A.J. Burnett is coming off the worst season of his career, but far. He posted career worsts in almost every pitching category and to use his words "broke every record in the wrong direction for the Yankees this year". In the process he managed to turn a lot of the Yankees fanbase against him and even provoke some to suggest the Yankees simply dump him.
First of all I just want to say that I think the AJ bashing is kind of harsh. It reminds me of the way people thought about Mike Mussina after the 2007 season. AJ was the Yankees second best starter in 2009. He won some big games against other teams aces over the course of that season. He pitched well in the playoffs. And he was nothing short of brilliant in the most important game of the 2009 season. So lets not act as if he's never had success in pinstripes or is a complete failure. Give it a few more years before you start grouping the guy with Carl Pavano and Kevin Brown, OK? He's gonna be here a while.
Also, please no more suggestions of "The Yankees should trade AJ/dump AJ". He's not going anywhere. He's going to be back next year, and he's going to be in the starting rotation, probably in the #3 spot assuming the Yankees pick up either Lee or Greinke or someone else to help solidify the top half of the rotation. His spot in the rotation is irrelevant really though. He'll be pitching every fifth day for the Yanks in 2011.
I believe that AJ is going to have a rebound year next season. The stuff is still there. He's not hurt. And his career numbers lead me to believe that he'll have a rebound year and be a solid mid-rotation starter for the Yankees throughout the season. A lot of people don't agree with my optimism, but I would hope at least that you would all hope that I'm right.
We'd all better hope that he turns it around, however, because I believe it's entirely possible for A.J. Burnett to be a big difference as to whether the Yankees are just a Wild Card team that sneaks into the playoffs, or a World Championship team.
We all know what we get in Sabathia, and assuming Cliff Lee gets signed or a trade for Greinke is made, we know what we're getting in him as well. However, thats only 2 out of 5 guys in the rotation. Phil Hughes is still young, and although we expect him to improve you never know. It's looking more and more like Andy Pettitte is going to retire, and even if he returns he's no sure thing with his age and injury problems. If he doesn't, well the Yankees will either sign a fifth starter out of the FA market (who they can't count on) or go internally and give Nova a shot. I'd like to see him get a shot as well, but he ain't a sure thing.
Right now, I count ONE really sure thing in the rotation. Should the Yankees add someone (and we know they will) thats two sure things. But the general thinking for a team with good pitching is you have at least three out of five starters you can count on to give you a solid season. Thats where A.J. Burnett comes in.
The Yankees gave Allan James his 5 year, 82 million dollar contract for a reason. It's not like the Yanks were bidding against themselves for him either. Atlanta wanted him badly, and offered him 80 million (for those who don't remember or choose not to remember). The Yanks went a little higher and landed AJ. Again, they gave it to him for a reason.
It's because his stuff is some of the best in baseball. He throws in the mid 90s and he has a dirty curve that is damn near unhittable when he's on. He's lead the league in strikeouts before and at times has the ability to put a team on his shoulders with his pitching. For example Game 2 of the 2009 World Series or the 15 inning A-Rod walk off game against Boston.
I get that he had a bad year last year. But nobody can deny the stuff is still there. I think it was more of a mental problem this past season with him. Or maybe he was hiding an injury or had personal problems. You don't just show up in the middle of the season with a black eye. Maybe this sort of stuff was affecting his pitching. I don't know. None of us know. But what I DO know is that a major league pitcher with his kind of stuff doesn't just forget how to pitch. We know he has the ability. I think that an offseason of rest, the new pitching coach and maybe some slight adjustments to his mechanics could do wonders for him.
I'm not asking him to be an ace. The Yankees have one of those, maybe two of them by the time this offseason is over with. But if he could get back to 2009 form- certainly not out of the realm of possibility (in fact, I think it's more likely than not, but then again I'm very optimistic). Thats all I ask for.
A.J. Burnett is going to have an impact on next years Yankees. How much of an impact, none of us can know for sure yet. But if Burnett can right himself and get back to 2009 form that I'm 100% sure he's capable of doing, that'll give the Yankees one extra starter they can count on and I'm sure everybody is going to feel a hell of a lot better about next years Yankees.