Monday, September 6, 2010

A.J. Burnett and Why "The Year of the Pitcher" is Not for Everyone

I. Brutal Burnett Starts on Baseball's Best Team

Watching A.J. Burnett pitch is one of the most difficult things I do in my daily routine. It takes supreme effort and concentration not to drive to Yankee Stadium myself and physically remove him from the ballgame. Whether it is the fact that he kills the bullpen in his starts, or the fact that only time he ever throws a strike is on pitches right down the heart of the plate, Burnett is the Yankees most infuriating everyday player (Well, either him, Joba Chamberlain or Javier Vazquez. Hey they're all pitchers!). Burnett has somehow managed to go 10-12 on a baseball team that has the best record his baseball. He leads the majors in hit by pitches and has an ugly 5.15 ERA. Out of 27 starts, only 13 can be considered "quality starts" (6 innings of 3 runs or less). The Yankees are 12-15 when he pitches. When Sports Illustrated had their July 5th issue first bring about the topic of "The Year of the Pitcher", Burnett was nowhere to be found. If the "Year of the Pitcher" was the Godfather 2, Burnett would be Talia Shire. God, I am getting mean right now, so I will stop while I am ahead. Maybe Burnett will pitch halfway decent in this year's playoffs. But then again, he was awful in the 2009 playoffs, his only postseason experience. So maybe not.

You may say, "Burnett is just one guy, in the grand scheme of things, the Year of the Pitcher is still alive and well and flourishing and kicking ass". Well that may be the case, but just for some. Burnett is the starting pitcher on the most high-profile sports team in North America. He gets run support almost everytime out there. But the fact that he struggles means that the Year of the Pitcher is not a universal title, and that is what this article will try to prove.

II. Where's the Team Success in All This?

The one big misnomer in all this "Best-Pitching-Season-Since-1967" talk is the lack of team success that the seemingly elite pitchers are having. Disregarding C.C. Sabathia (the Yankees good pitcher with initials as their first name), team success has been down for baseball's elite pitchers.

Josh Johnson: 11-6, 2.30 ERA. Team is 15-13 in his starts.

Ubaldo Jiminez: 17-6, 2.69 ERA. Team is 19-8 in his starts

Roy Halladay: 17-10, 2.36 ERA. Team is 18-11 in his starts

Tim Lincecum: 12-9, 3.68 ERA. Team is 17-11 in his starts.

Felix Hernandez: 10-10, 2.38 ERA. Team is 14-15 in his starts.

Obviously the two big ones there are Johnson and Hernandez. Even though the two of them have two of the best ERA's in baseball, their team records in their starts combined is 29-28, which is not very good. Ultimately, their phenomenal ERA and strikeouts mean nothing in the total team picture. It's kind of like Johnny Depp in those Pirates of the Caribbean movies. He does all he can to make those movies decent, and they are still mediocre at best. He puts up great numbers, but the overall product is "eh". I like to akin Depp to Felix Hernandez this season. ESPN's Buster Olney said Hernandez should be this season's AL Cy Young Winner. A guy whose team is sub-.500 in his starts should not win the Cy Young. He should be mentioned, sure, make him feel special. But he should not win if the overall product is not somewhat decent. It is like when Depp was nominated for Best Actor in 2003 for the first Pirates of the Caribbean. He had no chance of winning, but it was nice to mentioned.

Isn't the point of being a good pitcher is to help your team win? Isn't that the point of baseball. You are not paid to have a nice WHIP, you are paid to help your team win. The object of baseball is to score more runs than the opponent. If you are a pitcher with a record like Felix's, in my opinion, you have no business being in the discussion for Cy Young. How can you be considered the best pitcher in baseball if you only have 10 wins?

If the team is not succeeding even if you are doing well, it means nothing. Absolutely nothing. Ask of either of the two I just mentioned, and they would rather be in Burnett's position. Okay, maybe do a little better than Burnett, but I digress.

