A.J. Burnett has been so terrible for so long that it's easy to lose perspective on how wretched things have become.
If you recall, Burnett had perhaps the worst statistical season for a pitcher in the history of the franchise in 2010 (certainly the worst for a pitcher in his tax bracket). His 10-15, 5.26 abortion essentially assassinated New York's hopes of defending its title. This was supposed to be the No. 2 starter, an ace to handcuff with CC Sabathia. It can't be understated how unacceptable his performance was.
This year — almost impossibly — he's been worse. After Friday night's wipeout by the awful Orioles, Burnett's record is 9-11 with a 5.31 ERA. To track down Burnett's last quality start (at least six innings, three or less earned runs), you have to trek all the way back to June 29 against the Milwaukee Brewers.
Burnett has just seven quality starts in 27 attempts this season, meaning he's been paid $2.36 million for every quality start if you choose to twist stats and money like a jerk (which, of course, I will). I'll remember this stat for rage purposes today when I'm robbing my local convenience store to pay rent.
This isn't Moneyball. This is Money-bawl-your-eyes-out.
By spring training, we were told to expect a new Allan James Burnett. As the story goes, A.J. had bought into the philosophies of new pitching coach Larry Rothschild, and was attacking the zone in a way he could not or would not do the previous season.
"There's still one out of every handful, but the difference is that I'm not thinking about it," Burnett said after a strong spring training outing against the Phillies on March 8. "I'm not wondering why that one out of every five or one out of every three happens. It's just, 'Get the ball and go.' Get the ball, trust yourself and make a pitch. I missed, so get up there and do it again."
It seems ridiculous that beat writers could hold a recording device in front of Burnett's face without cracking up now, but they weren't the only ones with a straight face. Joe Girardi was all in on the new A.J.
"Maybe in a way, A.J. feels like it's a fresh start," the manager said after that March start. "He's got a different pitching coach and a different catcher, so it's almost like going to a new team even though he knows it's not. The important thing is building those relationships."
Ah yes, the new catcher. In case you forgot, many of Burnett's past struggles were laid at the feet of Jorge Posada, the cranky old backstop who wasn't worth a damn anymore. Seems pretty silly, and more than a tad unfair now, doesn't it?
Girardi has developed a patience in Burnett that's not unlike the father who refuses to accept the fact that his son is a mess-up. He may be 34, still living on the couch, and unable to hold a job or girlfriend, but the old man sees the promise buried within.
I suppose this can be seen as a positive trait in a manager, especially in a town as reactionary as New York. But just like the dad who repeatedly defends the loser son, you can only stick your neck out so long before it's you who looks like a fool.
I thought about that during Girardi's postgame presser on Friday night.
"I’m frustrated for him," Girardi said. "You don’t want to see anyone struggle in this game. This game is hard. It’s tough to go through months like this, whether you’re a pitcher or a position player and you’re struggling and hitting .150 for the month. It’s tough; you’re frustrated for him. You want him to turn it around."
Due to Michael Bay-movie weather conditions that will necessitate doubleheaders, Girardi said the Yankees will stick to a six-man rotation that has Burnett scheduled to be on the hill Friday at Fenway Park. There's always the chance the Burnett the Yankees thought they were signing in 2008 shows up, the same Burnett who set the Yankees on the course for a championship with his clutch performance in Game 2 of the World Series in 2009.
But what's far more likely is another turkey shoot in Boston. Burnett will weave through an inning, perhaps two, maybe even three, before the combination of faulty temperament and an inability to harness his physical ability leads to a meltdown. Dustin Pedroia will cap a five-run inning with a three-run homer over the Green Monster and Girardi will take the ball from Burnett, who will stalk off the mound with that mix of dejection and anger that we've become so accustomed to.
After the game, Burnett will say he has to get things right and Girardi will say he feels for his pitcher and believes he will get through this. Lather and wash. Rinse and repeat.
Dan Hanzus is a regular contributor to Pinstripe Alley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @danhanzus.