Why, why, why, A.J.?

aj_blog_082309.jpgA.J. Burnett has been awful in his last two starts and nobody can quite figure out who he blames. But some of his postgame comments, with their hints of ambiguity, have created a growing distraction the Yankees don’t need right now.

The questions first arose on August 12th after Burnett earned a no-decision against the Blue Jays, lasting six innings in a bumpy 4-3 extra-inning Yankee win. Asked about Burnett’s three wild pitches during the game, catcher Jorge Posada blamed the problem on cross-ups, saying he got curveballs from the pitcher when calling for fastballs.

“But you gotta be on your toes,” he said. “He’s gonna throw a curveball in the dirt and you just gotta try to put your body in front of it. Most of them I got.”

For his part, Burnett declined to say anything about the wild pitches, although after being pressed  for an explanation, he would comment, “It’s a curveball down in the dirt. I don’t know. I got nothin’ to say on it.”

Burnett’s next start was a 3-0 loss to the Oakland Athletics on August 18th.  In a chaotic fourth inning during which Oakland scored all their runs, he and Posada again crossed up a sign. As a result, Burnett would halt his delivery with runners on second and third, leading to a balk call that scored a run for the A’s.  

Again Burnett fielded questions about responsibility in the clubhouse afterwords. “It’s probably me,” he said. “I mean, he’s (Posada) been doing this behind the plate for a long time. And, I don’t know, I had no way of seeing it. He had the tape {on his fingers}. It’s just the at-bat.  But it’s just one of those mistakes.”

Burnett’s remarks were widely characterized in the media as an unequivocal assumption of responsibility. In his New York Daily News blog, Yankees beat reporter Mark Feinsand wrote, “I’ve covered this team long enough to know that when a player thinks it’s someone else’s fault, they say ‘no comment; to questions like this. Burnett placed the blame on himself for the cross-up, so that’s where it probably belongs.”

With due respect to Feinsand, I didn’t see things quite the same. Burnett’s words were pretty much the right ones, true, although he used enough qualifiers to create lingering questions. And his overall manner frankly had me wondering if he wasn’t so much saying what he really thought as letting everyone know he wasn’t going to say what he really thought.

Which, if it’s the case, meant he was intentionally saying plenty without saying it.
 
I wasn’t alone in being a bit thrown off by Burnett’s remarks — Feinsand blogged about it precisely because my confusion was shared by many others who’d seen the locker room interview on YES.

Interpreting a player’s words is an uncomfortable exercise for me. It’s a bit unfair to parse and analyze what a ballplayer says moments after a tough loss, when emotions — most particularly frustration — are still running high. And the confusion only multiplies when his comments are relayed to his catcher (albeit in summary) for a response.

That’s exactly what happened after Saturday’s 14-1 loss to the Red Sox at Fenway in which Burnett allowed nine earned runs in five innings of work. It was an ugly performance during which little went  right for him. There were walks, pitches getting pounded for doubles, flying over the wall,  you name it.  In the fifth inning, with the Yanks trailing by seven, David Ortiz slammed a badly placed fastball over the Green Monster in left, prompting Burnett to turn toward the wall with his hands outspread. “Why? Why? Why?” he appeared to say. “Why would you throw that?”

This was a mistake for several reasons. First it can be viewed by teammates as showing up his catcher on the field. Not good. Second, it was caught by television cameras on a FOX national broadcast. Worse. Third, and worse yet, it happened in Boston, where the local media would have a field day stirring the pot, even at the price of inaccuracy. Blogger John Haggerty of WEEI sports radio’s official website would go so far as to misquote Burnett when he typed: “As Ortiz circled the bases following his homer to left, Burnett raised his hands up in mock outrage and appeared to ask with incredulity, “Why? Why? Why? Why would you CALL that? Why?”

Which brings me to the worst consequence of Burnett’s display of emotion, namely that he and Posada once again had to answer questions about their functional relationship in the clubhouse.

Burnett again seemed to take responsibility without really embracing it, suggesting he should have shaken off Posada’s calls more often. After saying the main problem with his outing was that he “threw a lot of balls I didn’t want to throw”,  he was asked whether there had been more communication problems with his battery-mate

“I didn’t have a lot of conviction on some pitches,” he replied. “It’s our {pitchers’} job. We throw what we want to throw. He’s (Posada) there to aid, so it’s definitely not him. I had a good hook today and I definitely should have used it more in more counts and more often.”

That’s a pretty wishy washy answer — and hardly a ringing endorsement of Jorge Posada’s pitch-calling behind the plate. Meanwhile, the veteran catcher, who attributed the pitcher’s problem’s to mislocation, seemed less than thrilled when informed Burnett had been “lamenting some of the pitch selection”.

“Well, you know, when the balls leave the park, you’re gonna look back and you’re gonna see the pitches that you call and pitches that he threw,” Posada said with a resigned smile. “That’s about it.”

But it isn’t. Burnett and Posada’s relationship has become a story that will hover over the clubhouse at least until Burnett’s start, and well beyond if it’s another  ineffective one. It’s also a legitimate issue as the Yanks launch into the season’s stretch run and hopefully the playoffs. Stating the obvious, the Yankees’ number two starter and his catcher must be in synch for the team to continue its success.

This season Joe Girardi has shown a dramatic evolution in game management skills. He’s has done an impressive job composing and handling his bullpen. He must now demonstrate that he can also manage his players, put an end to the public back-and-forth between Burnett and Posada, and see that they fall into, if not quite harmony, then an acceptable working relationship.

There’s really no other choice except failure for the Yanks. After everything the team has accomplished this season, both men would surely agree that is unacceptable.

