He’s not a number 2 starter and he’s not worth $16.5 million per year, but he’s not as bad as some people make him out to be.
Last night’s shit show notwithstanding, AJ Burnett has been pretty good since mid-June. Over that span, he’s given up 26 earned runs (never more than four in a single start) in 58 innings with just 49 hits, 60 strikeouts and 29 walks. He’s held opponents to a .225/.327/.413 slash line in those nine games and never failed to pitch into the sixth inning.
Heck, for the season he’s pitched five innings in each start (again, last night notwithstanding) and given up more than four runs only thrice. However, he’s 2-5 over the aforementioned sample (8-9 on the year) and hasn’t won a game since June 29, which is where the hate breeds, methinks.
It shouldn’t be that way, though, because, as we all know, pitcher wins/losses may very well be the dumbest stat out there. Among many other things, a pitcher can only control a small portion of the game. He can throw seven or eight scoreless innings, but if the offense doesn’t score it is all for naught and he won’t get a decision. Think Felix Hernandez last year; he was 13-12 but absolutely filthy. Also, what if the starting pitcher throws a gem but the bullpen shits the bed? That’s another instance where a great performance goes for naught.
On the other end of the spectrum, take last night’s game for instance. AJ was staked to a 13-1 lead in the third inning but a sloppy fifth made it interesting at 13-7. He was rightfully yanked with one out in the frame as the bullpen finished it off with just one hit the rest of the way. My point is that if AJ had recorded just two more outs in the fifth he would have gotten the win. Do you really think a guy who threw five innings and gave up seven runs on 13 hits deserves a win? No, he does not.
So the fact that AJ’s win/loss record isn’t stellar shouldn’t warrant hate. AJ has a 1.0 WAR (according to Fangraphs), a 3.92 xFIP (which is above league average) and boasts a 93 ERA+ this season (compared to 82 last year), which isn’t great but decent. As I said before, he’s not a number 2 starter but for a back-of-the-rotation guy he’s been OK and much better than last year.
His contract may be an albatross but AJ Burnett doesn’t deserve much of the vitriol he gets. The Yanks are stuck with him for another 2 1/2 years so we fans might as well embrace him and hope for the best.