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Thinking About AJ Burnett

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Alex Beith over at Bronx Banter reflects on some of the things that AJ Burnett said at his press conference.

The charge against him–he’s all talent, no polish, a million dollar arm with a ten cent head–was something I could never see past, even when he shut the Yankees down time and time again. But in the press conference, and then later to reporters, Burnett attributed much of his injury history to arrogance. He loved his "stuff" so much, he said, that he’d try and throw every pitch 98 miles an hour. If you got it, flaunt it, was his motto. He didn’t know how to prepare, physcially or mentally, for a long season. But he remembers making the playoffs in ‘03 and not being able to pitch.

Burnett gave Roy Halladay a lot of credit with turning him into a pitcher not just a chucker. He sounded like a guy who has finally figured it out for himself.

Now, it could just be that AJ reads Pinstripe Alley, but that sounds a lot like the things we all hoped he would say.

But being an analytical fellow, I decided to seek out evidence to confirm or deny AJ's claim.

And the review (via FanGraphs) is definitely mixed.

If AJ made any adjustments last season, they were minor and situational. His average fastball did come in a little slower- 94.3 mph rather than the 95.2 he averaged the previous three seasons. He threw his fastball 64.7% of the time, down from 66.7% and 67% the previous two seasons; also more in line with his last healthy season, when he threw 63.6% fastballs with the Marlins.

Now there are two ways to look at this (false binaries be damned!):

If you're a glass half-full fan you recognize that while sample sizes matter, baseball is a game of moments and fractions of inches. Keeping that ball just off the sweet spot with the bases loaded is the difference between a grand slam and a double play. If you're this fan, you can believe that AJ made those sorts of adjustments last season. A little more guile in that ten-cent head and he finally makes the most of his talent.

If your glass is half empty, however, then you know that the difference in the stats could be anything. Sample size, or mechanical or human error could explain the difference- maybe AJ actually throws his fastball 94.9 mph like his career average says, or maybe last season's equipment was slightly more accurate than the previous season. Or, since correlation does not imply causality, maybe AJ really did make those adjustments but it was just dumb luck that changed the outcome.

So as I shutdown my computer for the day to spend time with my mommy, I pose this question to you- is your glass half-full or half-empty when it comes to AJ Burnett?