With the Major League Baseball postseason just one week away, we’re doing our best to sleep as much as possible so we can make it through the nightly 3 a.m. bedtimes baseball playoffs force upon us. To preview the Yankees’ first postseason in two years, we’re taking a daily look at players vital to the team’s October success. Today: A.J. Burnett.
For a 32-year-old pitcher who has a World Series ring, it’s a little surprising to realize that A.J. Burnett has never pitched in a playoff game. (He was injured during the postseason when he earned the ring in 2003 with the Florida Marlins.)
It would be an overstatement to say that Burnett has been a wild success for the Yankees this season, especially considering the five-year, $82.5 million contract he signed in the off-season. (He’s one of the top twenty best-paid players in baseball and, this year anyway, he’s making more money than CC Sabathia.) He’s been maddeningly inconsistent — when he is dominant, he’s arguably a better pitcher than Sabathia; he certainly has better stuff — he leads the majors in wild pitches, and has given up six runs or more four times since August 1.
Traditionally, the third starter in the postseason — which is where Burnett will probably fall, though Joe Girardi has yet to officially confirm it — is a slow, steady, pitch-to-contact guy, someone who throws six innings, gives up two to three runs, and keeps you in the game. If that’s how Burnett pitches this postseason, that’ll be fine. (Maybe not $16.5 million fine, but it’ll do the trick.) The one thing the Yankees can’t afford in the playoffs is a blowup. When Burnett is off, he’s an active hindrance: There is nothing slow and steady about his game. If the Yankees have a healthy series lead when Burnett pitches, his flakiness is forgivable. But if, say, the Yankees head into Detroit or Minnesota tied 1–1, is this a guy you feel entirely comfortable having the season on his shoulders? A boom-or-bust guy who has never pitched a postseason game before?
He’ll make his last two starts of the season tonight and then Sunday in Tampa. Watch him closely. Which A.J. Burnett shows up in October could make all the difference.