seasons. He has always gotten by on the fact that he “has great stuff.” But when you can’t get hitters out on a consistent basis, you don’t have great stuff.
Even Burnett’s “good” 2008 season in Toronto, he was 5-1 with a 2.05 ERA against the Yankees and Boston Red Sox, but only 13-9 with a 4.93 ERA in all other games. Typical Burnett of pitching well in a walk year against two rivals, but not doing well otherwise.
Now Larry Rothschild will be looked upon to save the big (black eye) guy. While it is somewhat easy to recognize pitching faults and work with the pitcher to correct them, it is much more difficult to get past the pitcher’s mental faults.
Burnett has many mental faults and it will be tough to get him to change those to become more confident and to concentrate more on each pitch.
Physical faults can be corrected.
The biggest issue is that Burnett does not have command of his fastball. How many times do you watch a game and the Yankee catcher is set up on one corner or the other and Burnett throws a fat pitch right down the middle?
Too many times. And when the ball does not travel over the middle, it usually misses way outside or way inside, often hitting the batter. In fact, Burnett led the major league in hit batsmen in 2010 with 19.
No control with or command of the fastball, which is always what you hear manager Joe Girardi say after bad Burnett outings. Burnett’s pitches move too much.
Easiest thing to do to “fix” Burnett is to have him throw his fastball right down the middle. They can first test A.J. to see if maybe he has his A game and can hit the corners. But that rarely happens so move to Plan B is needed.
Since Burnett can not hit a corner on a consistent basis, the thing to do is have the catcher set up for fastballs right over the middle of the plate—every fastball, every time. Then, when A.J. has his movement going, or he is not concentrating, the pitches he throws to the glove will miss to either side and be near or right on the corners.
Tough for hitters to take those pitches and even tougher for them to hit.
We used to do this in college with high velocity guys who could not locate and Davey Johnson convinced this was the way to go with Sid Fernandez back in the 1980s. El Sid was a really good pitcher for the New York Mets during their heyday, allowing precious few hits but tons of free passes.
This tactic couldn’t be any worse than how A.J. performed in 2010. Throwing the ball down the middle could only be better, but the Yankees would never do something as simple as that.
In 2010, A.J. has had his worst statistical season as a full time starting pitcher. Worst strike out rate, worst WHIP, worst HR rate, worst ERA and almost worst walk rate.
That has to be a really bad FIP.
So they will attempt to “fix” Burnett’s mechanics.
Let me help out the new pitching coach with identifying Burnett’s mechanical issues.
Burnett uses a big hip turn where he shows the number of his uniform and his back pocket to the hitter. No need for this as it does two things. This provides no benefit to velocity and actually pulls Burnett away from the forward momentum he should be delivering directly to the plate.
What this big backwards hip turn does is reduce his velocity by creating excess movement during the delivery. Velocity has nothing to do with the strength of your arm, but the power of your core including a powerful hip turn after the front foot lands.
The big hip turn will also usually cause the lead leg to swing out and straighten when the lead leg should remain in a bent position. It is not good when the front leg acts like a swinging gate. As I said earlier, a big turn of the hips is good after the front leg lands, not before it.
A swinging gate front leg often causes the landing foot to plant in different spots, away from the mid-line to home plate, causing the aforementioned reduced velocity and any concept of control of his pitches
Add in the fact that Burnett does not concentrate on every pitch and that is a recipe for disaster. A disaster which turned out to be his 2010 season.
Repeating mechanics is very difficult for Burnett because of so much movement and lack of concentration. Similar to what Dontrelle Willis has been going through since, well, forever.
First step to “fix” Burnett is to eliminate his aggressive backward hip turn and have him bring the lead leg up, down and out. Eliminating all the excess backward movement will increase Burnett’s velocity and improve his control.
As I mentioned earlier, the toughest thing for Rothschild to “fix” is Burnett’s mound demeanor and concentration. Burnett doesn’t seem like he really cares out on the mound. Several pitches in a row look good, then four hits and two walks later, the Yanks are down by three.
Only thing which works on the mental aspect is to treat the player like a child. Take things away, like his spot in the rotation. But that will never happen with all that money being paid to Burnett.
I can’t see Burnett listening much to what Rothschild says. If Burnett proves me incorrect, then it would be great all around for Yankee fans, but I just don’t see it based upon his track record of individualism.
You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.
Best thing for the organization is to try and work a trade for A.J., eat lots of cash and let a young kid from the system take his spot. Get rid of the black cloud of having pressure on Rothschild to “fix” Burnett and having constant questions after every one of Burnett’s bad starts.
With Andy Pettitte looking like he will return for one more season and the almost certainty of signing Cliff Lee, the Yankees can afford to take a hit by trading Burnett (limited no trade clause) and using a kid (Ivan Nova, David Phelps?) as the fifth starter.
They couldn’t do any worse than the 10-15, 5.26 ERA and 1.511 WHIP Burnett put up last season.
Biggest way to fix Burnett is to not have him around anymore.