III. High Caliber Struggling

This has definitely not been the Year of the Pitcher (You know what I am sick of writing that out, it will be now known as "Y.O.P."), for one Tim Lincecum. The 2-time reigning Cy Young winner is having the worst season of his professional career in a season where many are having their best. Lincecum is 12-9 with an astronomical 3.68 ERA. In August, Lincecum had a month pitchers have nightmares about. His starts went like this:

Aug 5: (2-3 L v. ATL) 6.1 IP, 3 ER, 7 SO, 104 pitches

Aug 10: (6-8 L v. CHC) 4.0 IP, 6 ER, 4 SO, 89 pitches
Aug 15: (2-8 L v. SD) 3.2 IP, 5 ER, 6 SO, 93 pitches

Aug 21: (1-5 L v. STL) 5.1 IP, 4 ER, 4 SO, 91 pitches

Aug 27: (0-6 L v. ARI) 6.0 IP, 4 ER, 6 so, 105 pitches

Lincecum saw his ERA jump up .65 points, and he went 0-5 in the month of August. Now, Lincecum was able to rebound from this horrid month with a decent first start in September, pitching 8 innings of 1 run ball in a win over the Rockies, but Lincecum has had a subpar year all-around. As one of the elite pitchers in baseball, Lincecum is faltering. But why? One of the main reasons people bring up is his strange throwing motion may finally be coming back to haunt him, but I am not sure that is the case. He throws over 90 pitches almost everytime he throws, but he throws them all in a short amount of innings, putting up Phil Hughes-esque pitches to innings ratios. My guess is that maybe hitters have figured him out. It is his fourth season in the league, maybe hitters are catching on to him. That has to seem like the most logical explanation, right?

You may say that Tim Lincecum is the only example you give, what are you trying to pull. The point is I do not need anymore examples other than Lincecum, considered the best pitcher in the National League two seasons in a row. If you really want another example, look at John Lackey and Josh Beckett in Boston, doing their best to kill Red Sox fans souls everytime they pitch. Johan Santana is only 11-9 this season, and while that is due to lack of run support, he does not generate that "Ace" pitching buzz anymore when he steps on the hill. That role may have been relegated to, God forbid, R.A. Dickey. (There is a disturbing trend in this article today that includes pitchers with initials for first names.)

IV. Faltering Since the All-Star Break

Well maybe not the All-Star break, but since the Sports Illustrated July 5th issue came out. But All-Star Break sounded better. Let's use the three "cover boys" from that issue as examples.

Ubaldo Jiminez has gone 7-5 and has seen his ERA go up 1.91 points.
Josh Johnson has gone 5-4 and has seen his ERA go up .20 points.

Roy Halladay has gone 9-7 and has seen his ERA go up .33 points.

The three have gone a combined 21-16 since the issue came out and all three have seen an increase in ERA. The reason? The hitters are getting back in the swing of things. Get it? The swing? Nevermind. Let's use the NL as an example. Since July 1, the NL has seen a sharp increase in Home runs, OBP, Slugging percentage, and total bases per month. The NL is where most of the dominant pitchers hail from, and where all 3 of the July 5 cover boys play. It looks like the majority of hitters were having Mark Teixeria like starts to the season, where they could not hit anything. Now, it looks like balance has been restored back in the game.

V. Conclusion

Calling this the Y.O.P. was wrong from the start, as there is only one Y.O.P., and that is 1968. Look at the batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage splits from the two.

2010: .259/.327/.405

1968: .237/.299/.340

1968 looks like Yuniskey Betancourt, while 2010 is just Raul Ibanez. But there is no doubt about it, this is one of the best pitching seasons in years, due to the lack of performance-enhancing drugs. Or maybe the players aren't trying hard enough, I'm not sure. I am just saying the Y.O.P. may just be overhyped. When you look at a guy like A.J. Burnett, no way is he having his best ever year. Some guys may have good numbers, but that does not necessarily translate to team success. Tim Lincecum is having one of his worst professional seasons. And since that SI issue, the numbers of the three cover boys have all decreased dramatically. I am just trying to say that it hasn't been no-hitters and perfect games for everybody.

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