Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Theory a Day or Throw A. J. Burnett Away?

Everyone has a theory as to why A.J. Burnett just can't get himself to succeed. We've been told so many times that he has "filthy" stuff that most are cynical when that line is trotted out again. Some say he has concentration lapses and some say that his emotions get in the way when things aren't going well. For this post, this writer wanted to test a couple of his own observations. One is that he doesn't finish off a batter when he is ahead in the count and the other observation is that he can't close out an inning when he has two outs. Have the eyes failed the stat test again?

Yes and no. The obvious point is that Burnett hasn't been what the Yankees hoped for when they gave him all those dollars on the heels of the Sabathia deal before the start of the 2009 season. Oh, that first year he was pretty good and finished 2009 with an ERA+ of 114 and went 13-9. But hidden in that season was the fact that he earned a little over $11 million that season when the Yankees paid him $16.5 million. And of course he was brutal last year when his overall worth was in the negative numbers at -0.5. That means that the Yankees threw the entire $16.5 million down the rabbit hole.

This year, Burnett is a .500 pitcher with an ERA+ of 98. That's hardly what you'd want from your supposed number two guy in the rotation. But this writer's observation that he can't finish batters off is not accurate. He has excellent numbers when he is ahead in the count by either 0-2 or 1-2. When he gets a batter to 0-2, he only gives up a .362 OPS. And his OPS against is .532 after a 1-2 count. So, obviously, that observation is all wet. It just always seemed that he couldn't put a batter away. Interestingly enough though, if Burnett gets the count to 2-2, a count that should still be in his favor, there is a more than one in six chance he'll walk the batter and his strikeout to walk ratio dives on that count.

But the observation that he can't finish out an inning is dead on. A.J. Burnett has the highest OPS against when he has two outs. In fact his OPS against is 53 points higher than when he has no outs and 61 points higher than when he has one out.  Burnett has given up only three homers when there is no outs, six homers when there is one out and nine homers when there are two outs. Plus, he walks more batters when there are two outs. Why is that?

The other thing that drives Yankee fans crazy about A.J. Burnett is that he simple refuses to protect a lead. When Burnett is ahead in the game, his OPS against is .929. In other words, when Burnett gets a lead, every batter becomes a Robinson Cano. Fourteen of his eighteen homers have been given up when his team is ahead. If that isn't enough to drive you crazy, who knows what is. Let's put it another way: A.J. Burnett has had a lead in the game eighteen times this season in his twenty-one starts and he has only won eight of those games.

Think about that for a moment. He's had the lead in eighteen of his twenty-one starts! And he's won less than half of those games. Wouldn't Doug Fister and Dustin Moseley love to have that opportunity? That statistic alone shows you why A.J. Burnett is the most frustrating pitcher in baseball. When you think he's going to have a good inning and he gets two outs, it blows up. When he has a lead and you think his team has a good chance to win, the lead blows up ten out of eighteen times. That's astounding.

Who knows what the answers are for Burnett. He sure looks like he has good "stuff" when he pitches, but if that doesn't translates to wins, then it's like being a talented writer who can't spell and has no spell checker. It used to be, "Spahn and Sain and pray for rain." Now it's, "Sabathia and then we'll pray for ya."


Charles Simone said...

Here's a question (that I don't know the answer to): When the statistics say a pitcher has a .362 OPS-against when the count is 0-2, does this only include outcomes that result from the 0-2 pitch?

William Tasker - Caribou, ME said...

Great question. There are actually two different stats. One is the results of when a pitch is put into play on a 0-2 count and the other (the one I used) is the result of plate appearance after a pitcher gets to an 0-2 count. The first means the either the ball is put into play or an out occurs on the 0-2 pitch itself and the second could happen on any pitch after the pitcher obtains an 0-2 count.