While you were undraining your bathtub and moving all your breakables back to their proper spot (stacked on top of each other against the wall), the Yankees got back to playing baseball yesterday in the quietest doubleheader we can remember. They ended up splitting with the Orioles, being shutout in the opener before bashing five homers to win the late game. Derek Jeter made some history, passing Mickey Mantle as the man to have played the most games in a Yankees uniform, helped immeasurably by Jeter's decidedly healthier attitude toward alcohol. But even as the Yanks yawned and stretched their way back to baseball after the hurricane, all anyone wanted to talk about was A.J. Burnett.
Burnett imploded again on Friday night, giving up nine runs in five innings, in a 12–5 loss to the Orioles. (Hope you're not sick of the Orioles yet, by the way: Next week, the Yankees play them five times in four days in two cities.) This raised his August ERA to 11.91, and that ERA has risen every month since the season began. But 11.91? Perhaps A.J. is doing some sort of homage to Assassin's Creed?
There are several reactions to be had to Burnett's ongoing problems. The first, and the dumbest, is (of course) Stephen A. Smith's, who, with typical restraint and care, writes, "[Burnett] is the definition of ineptitude," and that he's "disappointing, dishonest and mentally weak." (Two great parts of that column. One, Smith actually ends it with "I guess that's why they call them the good ol' days," which is so lazy that it's sort of brilliant. The other? Smith actually stops, mid-paragraph, and yells, "Hold on! I'm not finished." Steve! You're the only one typing! Who's interrupting you? To whom are you speaking?)
On the other hand, you have Joe Sheehan, the outstanding baseball writer (whose newsletter you should be subscribing to, and who wrote about Burnett in this week's Sports Illustrated), along with other sabemetric folks, who point out that Burnett has pitched into an unusually high amount of bad luck (though less so in the last month) and still is second on the team in strikeouts. The calls for Ivan Nova sound nice, and he certainly seems more mentally tough, but Burnett is still, at his core, a better pitcher. Even if you have to squint to see it right now. (And even Sheehan's losing faith.)
The real answer, though, is: Eh, the Yankees have time to figure this out. Burnett hasn't lost his spot in the rotation, because he's not really fighting with Joe Girardi and (more to the point) because the Yankees have so many games coming up in succession that they can't afford to drop anybody out of the rotation right now. He'll pitch Thursday against Boston, which is good, because the Yankees are making the playoffs anyway and we all need something to talk about, and the Yankees need time to nail down how they're gonna play this. Burnett's awful right now, but he's not this awful. The Yankees have plenty of games to spare, to play around with. The Yankees not only have the luxury of overpaying A.J. Burnett, they have the luxury of overpitching him.