A.J. Burnett has a 3.09 ERA over his last 5 starts. During the course of those 32 innings, he has struck out 37 batters while walking 14. It’s certainly been an impressive way to end the regular season, as Burnett seems to have figured it out at the right time. Even more impressive is that 6 of the 11 ER A.J. gave up were in one inning to Baltimore back on the 12th. If you subtract that one inning from his line, A.J. would have a 1.45 ERA over 31 innings pitched. While this dominance is definitely a good sign prior to the playoffs, one element that truly complicates matters is Jose Molina’s involvement during those 5 starts.
Steve Lombardi (WW) and Ben K. (RAB) have already demarcated the issue. Jose Molina has been there for each of A.J.’s 31 effective innings (and he was there for one very ineffective inning). With A.J. pitching well, it seems as though Joe Girardi will have a tough decision to make once the postseason arrives. Do you start A.J. Burnett with Jose Molina behind the plate or do you throw away the sample and pair up A.J. with Jorge Posada’s bigger bat? Obviously, Molina couldn’t hit a parked car if his life depended on it, however, he and A.J. have been a solid duo and disrupting that could hurt his pitching performance once Detroit rolls into town (yes, I’m calling it). Then again, can you afford to sit Jorge Posada’s bat in the postseason?
This is the problem, yet, I wonder if it’s a legitimate one. According to Jon Heyman, earlier this month, A.J. Burnett studied some videotape and corrected mechanical flaws in his delivery. Bryan Hoch also noted something similar a week ago. While I think Jose Molina makes every pitcher he works with better, could the mechanical adjustments be the real reason we’re seeing a much improved A.J. Burnett?
Remember, A.J.’s August was dreadful (6.03 ERA), meaning that he was likely pitching with a poor delivery during most of that time. Unfortunately for Jorge Posada, he was catching A.J. regularly then. Now, that he’s “fixed” and Molina has been the one catching most of his starts, people are attributing his success to the comfort and guidance he has with Molina rather than taking into account the tweaks in his delivery. We have quickly forgotten that Jorge Posada caught most of A.J.’s starts in June (2.10 ERA) and July (2.43 ERA), and A.J. was stellar during those 2 months. Perhaps we’re being overly apprehensive going into October. It makes sense for us to assume that the Molina-Burnett pairing is the best option, given their recent success (we remember that which is recent), but, if Posada was catching those starts, would Burnett have pitched poorly? I don’t think so, although I maybe giving him too much credit.
The point is, I believe Posada’s bat is far too important to the team to leave it sitting on the bench, only to make an appearance in the later innings of a ballgame (as a pinch-hitter). I think you have to trust that A.J. will have his game together to the point where he can throw to Alex Rodriguez and still pitch effectively. The mechanical adjustments have been made and he is pitching extremely well. That should not be impacted by Posada’s presence behind the dish. If you give A.J. Burnett the ball in game 2 or 3, Jorge has to catch—it’s really that simple.
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