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It's Long Past Time For A.J. Burnett To Lose Rotation Spot

August 5, 2011 - John Whittaker
Quick Yankees fans, name your five most trusted starting pitchers right now.

Don't think about contracts or pedigree. Who do you feel most comfortable starting games in an important series?

For me, the list is C.C. Sabathia, Bartolo Colon, Ivan Nova, Freddy Garcia and Phil Hughes, with or without his 95 mile an hour fastball. Heck, if Andy Pettitte were to walk in off the street right now, he'd be my second or third option on that list, no disrespect to El Burrito Grande and the rest of the guys.

Notice who's missing from that list? That's right — I've got no room right now for the Yankees lanky, tattooed (both his body and his fastball) and increasingly mediocre A.J. Burnett. After Wednesday's 4.2-inning, 7-run outing against the offensively challenged White Sox in which Russell Martin was more upset by Burnett not making it through five innings than Burnett was, I think it's time for Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman to face up to the fact that Burnett is just the latest in a long line of overpriced pitchers who just make bad Yankees.

Much like Javier Vazquez, Ed Whitson, Kenny Rogers and Jeff Weaver before him, Burnett's game just doesn't fit what the Yankees need. Unfortunately, Burnett is owed $5 million for the rest of the 2011 season and a combined $33 million for 2012 and 2013 — meaning we fans have to continue watching this overpaid weenie throw cement-mixer curveballs and groove middle of the plate fastballs while getting killed against a lineup that couldn't start for the Bad News Bears (in other words, the White Sox couldn't hit swat a bee in their living room).

The real kicker, for me at least, is this: it's been obvious to me for three seasons now that Burnett needs a dependable third pitch. His fastball command is horrible. His curveball is a nice pitch, but it's easily distinguishable from his fastball. When he got off to a good start this year, everybody said it was because of his newly-found changeup. Now, the change is nowhere to be seen. He allegedly can throw a slider, but it's about as dependable as a 1976 Ford Pinto. Burnett needs to be more than a fastball/curveball pitcher to be successful, a fact he had in common with Ivan Nova until about two weeks ago.

Nova was able to win eight games this year with two pitches — a fastball and a curveball. When he got sent back to the minor leagues to make room for Phil Hughes, Nova didn't go down and sulk. He dedicated himself to getting better and returning to the big leagues — both by pitching well and adding a new weapon. Against the White Sox, Nova showed off a very nice, tight slider that looks like his fastball coming out of his hand yet has a nice downward tilt and a 10 mile an hour difference from the fastball. The White Sox, who apparently were going off the scouting report from May, looked at Nova's slider like a fat kid looking at a treadmill or me looking at an algebra textbook.

Why, pray tell, can't Burnett come up with a third pitch when Nova can do it in about a month? Why can't Burnett get it through his thick skull that his fastball has lost a few miles an hour from 2009? He can't overpower anyone anymore — and if that fact wasn't readily apparent against the White Sox, a team whose cleanup hitter is batting a robust .167, then Burnett will never learn.

Hell, he's the $40 million man for the next two and a half years without making any adjustments. Burnett could sit on the mound naked eating a cheeseburger and still get his money. There's no incentive to improve. Looking back to the aftermath of Wednesday's start, we see Russell Martin answering questions after the Yankees 18-7 win and really beating himself up for not getting Burnett through 5 innings to get a win. Martin was genuinely upset for not finding a way to get a struggling pitcher back on track.

"I was disappointed in myself that I couldn't get him through five innings with that lead," Martin said. "He's the one throwing the ball, I know, but that's why I'm not smiling that much now, because I kinda felt if there was any game to get him a win and get him back on track, this was it."

In the same locker room, Burnett gave the same interview we've heard 345 times in the last three seasons — I've got to be better. I'll make some adjustments and be ready to go. I just didn't have my good stuff out there tonight, but it'll get better. I wanted to get taken out so I could get another tattoo. (Only one of those sentences hasn't been uttered at least once in the past few years. I'll let the readers figure out that puzzle). What really ticked me off was Burnett saying that there were some predictable pitch sequences that the White Sox took advantage of.

I was half asleep during the postgame press conferences on Wednesday, but Wallace Mathews of picked up on it, too — "In the meantime, he laid the groundwork for the next Yankees controversy when he tried to blame some of his failure on "some [predictable] pitch sequences," which is a subtle way of blaming his catcher," Wallace wrote on on Thursday morning.

Gigga what? Run that back for me A.J. Back that truck back up to the entrance ramp of the Stupidity Superhighway. What part of you throw the pitches are you not comprehending, you meathead? You've only got two pitches to choose from, and you have no damned clue where the ball's going. It doesn't matter who the catcher is for A.J. Burnett — the fact of the matter is he can't hit the broad side of the Empire State Building consistently and he has only two pitches that he cares to throw in any given situation. Russell Martin might as well use the Bat Signal behind home plate when Burnett's pitching — he'd have as good a chance of Batman showing up as Burnett executing the pitch he's calling. I don't mean to get off on a rant here, but Nuke LaLoosh and Wild Thing Vaughn would be better alternatives for the Yankees at this point — at least they provide comedic value and had problems you could fix wtih women's underwear and new glasses. Burnett, at this point, is unfixable.

The Yankees should pull him from the rotation and make him the mop-up reliever. Hector Noesi deserves to throw more high-leverage innings than Burnett does for the rest of the season. Take salaries out of the equation, and there should be little debate that Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova should be making regular turns in the rotation over Burnett, too.

But, with the gross domestic product of Bolivia remaining on Burnett's contract, he'll take his regular turn in the Yankees' rotation in the middle of a penant race while better options sit in AAA, waiting for their turn.

At least he won't be pitching against the Red Sox this weekend.


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