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A.J. Burnett is confident: “Guys don’t want to face me”

Feb 16, 2011, 9:26 AM EDT

A.J. Burnett

I know A.J. Burnett became something of a joke last year. In much the way I tend to reach for Jeff Francoeur‘s name whenever I’m trying for a laugh line about an ineffective hitter, Burnett has sort of become that for people who want to wax pessimistic about a big money, low results pitcher.

Burnett, however, sounds like he’s prepared to render that meme obsolete:

I’m a force out there. Guys don’t want to face me. I just felt like guys didn’t care if they faced me (last year). I feel like I gave them that edge… I came here to win. I came here to pitch. I came here to be behind Big Man. And I wasn’t last year.

I’m not going to say that the power of positive thinking will necessarily fix Burnett’s problems from last year. But it’s also the case that his problems did not seem to be physical ones. The ball would pop more or less. He stuff had bite. It just seemed like he was battling himself and not taking a smart approach to batters.  Maybe this new focus is evidence of change in this regard.

There may not be a player whose performance is more pivotal to his team’s chances in 2011 than A.J. Burnett.  If he’s back to form, there’s every reason to think that the Yankees will give Boston all they can handle.

  1. bigxrob - Feb 16, 2011 at 9:41 AM

    I’ve always thought his problems were between his ears. He’s been inconsistent his whole career (as I recall anyway).

  2. dirtyharry1971 - Feb 16, 2011 at 10:08 AM

    Mark him down for the comeback player of the year

    • pisano - Feb 16, 2011 at 10:16 AM

      I wouldn’t make book on it, he’s a head case. If he gets off to another bad start the fans and media of NY will be all over him like a cheap suit.

  3. yankeesfanlen - Feb 16, 2011 at 10:17 AM

    If he can psych himself to win at least 16 games, I’ll be happy

  4. heyblueyoustink - Feb 16, 2011 at 10:20 AM

    There’s a difference between the power of positive thinking and trying to convince yourself of something…..He sounds like the latter, put his fragile ego on top of it and there you go, meltdown waiting to happen….like trying to convince yourself the contents of a hot dog has some nutritional value to it

  5. Ari Collins - Feb 16, 2011 at 10:27 AM

    His stuff and control both declined. The guy SEEMS like kind of an insecure jerk, but I doubt it was entirely mental.

    • Jonny 5 - Feb 16, 2011 at 10:38 AM

      Agreed, he just doesn’t have “it” anymore. And when that happens it’s frustrating. His frustration is being mistaken for “headcase” “ego” “mental”. Sure it appears that way, he’s pissed.

  6. jkay123 - Feb 16, 2011 at 10:32 AM

    This is all mental. AJ is a hard guy to dislike, he faces the media, he cares about winning, and all you read and hear from the media is that he is one of the nicest guys in baseball. I think he can bounce back. I also believe people are discounting the yankees and it’s really premature. He was under 500 last yr, pettite was out most of the season, they had mosely, mitre, gaudin and co. spot spotting and they still managed close to 100 wins with injuries and guys having down seasons. They will be fine, even if aj is 500 thats an upgrade, although i think he can pull off a 15-18 win season. Not to mention, the yankees bullpen is ridiculous this yr, they can get to the 6th inning and bring in some guys.
    ari, what are you basing him being a jerk on? the fact he has tattoos, gets paid a lot and youre a sox fan? ? He is one of baseballs good guys………..with a hot wife. Beckett seems like a nice guy though.

  7. BC - Feb 16, 2011 at 10:32 AM

    I wouldn’t want to face him, not because I couldn’t hit him, but solely out of the fear of being beaned. Dude doesn’t know where the ball is going.

    • trevorb06 - Feb 16, 2011 at 12:03 PM

      You stole my snarky comment :)

  8. Jonny 5 - Feb 16, 2011 at 10:35 AM

    Maybe he’s just getting old guys? He’s 33 and his numbers appear to be on a pretty steady decline. Almost every single category he’s slipping to the negative, and has been slipping for a few years now. The Yankees made a mistake with this one.

