Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The lesson of A.J. Burnett and Rick Porcello

Pitching in an elimination game Tuesday,
A.J. Burnett got the job done for the Yankees.
I was driving around Mankato Tuesday evening running errands and listening to the static that accompanied ESPN Radio's pregame for the Yankees-Tigers game. Somebody -- I think it was Dan Schulman -- described the pitching matchup more or less thusly:

An inconsistent, frustrating 30-something .500 pitcher and a young nibbler.

If all you know about baseball comes from the cliches of Dan Gladden and Dick Bremer, that doesn't make sense. It's the young guys who are supposed to be talented but frustratingly inconsistent, and the old pros who fall back on their guile.

But the description is accurate. A.J. Burnett, age 34, has a wonderful arm but pitches seemingly without a clue -- a right-handed version of Francisco Liriano, right down to the ugly high-walk no-hitter.

In his three seasons to date with the Yankees, Burnett has led the league in wild pitches twice, in hit batters once, has averaged four walks per nine innings and has an ERA of 4.79, which is roughly a full run per game higher than he had in his time with Florida and Toronto. Had it not been for the series-opening rain delay, he would not have been entrusted with a start in this series. And he has two more seasons left to run on contract, at more than $16 million a year.

Then there's Rick Porcello, 23, who was far more highly regarded when he was coming out of high school than he is now. Considered a top-three talent in the 2007 draft, he fell to the Tigers late in the first round (one pick before the Twins tabbed Ben Revere) because of his bonus demands. Porcello made the majors in 2008 and has been, basically, the kind of pitcher we've come to associate with the Twins -- a sinker-slider guy with a low walk rate and a low strikeout rate. (Unlike most of the Twins "sinkerballers," Porcello actually does get ground balls.) Detroit signed him anticipating a future ace; he's a reliable change-up, at least, away from that status.

The Yankee lineup loves facing that kind of pitcher. That's been at the heart of the Twins' head-to-head problems with the Yanks -- the Minnesota starters don't miss bats, and the New York hitters can spoil the good pitches and wait for the mistakes.

And so it went Tuesday night. Burnett survived his wildness in the first inning, then found the release point for his curve ball and got the Yanks into the sixth inning with just one run allowed.

Porcello? He got one more out than Burnett did, walked three fewer, struck out two more -- and surrendered three more runs.

It was a one-game object lesson in the value of stuff over command. It's not a lesson I particularly like -- watching Burnett or Liriano in aimless mode is painful for a fan -- but it's real anyway.

Burnett is 34. If Porcello doesn't find a way to miss bats, he won't last as long as Burnett has.


  1. Yes! I know a lot less about baseball than you, but as I listened to Orel Hershiser talk about pitching during the radio broadcast last night, I had the same thought: "This is what the Yankees like to do to Twins pitching."

  2. Bill Smith and Dave St. Peter. had conference call for Twins season ticket holders.

    Here is one ticket holder's version of the info from the call:


    Bill Smith hinting that Morneau will not be healthy next year and Parmelee is the odds-on favorite to take over the regular 1B position. They aren't going to send Parmelee to winter ball because there's nothing more for him to work on...they want him fresh for Spring Training.

    Baker is our #1 pitcher next year. Will be pitching for a big contract in 2012. Expect Baker to be opening day starter.

    Robert in Minneapolis: "With Denard Span hopefully coming back healthy next year, what will you plan on doing with Ben Revere after his GREAT rookie season?"

    St. Peter said both Span and Revere will be starting outfielders next year, and it's up to Gardy who plays LF and who plays CF.

    Butera on the chopping block. BS says we can't have backup catchers hit .150 when they play in 100 games. But if Mauer plays in 125, we can live with 40 games of .150 from backup catchers

    hey just asked BS if there will be any changes to the coaching staff. BS said there will be no changes.

    BS is being brutally honest about Revere's arm, I'll give him that. He just said "Revere's arm, it's just not going to get better."

    his caller wants to know if there's a program in place for Ben Revere to strengthen his arm.

    BS: We've worked with him for years. Unfortunately, Ben does not throw well. There's nothing more we can do about it. He just doesn't throw well. There's no hope he will be an average thrower. We just need him to get rid of the ball quickly. That's all he can do. BS said he had a football injury.

    Caller asked who BS wishes we still had this year. BS answered with JJ Hardy. Tipped his hat to him. Although he said that Hardy is a product of hitting in Baltimore and Fenway instead of Target Field. And JJ would admit that too.

    Overall I'm somewhat impressed with BS in this exclusive season ticket interview format. He's a lot more honest than he ever is on TV, radio or newspapers.

    Admitted he blew the Hardy deal. Admitted Morneau is a long ways from being healthy. Admitted our backup catcher situation is a disaster (he didn't really take any blame for this, though). Admitted Revere's arm is borderline unacceptable...but wouldn't go so far as to say it will prevent him from starting and being effective.

    Kind of a fun conference call.