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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Allen Barra: The Case for A.J. Burnett? You Mean There Really Is One?

I got as far as “ESPN’s Colin Cowherd, one of the more astute radio talk show hosts around.” when my head had a mega-splosion. Costco’s Kirkland Signature to the rescue!

Joe Sheehan maintains that using advanced statistics — FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) and xFIP (advanced FIP) — indicates that “Burnett is the team’s third best starter behind Sabathia and [Bartolo] Colon.” This strikes me as intolerably fancy. “There’s an argument,” Sheehan writes, “to be made that Burnett isn’t one of the Yankees’ best five starters, but you have to work very hard to make it ...”

Well, I’m just not going to work that hard. Since A.J. Burnett came here, he’s started 91 games, averaged just 5.9 innings per start. He has completed just two games over that stretch. And — sorry to resort to old-fashioned stats, but this rather strikes me as the bottom line — has won just 32 games while losing 33. Keep in mind that he’s done this for the team that, over those three seasons, has been arguably the best hitting team in baseball. His ERA from 2009 through this week has been a lousy 4.61, which, coincidentally, happens be his ERA so far this year. He is 9-9.

Does anyone really doubt that Burnett’s won-lost record and ERA reflect his current level of effectiveness? Some, like Sheehan, suggest that, if Nova and Hughes are given spots ahead of him in the rotation, it’s simply because they’re younger. Let’s turn that argument on its head: A.J. Burnett is 34. If he were 24, like Nova, and were 32-33 over three seasons with a 4.61 ERA, would anyone think that he had much of a future?

Repoz Posted: August 20, 2011 at 12:17 PM | 33 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: projections, sabermetrics, site news, yankees

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   1. Renegade (((JE))) Posted: August 20, 2011 at 12:38 PM (#3904688)
I got as far as “ESPN’s Colin Cowherd, one of the more astute radio talk show hosts around.”

That's undoubtedly an inside joke. Barra must have lost a bet or something.
   2. Best Regards, President of Comfort, Esq. Posted: August 20, 2011 at 12:51 PM (#3904693)
My first time hearing Colin Cowherd, he said that Derek Jeter was the best player in baseball. This was not in 1999.
   3. Heinie Mantush (Krusty) Posted: August 20, 2011 at 01:24 PM (#3904716)
2. Was it in 2006 or 2009? There were defensible arguments in those years, too. :/

We really need to come up with a name better than "The Javier Vazquez Principle" for pitchers who badly underperform their peripherals. Burnett seems to be that sort of player (as opposed to the Glavine/Buerhle overperformer set.) It strikes me as highly unlikely that a player can perform below his "expected" level for so long without there being some possibility that the metrics are missing something. The eyeball test, the smell test, and the actual production test all say that AJ Burnett has more or less sucked since the start of the 2010 season. At this point, I find it far easier to believe Burnett is past his prime than to believe that he's simply been extremely unlucky.

FWIW, if I had a 24 year old with AJ Burnett's stuff who'd gone 32-33 with a 4.61 ERA over the last 3 seasons I'd be damn optimistic. Just like people were with the real AJ Burnett*, and they seem to be even now.

*Ok, real AJ was better than that through 24 in slightly less action, but the point stands.
   4. Swedish Chef Posted: August 20, 2011 at 01:42 PM (#3904731)
The case for Burnett is that Colon and Garcia in previous seasons have been where AJ is now, only more so. Is there any reason to believe any of them can keep up the Aaron Small impersonation, or that AJ couldn't catch the same luck?
   5. Fancy Crazy Town Banana Pants Handle Posted: August 20, 2011 at 01:45 PM (#3904733)
FWIW, if I had a 24 year old with AJ Burnett's stuff who'd gone 32-33 with a 4.61 ERA over the last 3 seasons I'd be damn optimistic. Just like people were with the real AJ Burnett*

I was going to make that same point. Burnett is arguably slightly worse than he has been. But he's always been all stuff, no numbers. Scouts and baseball people would rave about him, but the results were never really there.
   6. Chris Fluit Posted: August 20, 2011 at 01:49 PM (#3904734)
Ignoring the Colin Cowherd jibe for a moment...

How is AJ 3rd on the Yankees in FIP? He has the most walks of any of the 6 starters (67) and has allowed the most home runs (22). And it's not just that he's pitched more innings. He's allowed the most walks per 9 innings and the most home runs per 9 innings (3.9 and 1.3 respectively). The BB/9 comparison isn't especially close as Hughes and Nova are at 3.2 and 3.1. Is it just a product of AJ's high strikeout rate? (He is 3rd in K rate with 7.6 per 9 innings.)

