Should The Yankees Be Concerned With A.J Burnett?

The month of June has been unkind to A.J Burnett and his ERA. Coming into the month the Yankee righty was sporting a 3.72 earned run average, but after his last start on June 26 it had ballooned to 5.25. Many Yankee brass have written off A.J’s performance as solely a one month ordeal because of his recent pitching history. In the previous three seasons, Burnett endured extended struggles in April in ’07 & ’08, as well as in May last season. Even though the inconsistent fireballer hasn’t looked sharp, his track record suggests he should turn it around.

A.J Burnett hasn’t gotten past the 7th inning in his five June starts, a feat he had reached in 5 of his first 10 starts. One of the biggest reasons for the demise of the Yankee starter can be traced to his inability to strike batters out. Burnett’s biggest asset as a pitcher, especially when he gets into trouble, always has been the strikeout. In June, A.J has not been able to consistently ‘K hitters, as evidenced by his strikingly low K/9 (7.0) compared to his career average of 8.3.

The lack of strikeouts Burnett has rung up can be attributed to two correlating factors, throwing strikes and getting his pitches over for called strikes. The Yankee starter is at his best, like in his April 29th and May 30th starts where he went 8 strong innings with one run or less, when he is not only throwing strikes, but getting his pitches over for called strikes.

In those two specific starts, Burnett had 22 StL (Strikes Looking), his season high, which helped contribute to his low walk total. In June, A.J’s numbers were down, with an average of 15 Stl per start, as he fell behind more hitters and began to press.

Burnett’s first start in July has eased the Yankees concerns slightly. After allowing only 8 baserunners in 6.2 innings, Burnett looked in top form on Friday night. Even though he didn’t throw strikes consistently, A.J never gave up the big inning and as he said “I thought I was able to make pitches when I needed to.” With a rise in called strikes back to 20, Burnett stayed in front of hitters and was able to make his pitch in pressure situations.

With cautious optimism, the Yankees look forward to Burnett’s resurgence. With the return of pitching coach Dave Eiland, which may be the biggest intangible factor in the pitcher’s struggles, A.J Burnett should right the ship and helped push the Yankees to the next level.