If you were going to create a tag line for AJ Burnett's two years with the Yankees, the obvious choice would be "Feast or Famine." It's either great or nothing at all with this guy, and man, is it frustrating. Last night, in game 2 against the Phillies it was all famine. He fell behind hitters, pouted on the mound, gave up home runs, and really put the cherry on top of a miserable performance by failing to cover first on a 4th-inning ground ball by Chase Utley. That particular bit of fuck-the-team mentality brought Girardi (at least a little mad) out to make a change. As AJ walked off the field, he wore a little smirk as if to say a) it's not my fault, b)I don't care, and c) screw everyone else. The boo-bird serenade that followed him to the dugout was entirely deserved.
So. Now he's 2-5 in his last 8 starts after that 4-0, 1.99 beginning. Even mainstream media outlets are calling him 'the biggest tease in the game'. My only objection is that at least teases can be fun. AJ's issues are manifold, but there are a few primary culprits.
1) Command - there's nobody more maddeningly inconsistent with location in the entire game. Some nights, he can pinpoint. Other nights, the fastball has to be aimed down the middle, and the curveball is so far off that it doesn't even tempt the batter. Someone recently pointed out that at 21 years-old, Stephen Strasburg already has better command. And his stuff is more lively! How can AJ be this erratic with so many years of service under his belt?
2) Ego - when he loses his command, he refuses to pitch to contact. Every hitter must be struck out to prove the superiority of his stuff. This leads to walks. 4 walks against Philly in three innings is a formula for failure, even if that particular lineup isn't what it used to be. In fact, it's a formular for failure against any team, which is why AJ's performance seems entirely independent of who he's facing.
3) Fortitude - there's no fight to him. Either things go great, and he's a badass on the mound who can't be stopped, or things start poorly, and the bad news just accumulates. I've never seen a pitcher let one mistake derail him so completely. I wish they kept stats on how often a leadoff walk turned into a run, or how many 2-out rallies resulted in 2+ runs, because AJ would surely be at the top of the list.
4) Selfishness - he gets wrapped up in the AJ Burnett show. There's no team when AJ is on the mound, even when he's great. In that case, it's a one-man show, a display of dominance. But when he's not great, his solipsistic nature becomes a glaring flaw. Last night's failure to cover on Utley's grounder to Teixeira was infuriating, if only because it was such a perfect revelation of this shortcoming. Another example is his refusal to shorten his throwing motion out of a stretch. There's nobody easier to steal second off of than AJ, but he's intractable to a defiant degree.
5) Responsibility - you can see in his body language that he doesn't take ownership of any mistake. He reminds me of hot-heads I played with in little league who, when things went badly, would look around desperately for someone else to blame. Instead of looking inward and trying to fix things, it becomes AJ against the world, and he wallows.
If you're looking for a foil, look no further than Andy Pettitte. He never lets early trouble get him too far down (how often have we seen a bad first inning turn into a stellar 7IP outing?), and he will never, ever let his frustration with a fielder show. He knows he's the man on the mound, and even if the opposition hits three infield singles in a row, or reaches on an error, or gets lucky in any way, it comes back to Andy. He works hard to improve every aspect of his game, including command and location. If he didn't, he wouldn't be pitching anymore. But AJ is content to rely on the quality of his stuff. If he was a lesser talent, he'd already be out of the league. Instead, it's feast or famine. Every fucking time.
Ok, how about a few positive stories to counteract the angry beginning?
First, Jamie Moyer. The man is 47 years old, and he pitched 8 innings of 2-run ball against the Yanks. He's unbelievable. Phil Hughes wasn't even born when he made his first big league outing. Last night, he became the oldest dude to ever beat the Yankees. And Moyer is a guy like Cal Ripken, where his career is a testament to longevity more than greatness. He only had two 20-win seasons (he was 38 and 40, respectively), he's "only" accumulated 265 wins in 25 years, and his hall-of-fame status is still up for debate. His lowest season ERA, 3.27, isn't even that remarkable. But still...anyone who lasts that long deserves something. Maybe Cooperstown, maybe not. He should at least get a special clock, or something. Maybe a statue in Seattle called "Father Time."
Second, the North Korean soccer team. I was rooting for them to lose because I hate their leadership, but over the course of the game with Brazil, it became impossible not to root for them. I guess it's a part of the American makeup that can't be erased; we love underdogs. I'm no different. With the match scoreless at halftime, I'd forgotten all my political hangups and jumped on board with the commies. They conceded two goals in the second half, but late in the game they managed one of their own. And it was pretty awesome. You have to feel sorry for those guys, at least a little. They have to go back to North Korea when it's all over. But the goal was a goosebumpy moment. I'll be rooting for them against Portugal
That'll about do it for the morning. Argentina is wiping the floor with the good Korea, and France squares off against Mexico later today. Hopefully they both lose. NBA and Team USA content later on.