There's no way that AJ is the Yankees' third best starter this year. He's behind Sabathia and Colon in everything. He's behind Garcia in almost every meaningful stat (AJ beats him in K rate, but Garcia offsets that with a clearly superior K/BB rate, as well as the better ERA, WHIP and everything else).

It's a close call between AJ and the two youngsters. AJ does better in a number of stats- not only the aforementioned K rate, but also K/BB and, surprisingly, WHIP. Nova's big advantage is in ERA. Hughes' case rests on his numbers since he came off the DL as his season numbers aren't so hot. I could see making the case for Burnett as your 4th starter in the playoffs based on better peripherals (and perhaps veteran experience). But I can also see why Yankee fans would rather go with Nova based on ERA (and the idea that his best years are ahead of him).

As for Cowherd, I enjoy his radio show on occasion but he often fixates on salary ahead of current play- ie. you pay Burnett more money than these other guys therefore you should play him ahead of these guys. I'm of the opinion that it's not the manager's job to justify somebody's salary with playing time. The job is to win baseball games (and pennants) and you play the guys that give you the best chance to do that, regardless of how much they make. Maybe that means you start AJ ahead of Nova. Or maybe that means you'd rather have AJ's K-rate coming out of the bullpen and Nova's ERA in your rotation, especially in the playoffs.

It's not that salary is completely irrelevant. The salary is particularly relevant to how fans view AJ. He's paid to pitch as a #2 starter for New York. Yet he's at best their 4th starter and arguably their 6th (I'd put him 5th, ahead of Hughes based on the full season). That's not what you want from a guy you pay to be a #2. And that wasn't an unreasonable expectation- as the article notes, AJ pitched like a #2 in Toronto. And that's why fans are understandably disappointed.
   7. joeysdadjoe Posted: August 20, 2011 at 02:23 PM (#3904746)
The case for Burnett is that Colon and Garcia in previous seasons have been where AJ is now, only more so. Is there any reason to believe any of them can keep up the Aaron Small impersonation, or that AJ couldn't catch the same luck?

Aaron Small? Both of these guys were legit aces at one time.
   8. Swedish Chef Posted: August 20, 2011 at 02:49 PM (#3904760)
Aaron Small? Both of these guys were legit aces at one time.

Yeah, but their success is about as unlikely as Aaron Small's.
   9. Accent Shallow is on swiftly tilting planet Posted: August 20, 2011 at 02:58 PM (#3904765)
Yeah, but their success is about as unlikely as Aaron Small's.

During his great run, Small had a K-rate of 4.5/9, and a K/BB ratio of 1.5. Garcia is 6.0 and 2.2, and Colon is at 7.7 and 3.2. This isn't 100% smoke and mirrors from either of them, unlike Small.
   10. simpleton & childlike gef the talking mongoose Posted: August 20, 2011 at 03:17 PM (#3904778)
“ESPN’s Colin Cowherd, one of the more astute radio talk show hosts around.”


Clearly, in Barra's lexicon "astute" is defined as "moronic."
   11. Tom Nawrocki Posted: August 20, 2011 at 03:37 PM (#3904782)
We really need to come up with a name better than "The Javier Vazquez Principle" for pitchers who badly underperform their peripherals. Burnett seems to be that sort of player (as opposed to the Glavine/Buerhle overperformer set.)


Part of the problem seems to be an unnecessarily limited definition of "peripherals." Buehrle, for example, gets a lot more DP support than Burnett - Buehrle has gotten 0.72 DPs per game over his career, while Burnett gets 0.55. Buehrle also shuts down the running game completely: He's allowed 48 stolen bases in 383 career games, while Burnett has allowed 223 in 306.

Here's a cute stat for you: A.J. Burnett has allowed 21 steals of third in his career. Mark Buehrle has allowed two.
   12. Swedish Chef Posted: August 20, 2011 at 04:09 PM (#3904800)
It would be interesting to see all the Yankee starters projections for the rest of the season, what does ZiPS say?
   13. NJ in NY (Now with Baby!) Posted: August 20, 2011 at 06:10 PM (#3904865)
[12] ERA/FIP

CC: 3.41/3.07
Freddy: 4.50/4.12
Colon: 4.95/4.36
Nova: 5.00/4.53
Burnett: 4.80/4.27
Hughes: 4.82/4.18

So, by ERA it is CC-----Freddy--Burnett, Hughes-Colon, Nova.
By FIP it is CC----Freddy, Hughes, Burnett, Colon, Nova
   14. Chris Fluit Posted: August 20, 2011 at 06:13 PM (#3904866)
The case for Burnett is that Colon and Garcia in previous seasons have been where AJ is now, only more so. Is there any reason to believe any of them can keep up the Aaron Small impersonation, or that AJ couldn't catch the same luck?


