Thursday, August 4, 2011

No Pie for A.J. Burnett

 A.J. Burnett is a good teammate.  Upon his arrival in 2009, he seemingly brought along with him an attitude which helped loosen up a stiff clubhouse.  His now trademark 'pie to the face', in which he literally throws a pie in the face of a teammate who helped win the game, shows his playfulness and good demeanor.  Last night, staked to a 13-1 lead, he couldn't make it out of the 5th inning, and squandered his chance to get his own pie reward.

His issues have sometimes been attributed to mental lapses, but I argue that his problems stem from an ineffective fastball and secondary pitches that are failing to pick up the slack.  According to FanGraphs, his fastball velocity has dropped from 94.2 mph on average in 2009 to 92.6 mph this season.  Subsequently, Burnett has lost confidence in the pitch, as he has thrown his fastball only 57.5% of the time while his career average prior to this season was 68%.

He has used a mostly effective curveball 32.1% of the time this season versus 27.5% for his career.  But the use of his changeup this season of 10.4% of the time versus a career rate of 5.8% is alarming.  The minor effectiveness of his changeup is negligible when compared to the blatant ineffectiveness of his fastball.  This issue may simply be the differential of the velocity between his fastball and changeup.  The speed of Burnett's changeup this season is 88.1 mph.  So there is a 4.5 mph difference between the pitches.  This is not going to fool a professional hitter.

An effective change usually sits 7-10 mph below the fastball.  For example, CC Sabathia's differential is 7.0 this season and Cole Hamels' is 8.4 this season.  You can further look at Burnett's own career for examples.  His arguably finest season's, 2002 and 2005, show differentials of 10 and 9.7 mph, respectively.

I'm not a pitching coach, but it seems apparent that A.J. Burnett needs to decrease the speed of his changeup to accommodate his slowed fastball velocity.  Then maybe he'll be able to feature his fastball again and utilize the curve and changeup  more effectively as secondary pitches.


  1. I agree with you. I would love to hear some of the conversations between Burnett, Girardi and Rothchild what adjustments, if any, are being suggested. It seems like they are turning a blind eye to what everyone else sees as crystal clear.

  2. I haven't checked the numbers, but it looked like A.J. had a good four-seam fastball in his last start vs. the Angels. Of course when he got into a jam in the sixth he completely lost focus. After giving up the homer to Abreu, he walks the bases loaded to face the light hitting catcher Mathis with two outs. The guy was hitting .181 coming into the game, so A.J. should just blow this guy away and get out of the jam. His first pitch is a four-seamer for a swinging strike. Mathis looks overmatched vs. A.J.'s heat. Then he decides to throw a curveball. Now A.J. has a pretty good curveball, but it's a risky pitch. If he hangs it, it's probably the only pitch Mathis has any chance of hitting. Of course he hangs it and Mathis promptly bangs it off the wall for a two run double. Would have loved to hear A.J. explaining his pitch selection to Girardi after the game.