Of course, the process of getting to that momentous point wasn’t exactly pretty. After striking out eight batters through the first four frames while allowing just one earned run — a solo blast to Chris Pamelee of all players — A.J. Burnett began laying the foundation for another meltdown in the fifth inning.
Trevor Plouffe singled to centerfield and was immediately brought home on a Michael Cuddyer blast (bringing the score to 5-3). Chris Pamelee followed up with another hit in the next at bat (a double to center). Joe Girardi promptly dropped the curtains and gave the figurative hook to Burnett’s day in preference of reliever, Cory Wade. Of course, this didn’t sit well with the beleaguered veteran.
When approached during the postgame interview, A.J. responded, “I didn’t get through the fifth because I wasn’t allowed through the fifth.” Burnett continued, “It wasn’t that I couldn’t get through the fifth. No matter who says what or whatever, I got confidence in myself and that’s all that matters.” Burnett also remarked, “Heaven forbid I give up a couple of hits. You do what you can to get your team the [win], I guess.”
As I try to empathize with Burnett, I remember that like every other person on the planet, he is prideful too. Burnett has had success in The Show in the past, and certainly expects similar success going forward (even when all indications suggest otherwise). No one likes to admit declining abilities. Burnett certainly won’t be the first (or the last) professional baseball player in the world to maintain confidence in himself during times of adversity. Similarly, he wouldn’t be the first player to vocalize frustration with a manager’s assessment. For what it’s worth, his comments weren’t nearly as bad as they could have been either.
That said, I can’t help but remain somewhat aghast with his decision to publicize his discontent to the media. Unless Burnett is utterly delusional, he has to know that his record — which I imagine is something that many pitchers including him are still very preoccupied with — is a less-than-stellar 10-11. His ERA, which I’m sure he is also aware of, has inflated all the way to 5.28 which is actually worse than last year’s mark (his 2011 4.73 FIP also leaves much to be desired). Of course, this all comes at a time when the Yankees are knee deep in their attempt to acquire another postseason berth and perhaps even another divisional title.
While I can’t speak for A.J., I’d figure that he’s aware of how his “stuff” has held up this season. After striking out eight, A.J. could very well have had optimism in his strikeout ability (8.24 K/9 rate this season) in the bottom of the fifth with runners on. That said, the Twins, who are mostly composed of AAA guys at this point had already managed nine(!) hits. A.J. has never been a master of mitigating walks and this year (4.00 BB/9) is no different. Regardless of the number of whiffs, they were seeing his pitches decently.
Although the score doesn’t entirely reflect his apparent pitch deterioration, statistics show us that that his fastball has reached an all time low in terms of effectiveness (-30.5 wFB) leaving him with only a curveball that ranks positively. I believe A.J. realizes this — even if it’s at a subconscious level — as he’s elected to throw the fastball only 55.9% of the time which is the lowest amount of his career. However, it’s far easier (and probably more likely) that he’s aware of the radar gun showing a slow, albeit steady, decline in velocity over the years (this year his fastball averages 92.7 miles per hour compared to a career 94.3).
Now, in fairness A.J.’s response to the media was fairly reactionary. If he was feeling confrontational enough to call out Girardi, he probably wasn’t considering all the various points that contradict his viewpoint. I respect the fact that Burnett is confident in himself, willing to accept accountability, and is really striving to live up to what has been a fairly egregious contract. That said, there is no excuse for not keeping those sentiments in house.
He could have just as easily replied, “I could have probably gone longer, but the most important thing was that our team got the ‘W’”. Something as simple as that would have left him looking a lot better in the public’s eye (as well as with his teammates), would have been honest, and would have still allowed him to express his concern in the appropriate forum. Frankly, if A.J. wants more of a leash, he needs to stop being awful. Until then, Girardi is well within the realm of reason to view his struggles dubiously. For the sake of the team, he owes it to the club to not undermine the manager.
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