Breaking Down Burnett

A.J. Burnett, the veteran starter with the New York Yankees, has made three post-season starts in 2009. The right-hander has gone from quite good to OK to pretty bad in his three starts, which makes a person wonder just what to expect in Game Two of the World Series. With the Yankees having lost the opening game of the series, this is an important match-up for the top team in the American League. The squad needs to take at least one game at home before heading to Philadelphia for Games Three, Four and Five.

Let’s breakdown Burnett’s best post-season performance — against the Minnesota Twins on Oct. 9 (.205 WPA) — and his worst game — against the Angels on Oct. 22 (-.350 WPA). Hopefully, we can can a feel for what to expect from Burnett in Game Two of the World Series.

Oct. 9 – A.J. Burnett (vs Minnesota)

(Note: __/K means the pitch was a strike a foul ball or put in play; the absence of /K means it was a ball)

1st Inning:
Batter 1: FB/K | CB/K | FB/K (fly out)
Batter 2: FB/K | FB/K (ground out)
Batter 3: FB | FB/K | FB | CB | FB (walk)
Batter 4: CB | FB/K | FB/K | CB/K (strikeout swinging)
Pitches: 5 Balls | 9 Strikes (14 total)

Observations: Burnett had success when he was able to get ahead in the count. The heater was his preferred method of beginning an at-bats.

2nd Inning:
Batter 1: FB | FB/K | FB/K | FB/K (single)
Batter 2: CB/K | CB/K | CB/K (strikeout swinging)
Batter 3: FB/K | CB/K | FB | CB/K (ground out)
Batter 4: FB/K | CB | FB/K | CB/K (ground out)
Pitches: 3 Balls | 12 Strikes (15 total)

Observations: Burnett again went to the fastball to get ahead and utilized his curve as his out-pitch. He was showing enough curveball command to wipe out a fastball-hitter in Delmon Young on three straight curves. Burnett’s nearly unhittable when he’s commanding that curveball.

3rd Inning:
Batter 1: FB/K | FB | FB | FB | FB/K | FB (walk)
Batter 2: FB | FB/K (ground out)
Batter 3: FB/K (fly out)
Batter 4: FB/K | FB/K | CB/K (strikeout looking)
Pitches: 5 Balls | 7 Strikes (12 total)

Observations: Burnett loves the heater but the command of it escapes him at times, usually early in the half-inning after he’s been sitting.

4th Inning:
Batter 1: CB/K | CH/K | CB/K (strikeout swinging)
Batter 2: FB | FB/K (pop up)
Batter 3: CB | FB (hit batter)
Batter 4: CB/K | FB | FB (hit batter)
Batter 5: FB/K (single, runner thrown out at third)
Pitches: 5 Balls | 5 Strikes (10 total)

Observations: Burnett lacked command with the fastball in the fourth inning but instead of taking a couple pitches, the fifth batter swung at the first pitch after watching two players get plunked. He went first-pitch curves to a couple of fastball hitters.

5th Inning:
Batter 1: FB | FB | FB/K | FB/K | CB/K (strikeout looking)
Batter 2: CB/K | CB/K | CB | CB | FB/K (ground out)
Batter 3: FB | FB | FB/K | FB/K | FB | CB (walk)
Batter 4: CB | FB | FB | FB/K | FB (walk)
Batter 5: FB/K | FB | CB/K | CB/K (ground out)
Pitches: 13 Balls | 12 Strikes (25 total)

Observations: The fastball command got away from Burnett and he struggled with just two pitches. He continued to use his curveball against weak breaking ball hitters.

6th Inning:
Batter 1: CB/K (ground out)
Batter 2: CB/K | FB | CB/K | CB | CB | FB/K | FB (walk)
Batter 3: CB/K | FB/K | CB/K (strikeout swinging)
Batter 4: CB | FB/K | FB | CB | FB/K (triple)
Batter 5: FB/K | CB/K (ground out)
Pitches: 7 Balls | 11 Strikes (18 total)

Observations: Burnett still did not have his fastball command in the sixth inning so he relied heavily on the breaking ball by throwing seven of them during his first 11 pitches of the inning.

