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To the Mats with Reader Comments: Burnett Can Win

Reader Owen G says re my comments on A.J. Burnett's Game 4 start:

This is a bit extreme…he did win, pitching 7 2/3 and giving up two runs, just two weeks ago. By contrast the last time that Porcello had a single game WPA as high was a full month prior. The narrative that AJ starts are nearly unwinnable is getting old.

I feel like the topic of Burnett as a whole is getting old, but events continually conspire to force it back to the forefront. I would much rather talk about anything else, except perhaps the Red Sox, another topic that has obsessed the baseball world. Speaking of the Red Sox, yes, Mr. Burnett did throw 7.2 innings of two-run baseball against them back on September 25, and we shouldn't discount that completely even if the Sox were suffering from some kind of terminal disease brought on by drinking too much beer during games. Similarly, on September 13, Burnett struck out 11 Mariners in six innings while allowing only two runs, and we shouldn't discount that either, even though the Mariners spent the season swinging like the kid who is too short to reach the pinata.

This brings us to our word of the day: consistency. What happened around the starts against Seattle and Boston? On September 7, Burnett gave up four runs in six innings against the Orioles. On September 19, he gave up four runs on nine hits in four runs against the Twins. If you want to pull the camera back still further, on September 1 he allowed tro runs in 5.1 innings against the Red Sox--you'll take it--but on August 26, he allowed nine runs in five innings against the Orioles (and in the start before that, he didn't get out of the second inning). An additional factor is that he has been a home run machine whether pitching well or poorly. In his last ten starts, Burnett allowed 11 souvenirs in 52 innings, or nearly two per nine innings. In that sense, he has been consistent.

Porcello, who increasingly suggests a snack of polenta and mushrooms, is hardly an ace, but he finished the season in better order. Although his ERA over his final 10 starts was a bulgy 5.28, he settled down in September, putting up a 3.55 ERA in five starts, although the opponents were not robust offenses. His strikeout rates are low, but he gets some grounders and keeps the ball in the park. He shouldn't be a pushover.

I don't know what to expect from him, and anything can happen in any given start from a no-hitter to Godzilla stomping the stadium, so I'm not making any ironclad guarantees. In any case, the point isn't that Burnett can't win, because heck, everybody scratches off a winning ticket once in awhile, but that he has been so erratic that (a) the percentage chances of it seem low, and (b) if you were able to plan around this eventuality, you would have done everything in your power to avoid it--which is what the Yankees did, short of not including Burnett on the roster at all.

As I said yesterday, I'm rooting for a good redemption story. I don't see it as likely, but that doesn't mean it can't happen, and it certainly doesn't mean the Yankees can't win the game by some means.