1. Sure, AJ could get lucky all of a sudden. But if I'm setting my rotation for the playoffs, I'm going to go with the guy who is pitching better this season rather than banking on a sudden lucky streak.

2. AJ's numbers are pretty consistent with what he did last year and even slightly ahead. I don't see any reason to project that he would improve greatly over what he's done for the past 1 and 2/3 seasons.

3. Sure, AJ could rebound a la Colon and Garcia. But that's a reason to give him a spring training tryout on a minor league contract a la Colon and Garcia. That's not a reason to give him postseason starts this year if you have better options (and you do).

4. I wasn't sure until I looked at the numbers but Colon and Garcia have both been better over the course of their careers than AJ. Their career ERAs look similar- 4.04, 4.06 and 4.07. However, ERA+ shows a much greater spread. Colon is 113 in 2201 innings, Garcia 110 in 2052 and Burnett 106 in 1924. Burnett has one full season with an ERA+ of 120 or better (122 in '02). Garcia has 3, including one over 130 (137 in '01). Colon has 6, including one over 140 (147 in '02). If we look at more recent history, Colon has a 117 ERA+ in 226 innings over the last 3 seasons, Garcia 107 in 335 and Burnett 95 in 548. So while Garcia and Colon are both pitching over their heads at the moment (and staying healthy!), there's also reason to think that they'll be better than Burnett going forward.

5. I also wanted to see if Colon and Garcia have ever been as bad as AJ is now. Garcia has never been this bad over a full season. His worst full season was last year with Chicago (4.64 ERA, 93 ERA+) which is about even with AJ this year (4.61 ERA, 91 ERA+) and much better than AJ in 2010 (5.26, 81). Garcia did have worse numbers in Philadelphia when injuries limited him to 58 innings. But AJ isn't hurt, just ineffective. Colon has been worse though. He had a 5.01 ERA and 90 ERA+ in '04, but managed to win 18 games anyway. And he had a 6.34 ERA and 71 ERA+ in a little less than 100 innings in '07, which doesn't count as a full season but does count as a worse one. Doesn't really matter, though. You're not handing the ball to AJ or Colon circa 2007.
   15. Chris Fluit Posted: August 20, 2011 at 06:18 PM (#3904870)
Another perspective on AJ's diminishing effectiveness:

http://www.yankeeanalysts.com/2011/08/effective-a-j-where-art-thou-33298
   16. Chris Fluit Posted: August 20, 2011 at 06:29 PM (#3904874)
Switching gears for a moment, what is Girardi's strategy going forward?

Do you continue to use a 6-man rotation for the stretch drive so as to save your better pitchers for the postseason? That minimizes the risk of injury to Colon and Garcia. That keeps Nova away from any pitch-limit increase that he might have otherwise run into. That means that you might be able to run Sabathia out there on short rest in the playoffs. I'm not fond of the 6-man rotation but this is one occasion where it might make sense (though I think demoting Burnett makes more sense).

And who do you start in the playoffs? I think it's pretty clear that CC, Colon and Garcia are your top three (and who would have thought at the beginning of the season that we'd be saying that). But who's number four? Do you go with AJ based on the WHIP, K-rate and (ugh!) veteran status? Do you go with Hughes, who's actually started in the postseason (though not effectively)? Do you go with Nova, who has the best ERA but hasn't pitched in the postseason before? Or do you go with a 3-man rotation? I think Nova is your best option at this point, though I'd go with Sabathia on short rest if it's an elimination game.
   17. valuearbitrageur Posted: August 20, 2011 at 09:03 PM (#3904933)
Cowherd isn't one of the most astute sports talk hosts, but he's certainly one of the best. The fact that every time he's mentioned here a litany of his wrong headed opinions is barfed up is just proof that Colin knows his job. He takes stances every single day, almost every single segment, and sometimes he's just way wrong (he doesn't understand advanced statistics), and sometimes he's right. But most often he takes interesting angles, that right or wrong, make you think about whether a unique factor that isn't often considered make a significant difference in the decision/subject at hand .