Overall, Burnett allowed just one run in six innings of work. He gave up three hits and five walks, while striking out six batters. Burnett allowed eight ground balls and three fly balls in the game. Once his ability to command the fastball disappeared, the night was over for the veteran hurler.

Oct. 22 – A.J. Burnett (vs Los Angeles)

1st Inning:
Batter 1: FB | FB | FB | FB/K | FB (Walk)
Batter 2: FB/K | FB/K (Hit)
Batter 3: CB/K (Hit)
Batter 4: FB/K (Hit)
Batter 5: SL(?) | CB | FB/K (Hit)
Batter 6: FB/K | CB | CB/K | CB | CB/K (Fly out)
Batter 7: FB/K | CB/K | CB | CB/K (Double play)
Pitches: 9 Balls | 12 Strikes (21 Total)

Observations: The two first-pitch hits suggest that the hitters were pretty comfortable with the scouting report and Burnett and had a good idea what was coming. Once he was able to get ahead in the count with batters six and seven, Burnett had success. He’s established that he’s trying to pitch off of the fastball and finish hitters off with the curve. The slider is a possibly a show-me pitch, or more likely a misdiagnosed curve.

2nd Inning:
Batter 1: FB | FB | FB/K | FB/K | FB/K (single)
Batter 2: FB/K (double play)
Batter 3: FB/K (fly out)
Pitches: 2 Balls | 5 Strikes (7 total)

Observations: This is a case of the Angels batters being too aggressive. Batter 1 had a nice approach and took some pitches but the second and third hitters both jumped at the first pitches in each at-bat, even though Burnett was on the ropes. The pitcher kept to his game plan and threw first pitch fastballs in all three at-bats.

3rd Inning:
Batter 1: FB | FB/K | CB/K | CB/K (strikeout swinging)
Batter 2: CB | CB | FB/K | CB | CB (walk)
Batter 3: FB/K | FB | FB/K | FB | CB | FB/K (fielder’s choice)
Batter 4: FB\K | FB | FB/K | CB/K | FB/K (fly out)
Pitches: 9 Balls | 11 Strikes (20 total)

Observations: Good things happen when you get ahead in the count. The Angels batters did a nice job of taking some pitches.

4th Inning:
Batter 1: FB/K | FB | CB/K (ground out)
Batter 2: CB/K (fly out)
Batter 3: FB/K | CB\K (double)
Batter 4: FB/K | FB/K | CB/K (ground out)
Pitches: 1 Ball | 8 strikeouts (9 total)

Observations: With all four batters, Burnett threw first-pitch strikes with positive results in three cases. He’s established his ability to throw strikes with two plus pitches. We have yet to see his third pitch. And again we see the pattern of fastballs early in the count and curve balls to close it out.

5th Inning:
Batter 1: FB/K | FB | CB/K | CB/K (strikeout swinging)
Batter 2: FB/K | CB | CB | FB | FB/K (ground out)
Batter 3: FB/K (single)
Batter 4: CB | FB/K (fly out)
Pitches: 5 Balls | 7 Strikes (12 total)

Observations: Burnett goes first-pitch heater with the first three until he gives up a hit. He then switches gears with the curveball.

6th Inning:
Batter 1: FB | CH(?) | FB | FB/K | FB\K | CB/K | FB/K | FB/K | CB/K (strikeout swinging)
Batter 2: FB\K (ground out)
Batter 3: CB/K (ground out)
Pitches: 3 Balls | 8 Strikes (11 total)

Observations: To have a pitcher throw nine pitches to the first batter and then get out of the inning with just 11 thrown is ridiculous. The Angels batters were far too aggressive again. We also see the first changeup from Burnett… perhaps a sign that he’s feeling fatigued? The heater was still touching 96 mph, although not quite as consistently as earlier in the game.

7th Inning:
Batter 1: FB | FB/K | FB/K (single)
Batter 2: FB/K | CB/K | CB | FB | CB | FB (walk)
Batter 3: Pitching change
Pitches: 5 Balls | 4 strikes (9 total)

Observations: First pitch fastballs again, but Burnett was then unable to put away the second batter after getting ahead 0-2.

