Burnett needs to diversify his portfolio

What makes these Bad A.J. outings particularly frustrating is how simple the problem with them can seem at times. Though people spend a lot of time pondering why Burnett is so inconsistent, as I’ve written many times it’s actually not that hard to figure out; when Burnett can’t control his curveball, you can bet the rent it’s going to be a Bad A.J. night. And that’s exactly what happened tonight, as A.J. threw just 14 of his 30 curveballs for strikes, two of them swinging. When he consistently can’t put the breaking ball in the strikezone like that, hitters are just going to let it go and sit on the fastball. And sure enough, the fastball was the pitch Boston did there damage on tonight, as according to Brooks Burnett’s fastball carried a linear weight of 1.2660. Additionally, Burnett was able to get only two swinging strikes with the pitch in the game. Long story short, the Red Sox were sitting on his fastball and making solid contact.

Frankly I don’t see anyway out of this pattern for A.J. so long as he’s a two-pitch pitcher. Without another secondary pitch he can trust, Burnett is totally at the mercy of his command of the curveball on any given night, and his fastball just isn’t good enough to get him by when everyone knows they can just sit on it all game. Burnett really needs to develop another pitch he can go to consistently to keep hitters off balance, especially on nights when he’s having trouble throwing the curveball for strikes. He toyed with throwing more changeups earlier in the season and seemed to be having some success with that, but he threw just 7 changeups tonight.

From a bottom line standpoint, A.J. Burnett has generally been an above average starter in his career, and my guess is that he’ll be an above average starter again. The problem with Burnett has always been that he supposedly hasn’t been able to fully harness his “great stuff.” The truth of the matter is that his stuff has always been a bit overrated. Yes he throws his fastball reasonably hard and he has a tremendous hammer, but that’s really all he’s got. You can probably make it as a fastball-curveball pitcher in the big leagues if both of those offerings are legitimately plus pitches, but Burnett’s fastball has never really struck me as a great pitch. Burnett has always leaned on that curveball to make him effective, and always will unless he works in some other offspeed or breaking pitch to go to when h simply doesn’t have the feel for the deuce. And until then, we’ll all be holding our breath, wondering if this is going to be a good A.J. night, or a bad A.J. night.

About Brien Jackson

Born in Southwestern Ohio and currently residing on the Chesapeake Bay, Brien is a former editor-in-chief of IIATMS who now spends most of his time sitting on his deck watching his tomatoes ripen and consuming far more MLB Network programming than is safe for one's health or sanity.

2 thoughts on “Burnett needs to diversify his portfolio

  1. If the title of this post is a reference to the "Wu-Tang Financial" skit, then +1.5.

    If it's not, then just +1 for speaking more truth about A.J.

  2. Spot on… The other key problem:
    fastball speed 2008-11: 95.1, 94.2, 93.2, 92.4 (per pitch f/x data over at fangraphs)

    Not surprising the pitch value of that fastball is no longer as good.

    His fastball has also apparently lost significant horizontal movement per that same pitch f/x data (between -6 and -7 in 2007-2009, dropping to -5.1 last year and -4.1this year). This could be a classification issue with the pitch f/x system, but if it is real he has lost significant velocity AND movement… which means his secondary pitches need to improve or he will continue to slide performance-wise

    With a fastball sitting at 92.4 average velocity, even if the control of his curveball improved, I don't think that would be enough. A 2 pitch pitcher sitting at 92.4 is a back of the rotation starter even with a plus second pitch.