Diagnosing AJ’s First Half

There were a lot of questions heading into this season for the Yankees: would Derek Jeter rebound?, how would the back end of the starting rotation hold up?, and would the bullpen be as good as it was on paper?  Overshadowed by this was AJ Burnett and whether he would be able to come back after a dreadful 2010 and pitch at least half-way decent.  So far, he has rebounded.

(Nick Laham/Getty Images)

He’s walking more than he did last season and allowing more homers, but he is striking out 0.50 more hitters per nine innings, he’s getting more ground balls and he has already thrown 119.1 innings as opposed to 108 last season.  Hitters also make less contact against him (81.8% -> 78.8% contact%) and they are swinging and missing more than 1% more against him than they were in 2010, bringing on the rise in strikeouts.

A reason why this may have happened is because AJ’s 2011 approach has been much less fastball-heavy.  Last year, 69% of his pitches were fastballs and that is now down to 59.1%.  This is forcing him to use that big curveball almost 4% more and the change up that he’s been working on for the last two years, 6% more.  Maybe adding a third pitch to the repertoire doesn’t make that big of a difference, but they now have that other thought in the back of their head.

The last reason for AJ’s turn-around, to me, is more subjective and that’s just the way he looks out there.  Larry Rothschild talked about how Burnett had lost his confidence last season and how he needs to re-gain it in order to be successful in 2011.  Well, it looks like he has as he just looks more comfortable on the mound and he is more in control. It could also have to do with Russell Martin being behind the plate and that he trusts him more than he does Jorge Posada or Frankie Cervelli, but whatever it is, it has certainly helped.

AJ Burnett is never gonna live up to the contract that the Yankees gave him.  Sure he has some of the best stuff in the game, but he was just never able to put it all together. However, that doesn’t mean he can’t still be effective and with help the team win and with the use of more pitches and a new-found confidence, I think he has finally turned the corner from 2010.

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