In talking about the Yankees’ rotation next season, much of the focus has been – understandably – on who, exactly, will fill out the back end. Particularly if Andy Pettitte retires, the fourth and fifth spots seem like they could go to anyone, really.
So those are two questions marks. CC Sabathia is as close to a sure thing they come and Phil Hughes certainly did enough well year to earn some measure of confidence that he can be a significant contributor again in 2011. That leaves A.J. Burnett.
Yesterday, Joe Girardi told reporters that new pitching coach Larry Rothschild has spoken to Burnett though it’s not clear if they’ll be getting together before spring training begins. Girardi, ever the optimist, said he believes that Burnett “is going to have a bounceback year, I do. But I tend to look at the positive side of things.”
That’s Girardi’s approach but even he would acknowledge not everyone shares that same opinion. What you think about Burnett’s chances in 2011, I suppose, are closely tied to what you think of his 2010 – was it an anomaly or a sign?
Here’s the thing that alarms me as I look at his numbers: Last year, Burnett was so much more hittable. It wasn’t like he was terribly wild (his walks-per-nine actually went down 0.4) but he wasn’t fooling anyone either. Despite issuing fewer walks, his WHIP went from 1.401 to 1.511 and his strikeouts-per-nine fell by 1.5 from 2009. In other words, he wasn’t missing bats anymore.
For a guy like Burnett, a hard-thrower who had been a power pitcher during his most successful times, those numbers don’t bode well for the future. Can Burnett rediscover that dominance? Maybe. Whatever happens, you can bet that Burnett will be at the top of Rothschild’s to-do list.
* That’s an AP shot of Burnett.