    • heyblueyoustink - Feb 16, 2011 at 10:39 AM

      I don’t buy getting old….he’s always had an all star quality arm, and a 10 cent head

      • xmatt0926x - Feb 16, 2011 at 1:04 PM

        Agree. He’s been this way since he was a kid with the marlins. Why is everyone acting like last year was something new. This is exactly what Burnett has always been. 1 game he has hall of fame stuff and is unhittable. The next game he’s Ollie Perez. Even in the 2009 world series against the Phils he had 1 ace type game and then was horrible the next game. The stuff is there. He’s just never been able to consistently control it.

      • Jonny 5 - Feb 16, 2011 at 3:30 PM

        Man, look at his #’s for the last 3 seasons he’s gotten worse and worse in almost every category. If he keeps going at the pace he’s been on he’s in real trouble. He’s never had great control, and the fact that it’s getting worse doesn’t equal “mental”. I know many Yankee fans would love to think it’s all in his head, but I tend to disagree. He’s on that steady decline as far as I can see.

  9. uyf1950 - Feb 16, 2011 at 10:41 AM

    Prior to the 2010 season AJ Burnett won 54% of the games he started and had a 3.84 ERA over that span. If he could only duplicate those numbers or something close to those numbers come the 2011 things would look a lot better for the Yankees rotation. IF and that’s a very big if over a season of 32 starts he would translate to a record of 17W/15L. That would be an incredible turn around. In order for that to happen he has to have his head screwed on right from opening day and he has to put all the distractions behind him. I’m sure Yankee fans around the world wish him luck because I know I do.

    • Kevin S. - Feb 16, 2011 at 10:43 AM

      If AJ posts a 3.84, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say the Yanks win significantly more than 54% of his starts.

      • bigharold - Feb 16, 2011 at 5:31 PM

        You’re right. And, that ain’t much of a limb.

    • banksatdixie - Feb 16, 2011 at 10:51 AM

      You do need to factor in those pesky no-decisions though. I’d sh!t down both legs if he won 15 games this year, and I’d jump for joy. Something no one seems to be considering either is his health. The guy was a walking injury before he came to NY, and I don’t think he has missed significant time since signing in NY. He is due for an injury.

      • uyf1950 - Feb 16, 2011 at 12:09 PM

        My friend while the wins and loses don’t take into those “pesky” no decisions as you call them his ERA of 3.84 does. But I agree with those of you that said the Yankees and Yankee fans would be very, very happy with a 15 win season and even a 4.00 ERA. He didn’t miss any time his last season at Toronto either in 2008. I wouldn’t say he’s due for an injury. In fact I would say just the opposite. I think he’s cured of the injury bug.

      • nyyankeefanforever - Feb 16, 2011 at 1:15 PM

        @banksatdixie Using that logic, you must think Soriano is due for injury too. Frankly, I have to agree with uyf1950 that AJ has gone healthy long enough and pitched enough innings to shed the ‘walking injury” tag. And speaking of injuries, I also believe we dodged a major bullet by not signing Lee, who has a permanent reservation on the DL in recent seasons. Can’t wait to see how long his chalk body holds up now that he has to hit and run instead of resting up on the bench all game.

      • henryd3rd - Feb 16, 2011 at 3:54 PM

        Let’s hope you got plenty of wipes and rubber gloves; because Yankees’ new pitching coach Larry Rothchild has done wonders with another head case named Zambrano and I feel he’s the right guy for AJ.

    • BC - Feb 16, 2011 at 11:36 AM

      If he can go something like 15-10, I think the Yankees will more than take it.

  10. baseballstars - Feb 16, 2011 at 11:25 AM

    I have no confidence in him. His career is rather hit or miss, so hopefully he will hit this year. And by hit, I mean somewhere in the neighborhood of a 3.80 ERA.

  11. Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Feb 16, 2011 at 11:36 AM

    Is it a contract year for him? No. Then it is settled, he will suck.

    • Jonny 5 - Feb 16, 2011 at 12:53 PM

      Know who’s in a contract year???

