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.