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Entries in A.J. Burnett (15)

Tuesday
Oct042011

Yankees' Season May Ride on Burnett's Fastball

Facing elimination in Detroit tonight, Yankees manager Joe Girardi reluctantly hands the ball to A.J. Burnett. The much-maligned Burnett wasn't supposed to make a start in this series, but a Game One rainstorm that eliminated an off-day after Game Two foiled those plans. Now, the fate of the Yankees' season may rest on whether the right-hander can avoid getting taken deep on his fastball.

During the regular season, Burnett had a huge discrepancy between his ERA (5.15) and his xFIP (3.86), which estimates a pitcher's ERA based on strikeouts, walks and a regressed home run per fly ball rate. He struck out plenty of hitters (8.2 per nine innings pitched) and showed so-so control (3.9 BB/9), but he coughed up 1.5 homers per nine innings pitched. There's some degree of bad luck involved when a guy surrenders a big fly 17 percent of the time that batters hit a fly ball -- Burnett's career HR/FB% is 11.3 -- but badly-placed fastballs are big concern.

Opponents have swatted 23 home runs on Burnett fastballs this season, and have a .593 slugging percentage against the pitch that is 161 points above the league average. Among starters, only Ross Ohlendorf, Armando Galarraga, Brian Matusz, Kyle Davies, Edinson Volquez, Esmil Rogers and Barry Zito saw their fastballs get scorched more often. Many of Burnett's fastballs have been thrown at or above the belt:

Location of Burnett's fastball, 2011

Nearly 70 percent of Burnett's fastballs have been thrown to the middle or high portion of the zone (distributed about equally), and 21 of his fastball home runs given up have come in those locations. Belt-high fastballs are a no-no for most every pitcher, but Burnett isn't fooling hitters when he challenges them up in the zone. His miss rate with high fastballs is just 12 percent, compared to the 21 percent league average. Unless Burnett pounds hitters are the knees, he gets hammered:

Opponent slugging percentage vs. Burnett's fastball by pitch location

High: .617 (.380 league average)

Middle: .670 (.472 league average)

Low: .380 (.407 league average)

Odds are, Burnett (and his fastball) isn't as bad as his ERA suggests. But don't expect Girardi to stick with him in a jam tonight. Girardi told reporters, "I could have a very short leash (on him)." Given New York's strong back of the bullpen and Burnett's propensity to tire -- his OPS the first time through the order is two percent better than the league average, but it's 20 percent worse the second time and 42 percent worse the third time through -- it's the right call. Before then, Girardi and the Yankees will have to hope that Burnett can keep the ball down in spacious Comerica Park.

 

Friday
Sep022011

Burnett Gets Down

A.J. Burnett of the New York Yankees allowed the Red Sox just two runs in 5 1/3 innings, the first time in two months that he allowed less than three runs in an outing.  Burnett's problem this season come from throwing the ball down the middle of the plate:

A.J. Burnett, pitch frequency, 2011 season through August.Note the big red blob right down the pipe.  Going into his last start, Burnett stated he wanted to get his pitches down.  One pitch that often ended in the middle of the plate was his sinker, a pitch that really should go out of the strike zone.  He got that pitch down Thursday night.

A.J. Burnett, pitch frequency on sinker. 2011 Thru August on the left, Sept 1 on the right.

A.J. threw the pitch with more consistent downward movement, and even managed to make it dart left and right:

A.J. Burnett, movement on sinker. 2011 Thru August on the left, Sept 1 on the right.It should be noted that even leaving the sinker up, Burnett recorded the most success on the pitch, with a .206 BA against through the end of August.  Against the better sinker, the Red Sox were 1 for 6, the one hit coming in the fifth inning when a couple were left up. 

A.J. also abandonded his change up and cut fastball Thrusday night.  Neither of those pitches produced good results during the season.  Concentrating on throwing the sinker made that pitch better, and Burnett wound up with a more successful outing than usual.

Saturday
Aug272011

A.J. Burnett's Pitch Location vs. the Baltimore Orioles

Earlier in the week, we broke down A.J. Burnett's success, or lack thereof, into three zones.  We saw that he has been very bad over the middle and upper parts of the zone, and close to the best in the league when keeping the ball down.

Well last night Burnett had another awful game yielding 9 runs to the Baltimore Orioles over five innings.  Was he keeping the ball out of the middle and upper portions of the zone?

No, he certainly did not.  Of the 116 pitches that A.J. Burnett threw last night, just 15 were located in the lower part of the zone.  Not surprisingly, three of his five strikeouts came on pitches down in the zone, and he gave up just one hit in seven plate appearances decided on a low pitch.

(Click image to enlarge)

If A.J. is going to regain anything of his old form, he should probably start by doing what my parents always yelled at me to do: keep it down.