It's a lot easier for columnists to get the facts right than the host of a radio show (having a whole day to fact check makes accuracy far easier than doing it as events happen and caller questions come in on the fly), and we know how many sports columnists are just as lazy about factual accuracy as radio hosts are. Radio requires tacking a interesting tack with your audience to be successful, Colin understands that very well, and his show is seldom boring because of it.
   18. GGC for Sale Posted: August 20, 2011 at 09:25 PM (#3904946)
I'd AGREE WITH YOU FIVE YEARS AGO, VA, BUT HIS SCHTICK IS GETTING OLD.
   19. drdr Posted: August 20, 2011 at 09:56 PM (#3904960)
I hope someone runs some numbers, but I always thought about AJ as someone who has many 0-run innings and one high-scoring inning per start. Someone like that should underperform peripherals, because most of the damage happens consecutively.
   20. Shock Posted: August 20, 2011 at 10:19 PM (#3904968)
Um, are you guys familiar with radio talk show hosts? Cowherd might actually be one of the more astute ones, yes.
   21. SteveF Posted: August 20, 2011 at 10:24 PM (#3904971)
I agree. The knock on AJ is that he's mentally fragile and once things start to go wrong he can't stop the bleeding. Whether or not that is actually true, it certainly feels true if you're a Yankee fan.

Colon hasn't been that great over the last 50 innings or so. Garcia's success is the most baffling to me. His ability to maintain a very high strike % in spite of throwing such a low % of fastballs strikes me as ultimately unsustainable.
   22. Swedish Chef Posted: August 20, 2011 at 10:33 PM (#3904974)
CC: 3.41/3.07
Freddy: 4.50/4.12
Colon: 4.95/4.36
Nova: 5.00/4.53
Burnett: 4.80/4.27
Hughes: 4.82/4.18


Thanks, seems like either a 2-man or 6-man rotation is the way to go.
   23. cercopithecus aethiops Posted: August 20, 2011 at 11:18 PM (#3905002)
what is Girardi's strategy going forward?

Garcia just got DL'd; retroactive no doubt, so he'll be back in time for the DH next Saturday. Then they'll probably skip Colon the turn after Freddie is back. So it'll be a six-man rotation with everybody going on four days rest for a little while.
   24. RB in NYC (Now Semi-Retired from BBTF) Posted: August 20, 2011 at 11:39 PM (#3905020)
I may be past the bend on AJ, relative to his talents, but he drives me ####### nuts. He must lead the ####### universe in throwing a WP to allow a runner to score from third. Stop doing that! Jesus.
   25. Nose army. Beef diaper? (CoB) Posted: August 20, 2011 at 11:50 PM (#3905029)
AJ shitting the bed tonite against the Twinkies.

Big surprise.

4-0 in the bottom of the 2nd and AJ's already thrown 50 pitches.
   26. Ray (RDP) Posted: August 20, 2011 at 11:53 PM (#3905031)
AJ shitting the bed tonite against the Twinkies.

Big surprise.

4-0 in the bottom of the 2nd and AJ's already thrown 50 pitches.


Burn him!
   27. SteveF Posted: August 20, 2011 at 11:56 PM (#3905034)
Has anyone looked into getting the guy chelation therapy? Is it possible his poor pitching performances are the result of heavy metal toxicity from all of his prison tats?
   28. Repoz Posted: August 20, 2011 at 11:57 PM (#3905035)
AJ shitting the bed tonite against the Twinkies.

Waldling is having a kinippi fit...saying something about how Burnett should just be handing the pitches to the Twins batters over the plate because they can't hit.
   29. Nose army. Beef diaper? (CoB) Posted: August 21, 2011 at 12:02 AM (#3905039)
1 2/3rds, 60 pitches, 4 runs in and the bases loaded, every ball hit hard and AJ has the gall to ##### at Girardi for taking his sorry ass out of the game.

Sure would be nice if he'd pull a Kevin Brown and punch a wall or something ...

[edit] And all of his runners score. 1 2/3rds (one of those outs a CS by Martin), 61 pitches, 7 runs.
   30. Weekly Journalist_ Posted: August 21, 2011 at 12:03 AM (#3905041)
Waldling is having a kinippi fit...saying something about how Burnett should just be handing the pitches to the Twins batters over the plate because they can't hit.

That's not an unreasonable comment. It's what Hughes did.
   31. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: August 21, 2011 at 12:17 AM (#3905052)
Sure would be nice if he'd pull a Kevin Brown and punch a wall or something ...

Or if he'd start flying a private plane around the FDR Drive.
   32. Weekly Journalist_ Posted: August 21, 2011 at 12:25 AM (#3905056)
Or if he'd start flying a private plane around the FDR Drive.

Is this a Cory Lidle joke? That's ###### up.
   33. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: August 21, 2011 at 12:45 AM (#3905067)
Er, it wasn't meant to be taken literally, WJ. He's allowed to fly the virtual route as an option, as long as he logs in around 7:05 PM local game time every fifth night.

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