Throughout a Baseball season, story lines inevitably emerge. Some reflect the human element of the game, the personal relationships both good and bad between players and coaches, the inner struggles players face during slumps and the mental aspect of the game. Then again, others are just lame excuses in a desperate search to find some meaning in the vagaries of Baseball or the fundamental nature of a player’s abilities.
In recent days, we’ve seen story after story making the case that AJ Burnett’s recent slump has something to do with his pitching coach’s leave of absence from the team. It coincides perfectly with Eiland’s departure, so therefore it must be the reason. I use the word “coincide” for a reason, because I think its pure coincidence. Smart Baseball fans know that correlation is not causation, and the fact of the matter is AJ has had these slumps many, many times in the past, both with and without Eiland as his coach.
AJ had two of these slumps last year with Dave Eiland around. From April 25th thru May 12th he allowed 20 ER in 23.2 IP. From August 22nd thru September 12th he allowed 25 ER in 29.1 IP. The prior season in Toronto (one of his best seasons) he allowed 18 ER in just 14.1 IP across a 3 start stretch from June 7th through 19th. In 2005, he allowed 15 ER in just 12.1 IP across a 3 start stretch from August 29th thru September 9th. Burnett is currently in the midst of a doozy, where he’s given up 23 ER in his last 20 IP, but stretches like this have happened in just about every full season he’s pitched in the bigs. Both before, during and after his time with Eiland as his pitching coach. I guess Burnett has missed Eiland since 2005.
It’s not his foot either. He said his foot is fine, and was even seen with a drenched shirt after running before last night’s game. In any case, his slump started before anything ever happened with his foot. The reality is that this is simply who he is as a pitcher. He has no 3rd pitch, so when one of his pitches isn’t working there is no plan B. He’s naked out there on the mound, hitters can simply sit on one pitch and zone it. When his stuff is working and/or he’s locating, he doesn’t need a 3rd pitch because both his fastball and curve can be unhittable. The two pitch stuff is also a bit misleading, he throws the 2-seamer and 4 seamer with the fastball, and has a hard and slow version of the curve.
To his credit, Burnett himself hasn’t looked for any scapegoats other than himself. Here’s what he said after getting pummeled on Monday night:
“I don’t feel like myself,” Burnett said. “I’m not having fun right now. I mean, who would in a stretch like this? The game’s supposed to be fun. When you come out and take the air out of your team right away for a handful of starts, it gets quite frustrating. I’m going to keep plugging away. That’s who I am. It’s just a matter of getting on a roll.”
“Not having him here is a big loss for all of us, but I’m not going to point any fingers or make excuses at all,” Burnett said. “I’m out there throwing pitches, whether Dave’s in the dugout or not. He’s corrected me enough where I should have a memory of what Dave says. I’m a man, I’m a professional athlete who’s got a big contract, who’s here for a reason, and there’s not a reason why you shouldn’t be able to do that on your own.”
Glad to see that AJ isn’t buying into any of this. One thing you can always say about AJ, he always takes full responsibility for his performances with the press. He’s actually such a good guy that I think people look to make excuses for him.
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