What’s with Burnett’s curve this year?
To be honest, I can’t even begin to interpret or make sense of the many mechanical pieces necessary for A.J. Burnett’s delivery to be effective and for him to subsequently succeed. However, what I can do as a meager blogger is to point to interesting things that I might notice – deviations from the norm, if you will – that could be contributing to the dreadful spell – a 9.18 FIP in the month of June – that we have been forced to witness this season.
One wrinkle, career-wise, is Burnett’s curveball this season. Basically, the pitch, which has been has best weapon in years passed, is a non-factor. Or, I should say, it is a factor in that it is getting knocked around more than it has in the past. According to FanGraphs’ pitch type value data, Burnett’s curveball, while worth 16 runs above average a year ago and 13 the year prior, has been 1.4 runs below average in 2010. While the movement on the curve could be a bit better – it was better in 2008 by a lot (vertically) and better in 2009 by a little (horizontally) – it is not overly different when compared to last year, when Burnett generated a 16.9% strikeout rate with the offering. Still, in 2010, Burnett is only posting a 12.8% strikeout rate with his curve. This, in part, helps to understand Burnett’s poor K/9.
Why, this is occurring, though, I’m not sure. It could be that he isn’t throwing the curveball as often in 3-2 counts this year. For his career, Burnett has thrown the curve in a full count about 20% of the time. In 2010, however, Burnett has only done so 11% of the time. Essentially, he doesn’t seem to have the confidence he normally has in the pitch. This, of course, is a problem, as he needs it to survive given his predominantly two-pitch arsenal.
Also, and this might actually be the bigger issue, Burnett isn’t throwing the curve for a strike as often as he did in 2009. This year, he has only thrown the pitch for a strike 50.7% of the time, compared to 56.4% of the time last year. In 2008, Burnett threw the curve for a strike 55.1% of the time. Maybe – and I’m just hypothesizing here – if he threw the curve for a strike a bit more going forward he would see an improvement in his overall numbers (or at least with respect to the pitch, specifically)? It could make sense (can’t hurt to try).
Now, this is just one aspect of A.J. Burnett that is seemingly hindering his success and, more importantly, the Yankees’ success as a team. Like his delivery, Burnett’s ineffectiveness is really complex. The poor results with his curve could possibly be explained via a slight – very slight – change in movement (horizontal), but, as I see it, it could be related more so to his location. With Dave Eiland returning on Tuesday (he’ll have his work cutout for him), maybe this will be an issue that he and Burnett will address in respective side sessions.
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