Fear not, this is not an "AJ SUCKS, DFA HIM!" post. It's a brief analysis of the two pitching enigmas known as AJ Burnett and Phil Hughes.
AJ Burnett has started 24 games so far in the 2011 season, including tonight's game, with a total of 148.2 IP.
In those 24 starts:
He’s given up 4+ runs 9 times (7 of which were exactly 4 runs and only 3 of which did he give up 6 or 7 runs).
He’s given up 0 to 3 runs 15 times (5 of which were exactly 3 runs). While he's had 3 games where he's allowed only 1 ER, he's yet to pitch a shutout appearance. He also has 7 games where he only allowed 2 ER.
He's not yet given up exactly 5 ER, which I found interesting. Maybe that's why he's mad? He needs to make a straight but keeps missing the 5? Ok. Bad joke. Moving on...
His peripherals are ok, not great, but not horrible. Due to his outlier games (3 games of 6+ ER), he started the 8/9/2011 game with a 4.54 ERA, 4.67 FIP, 3.94 xFIP, and an fWAR of 1.0. *I'll update these stats when Fangraphs is updated tomorrow*
His 2011 performance compares favorably with his 2010 statistics: 5.26 ERA, 4.83 FIP, 4.49 xFIP, 1.3 fWAR in 2010 . His biggest peripheral improvements thus far are his K/9 (6.99 in 2010 up to 7.76 in 2011), his LOB% (68.8% in 2010 to 71.3% in 2011), and his GB% (44.9% in 2010 up to 48.8% in 2011).
Last season at this time, he'd be entering his 23rd start with a 4.93 ERA on August 10, 2010.
Phil Hughes is another pitcher in the Yankee organization who is struggling this season. Since he suffered from a late (as in, after the season started but not during Spring Training when it would have been good to catch it) diagnosis of "deadarm," I'll look at his starts since returning from the DL.
He's started 5 games since his return from the DL on July 6th.
He's given up 2 runs in 3 of those starts, 7 runs in one start, and 0 runs in one start.
His best game of the season, by far, was 8-2-2011 when he only allowed 3 hits in 6 innings with 4 Ks and no walks.
However, given that this is only 5 starts (Small Sample Size Alert!) and combined with his April numbers, he still has a 7.11 ERA, 5.01 FIP, 5.38 xFIP, and an fWAR of 0.1.
It's hard to draw a true comparison for Phil's 2010 and 2011, considering at this time last year, he had started 21 games compared to his current 8 starts in 2011.
If you combine Hughes' "deadarm" starts from April, when he allowed 5, 6, and 5 ER in 3 starts, he looks even more like AJ Burnett. Since his return from the DL, he's allowed 13 ER, 31 H and 9 BB to 17Ks in 27.1 IP (to the tune of an 4.28 ERA). That's not too far from AJ's pre-8/9 start ERA (only about a quarter of a run difference). With the exception of three of AJ's starts where he gave up 6+ ER and Hughes' four starts where he gave up 5+ ER, both pitchers have kept their team in the game (and by their team, I do mean this team that has 149 HRs, scored 603 Runs, and a 26.4 fWAR [third in the majors to the Rangers and Red Sox, 2nd and 1st respectively]).
So, out of a combined 32 starts, 22 were winnable by the offense (although only 12 of which were, plus one of Hughes' ouliers was eventually won by the offense, even though he allowed 7 ER in 4.1 IP on 7/22/2011).
Both pitchers have the capacity and potential to improve as the season moves on, through the dog days of summer and into the figuratively hot month of September, when a playoff berth could be on the line (or a spot in the post-season rotation).
Whatever the case, Burnett is a player that won't be leaving the Yankees until his contract is up (or perhaps in his last year when the Yankees might be willing to swallow a portion of his salary to move him to make room for a Killer B). Hughes has been organically grown in the Yankee farm system, and appears to be a team favorite, getting many more chances and opportunities than another prospect named Joba Chamberlain ever got. But this is not the time for that argument. I have a feeling that Hughes remains in the future plans of the Yankees, but only so long as he produces at a level the team is happy with.
As a fan of the Yankees, I feel better knowing that 6 starting pitchers are reading and willing to take the ball every game. Anyone that is not in the rotation for the post-season will be in the bullpen, and that will be an advantage, in my opinion, and a good problem to have.