      Jimmy Rollins and Cole Hamels…. Yeah

  12. nyyankeefanforever - Feb 16, 2011 at 1:00 PM

    I’ve read elsewhere that last season AJ suddenly went from averaging two-seamer fastballs 2 percent of the time to something like 20-plus percent of the time. I don’t disagree with the inconsistent label some here have tagged him with. But it was clear to me during the season Posada — whom he was finally forced to throw to — was calling for a lot more nonbreaking stuff because he couldn’t handle AJ’s nasty breaking stuff anymore. And once there was a baserunner, forget it: the noodle-armed Posada didn’t call for ANY breaking stuff, hoping to make his impotent throws to second slightly less pathetic. I think Posada’s ego-fueled vandalism of AJ’s game and whatever head games Dave Eiland was stirring are being shockingly minimized or overlooked by his detractors. His much-maligned recent comment that he realizes now how important he is to the team might actually be a sharp reference to the fact that Posada and Eiland were not to be questioned, and that it wasn;t until the end of the season last year that they told him to play it like he feels it. Call it a hunch or guess, but it’s no more unfounded or uninformed than the haters and amateur shrinks I’m seeing who are calling him childish names and ascribing various mental illnesses to explain his problems. Nice post Craig.

    • cur68 - Feb 16, 2011 at 4:38 PM

      That’s how I saw it, too and I’m a Jays fan. Burnett needs a catcher, plain and simple. When he was pitching to Blue Jays catching (Zaun) he was lights out (unless he was injured or rusty, which he often was for a couple of seasons). A healthy, motivated, well practiced A.J. is bad news to a batter but he’s gotta be able to throw that nasty breaking stuff he’s got. The other thing about him, which I’m prepared to admit is my personal theory and not backed by ANYONE but me, is that he stares down his pitches. He’s excellent when he glances at the catcher, looks away, winds and throws. BUT if he doesn’t quite trust his catching…longer look, more deliberate, eyes back on the catcher WAY sooner aaand tips the pitch location. He’s real hittable when he does that and if he’s then is forced to throw his heater a lot (that pitch is no muffin either; 96, 97 mph. The real deal) he gets taken deep. AJB has everything needed to be great. He’s a pleasant guy, funny in interviews, wants to win, and my girlfriend will watch baseball if he’s pitching. She says he’s cute. I should hate him, but I feel sorry for all that talent going to waste, and he seems like a genuinely decent person. I wish more people got on board with showing him some love. He’d probably be grateful for it and might even perform a little better.

  13. xmatt0926x - Feb 16, 2011 at 1:06 PM

    The ironic part is that he’s right on. Why would anyone want to face him? If he’s on you cant hit him. If he’s off you’re scared to death that your going to get it between the eyes.

  14. randomdigits - Feb 16, 2011 at 1:19 PM

    I would feel more confident about him if he had gone 3rd person with the quote.
    “Guys don’t want to face A.J..” just has a better ring to it.

  15. beantownsports247 - Feb 16, 2011 at 1:27 PM

    Uyf the ” my friend ” gesture is getting old on here . Yankees are going to suck along with that rotation . Yes the yankees will be back im sure of it , but they won’t be winning anymore rings in the next few years.

    • yankeesfanlen - Feb 16, 2011 at 1:50 PM

      UYF is a gracious poster. Talk to me again at the end of September when you can prove that the Universe isn’t 3 games ahead of the Wild Card Sox.

    • uyf1950 - Feb 16, 2011 at 2:30 PM

      To beantownsports247 – “My friend” why so hostile? I hesitate to state the obvious but could it be envy of the Yankees success and their historical dominance of the Sox. Your crass comment(s) on this board do a disservice to your fellow Red Sox fans.

  16. yiterp - Feb 16, 2011 at 1:46 PM

    The only guys who don’t want to face Burnet are built like a door.

  17. psousa1 - Feb 16, 2011 at 3:52 PM

    He’s not much different than former Cubs and Red Sox Pitcher Matt Clement – plus fastball, plus slider, good split but just doesn’t put it all together. Have a string of about 4 or 5 good games in a row but then back to .500 or below.

    • yiterp - Feb 17, 2011 at 2:00 PM

      The Red Sox didn’t learn a thing from it. They are i the same boat now with Lackey & Beckett.

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