Overall, Burnett allowed six runs on eight hits and three walks in six-plus innings of work. Two of the runs charged to him scored after he left the game in the seventh inning. He struck out three batters, while inducing 10 ground balls and five fly balls.

* * *

Here is what we know: Burnett is going to throw you either a fastball or a curveball. He’s going to try and get ahead with the fastball before finishing batters off with a curve. He tends to stick with the fastball until (a) he gets two strikes, or (b) the hitters start to make contact with the heater on foul balls. If he gives up a hit on the fastball, he tends to come back with a first-pitch curveball in the next at-bat. If Burnett is facing a batter that is a strong fastball hitter but with a weakness for off-speed pitches, then he’ll put the heater in his back pocket.

If Burnett is commanding both the fastball and the curveball, then it’s going to be a long night for the Phillies hitters. However, because he only throws two pitches, the loss of command on just one pitch can cause havoc for Burnett. If his command starts to falter, the hitters must show some patience against the right-hander, which the Angels club failed to do; as a result, they were unable to hammer the final nail in Burnett’s coffin and get into the bullpen. The lefty-heavy Phillies lineup is in tough considering the Yankees pitcher’s regular-season splits (.217/.310/.344 vs left-handed batters, .282/.366/.450 vs right-handed).




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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospect analysis. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.


11 Responses to “Breaking Down Burnett”

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  1. neuter_your_dogma says:

    Great analysis as usual. Also enjoyed the adianoeta. Is he breaking down?

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  2. Richie Abernathy says:

    The wrap-up at the end of the article reminds me of my college hitting coach. Before a series, he’d go over the scouting report, saying, “He is going to try to get ahead… with the fastball. When he’s ahead in the count, he’ll throw… a curveball. Except to some of our better hitters, he may start with… a curveball.” The emphasis–as if he had stumbled upon some great discovery–on the pitch was his, not mine. We mocked him excessively behind his back for his fairly obviously observations. That and his stutter.

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  3. Marc Hulet says:

    It may be fairly obvious to those who watch Burnett on a regular basis, but not for everyone tuning in to the World Series… Not to mention that some hitters (and I am sure there were some on your team) like to make things a lot more complicated that they really are…

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  4. Dan says:

    I do not think that the Phils will bail him out with a lot of 1st pitch swings. If he cannot get ahead with his FB tonight, he is doomed. On the other hand, if he can throw a lot of 1st pitch strikes, he should be able to limit the Phils a bit.

    I don’t know, though. So many Phils seem to be locked in right now. Frankly, CC was a little lucky to escape with as little damage as he did. The Phils left a few on the bases last night (i.e. 1st inning).

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  5. Logan says:

    Great analysis, as per usual. I have to admit though I skipped to the summary part, rather than actually reading each inning. Still though. Prettay, Prettay, Prettay…

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  6. greenmachine says:

    “Delmon Young on three straight curves. Burnett’s nearly unhittable when he’s commanding that curveball.”

    Uhh, I’m pretty sure you mean:

    “Delmon Young on three straight curves. Young is nearly unable to hit against a pitcher with command.”

    There, fixed that for you.

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  7. Choo says:

    Even if the good Burnett shows up, I like Werth tonight. I don’t know if he has a history against Burnett, but one of Werth’s favorite hobbies is mauling fastball/curveball specialists.

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  8. Sal Paradise says:

    Marc, you could make your data a LOT more visible with a handy chart-esque type thing.

    Open Circle = Ball
    Closed Circle = Strike
    Color = Pitch Type
    Open Triangle = In Play
    Closed Triangle = In Play Out

    If you show it that way, you can see patters at a glance, without having to process the data.

    You know, something like this:
    1: ??? (fly out)
    2: ?? (ground out)
    3: ????? (walk)
    4: ???? (K)

    I can’t color (I don’t think), but you can! And then you have a wonderful visual grouping that lets you see pitch sequencing without having to process it through your brain.

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  9. Sal Paradise says:

    And of course fangraphs doesn’t accept Japanese characters. And wingdings doesn’t seem like it will work either. Ugh.

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