New York Yankees: Why Is A.J. Burnett So Inconsistent?

September 6, 2010   ·     ·   Jump to comments
Article Source: Bleacher Report - New York Yankees

To say the least, 2010 has been a season of inconsistency for A.J. Burnett. After his first start of the season, his ERA was 5.40. By his sixth start, it was 1.99. 10 starts later, it was 5.25. Now, after his 27th start, his ERA stands at 5.15, and unless he can bring that down over a full point (unlikely), it will be the highest of his career.

This is nothing new for Burnett. Throughout his entire career, he has been hit or miss. On any given day, he could throw a no-hitter or give up 10 runs in four innings. In fact, two starts after his no-hitter in 2001, he gave up seven runs in four innings.

So what is it? Nobody doubts that he has great ability, but why has he never been able to put it together? 

Those are the questions that are brewing in New York. In Toronto, nobody cared enough to answer these questions, but in the midst of a pennant race, the Yankees need to work out Burnett’s issues.

To answer these questions, let’s look at data for Burnett’s best start this season, and his worst start.

Using game score as a meter, it turns out that Burnett’s best start was April 29 in Baltimore, when he gave up no runs on three hits in eight innings. His worst start would be August 27 in Chicago when he pitched just three and a third innings, giving up eight earned runs.

First off, we should establish that it is just a coincidence that his best start was early in the season and his worst start was later in the season. His game-by-game results show no correlation to time whatsoever.

Furthermore, if you look at his home versus away statistics, you will find that he is better in home games (you will find the same trend with the first half versus second half), but this does not explain the complete inconsistency that is present both home and away, and first and second half.

We have established that it is not a matter of setting or time, so our only choice is to go back and examine the data of Burnett’s best start and his worst start.

What you find first is that velocity is not the issue. The average speed on his fastball in his best start was less than a mile per hour slower than his worst start. The average speeds on his sinker, change-up, and knuckle-curve were all virtually the same as well.

What about pitch selection? He threw the same percentage of sinkers and change-ups in his best and worst starts. However, he threw about six percent more fastballs in his best start, and about six percent less knuckle-curves.

As it appears, when Burnett gets in trouble, he stops throwing fastballs and starts throwing more knuckle-curves.

This is a bit puzzling. When you look at the average break on Burnett’s pitches, and compare them in his best and worst starts, you find that his knuckle-curve is the pitch he had trouble with.

In Burnett’s best start, the average vertical break on his knuckle-curve was minus-5.07, as opposed to just minus-1.53 in his worst start. The average break on his fastball was different in his best and worst starts, but not nearly to the extent of his knuckle-curve.

The reason this is puzzling is because, like we said before, Burnett throws more knuckle-curves when he gets in trouble. But the knuckle-curve is the pitch that he has trouble with, so why does he throw it more often?

It is a matter of the coaching staff, and Burnett himself, lacking the knowledge they need to make this adjustment. Coaches automatically assume it is a matter of mechanics, and leave out the possibility of it simply being a logical issue: throwing different pitches at a different time.

Burnett’s inconsistency isn’t very difficult to decipher. It is a product of not paying attention, and not properly analyzing his own performance. Now, it should be noted that this is just two starts that we are looking at, but something as glaring as this data should not go unnoticed.

People always say that Burnett always displays talent, but never seems to put it together. They are right, now they just need to realize something very simple.

E-mail me at jess@jesskcoleman.com or follow me on Twitter @jesskcoleman.

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