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18 Comments

Is Burnett agreeing to certain pitches from Posada, then pitching something different, thus throwing Posada off ? If it comes down to trust, I’ll take Jorge’s word over Burnett’s. Should Burnett focus more on getting in synch with Jorge, and spend less time thinking about pie tossing ?

“It’s a bit unfair to parse and analyze what a ballplayer says moments after a tough loss…”

But you went right ahead and did it any way while further attempting to sensationalize your article with the preceeding “…their hints of ambiguity, have created a growing distraction the Yankees don’t need right now.”

Jerome, The Sun called; they want you on staff pronto to assume leadership of the Elvis sightings desk.

I think it is a bit much to call Burnett’s last 2 starts awful. Yesterday against the Red Sox was awful for sure, but his start against Oakland though the Yankees didn’t win was far from awful. He went 8 innings and gave up 3 runs, if the yankees scored him some runs I would take that from any starting pitcher. I feel a lot of times Posada acts as if he is insulted if the pitchers shake him off. Burnett is not the only pitcher he has problems with. After the game yesterday Burnett specifically said that he was at fault not Posada because he is the one throwing the pitches. Posada kind of hung Burnett out to dry by saying that it was frustrating that Burnett wanted to throw his own pitches. I think the worst thing for Posada was getting Girardi as a manager. There was a history of being friends already there and I feel like since Girardi has been there Posada has gotten a bit of an attitude and thinks he has more pull on the team than he actually does.

AJ has a very dry and subdued personality. His remarks should be taken in light of his personality and the way in which he talks normally. He is not always direct. Fortunately, I am not writing for the sports news so I do not have to try and analyze what is said and not said by players. He had two bad starts. It is not the end of the world.

Taking his “Dry and subdued personality” into account, let’s not forget that this is the same AJ Burnett who was asked to leave the team and not come back during the last weeks of his last season with the Marlins in 2005.

By 0262 . . . Your point about the Oakland start is well taken, I should’ve tempered my language there. But I’d strongly disagree with you as far as Posada . . . Aerod500, I didn’t say the bad starts are the end of the world? But there have been three consecutive outings in which Burnett and Posada could not get on the same page, and it is becoming an issue, like it or not . . . Nyy80401 . . .Elvis has actually been living in my apartment for over twenty years. We have matching jumpsuits and do a mean version of “Hound Dog” together.

All of the fun back and forth is entertaining, but the bottom line is that there is something missing as far as Burnett and Posada being on the same page and it’s hurting the team now. These guys have meetings to go over strategy for each hitter, each game, then adjust as the game plays out. Obviously, either one of the two is not sticking to the plan, or one of them is not adjusting based upon what is effective on a given day and what is not. The skipper, as a former pitch-caller and now manager, has to bring these two together and help them get over their differences as we come down the stretch. I think he’ll get that done.

The hardest thing for a manager to do is let an aging star know he is beginning to deteriorate.
Posada has always been an over rated catcher.
The time has come (before it’s too late) to sit Jorge down more and let either Cervelli or Molina catch.
I honestly believe that if Cervelli was the full time catcher since he was first brought up, the Yankees would be at least 12 games ahead of Boston.
Unfortunately as any Yankee fan now knows, Girardi is very slow to recognize talent and he sticks with players way too long. (Ransom, Mitre, Veras, etc.)

Oldschoolyank . . . you’ve made my whole point in a nutshell.

JP–that comes from years of experience–thanks

Posada is at best an average catcher. He tries to nibble at the corners versus attacking the zone. He calls a below average game and should be a DH for the remainder of the season with Cervelli as the starter with Molina as the backup. When Posada was on the injury list the Yankees excelled. I see tha CC never has Posada as the catcher. THat tells you a lot. CC loved Cervelli and is OK with Moilina but is not OK with Posada. Please Joe let Molina Catch CC and AJ. Also Joba does much better with Cervelli or Milina. Our loses are the result of poor Caching and poor pitch calling.

Funny – I was at the stadium the other night – AJ pitched a gem against the Red Sox. I believe Posada caught and Burnett threw 7.2 scoreless innings. They seemed to get along fine that night. Maybe sometimes stuff just happens.

JP,
Here’s my take. If, and I repeat if, it’s true that CC chooses not to have Posada, it might be because, as an ace pitcher, CC has more faith in his own pitch-calling, than in anyone else’s; and a rookie catcher, or a backup, aren’t going to be as opinionated on the pitch-calling; so, it’s not necessarily a knock on Posada’s pitch-calling skills, as walkerljn seems to think.
AJ is not an ace pitcher. It’s debatable whether or not he qualifies as a solid #2. He simply isn’t entitled to the same rights. Furthermore, Posada is one of the foundations of this team. If AJ disagrees with how Posada calls a game, and if he’s so damn much in love with the sound of his own voice, then he SHOULD be shooting his mouth off about it – but to his manager, in private, not to the media. JP, I think you are right on, to be questioning the tap-dancing statements he’s been making after these lousy performances. I’m sorry, but I’m not as willing as others appear to be, to forgive what he says, because it’s right after a game. There are plenty of players (Jeter?), who occasionally get frustrated with the play of their teammates – but who still control their mouths after the game.
My big concern is that, despite how much affection and respect Girardi has for Posada, and despite Girardi being a former catcher, he still won’t have the cojones to rein in AJ – because I must say that, when it comes to team discipline, I think Girardi is the toughest-looking wimp I’ve ever seen.

DeSalesMan

I do agree with the comment that Posada is a good catcher, not great at all, I think at times he can be arrogant and worst of all, hes not a clutch hitter at all, I think recently we are seeing his hitting skills diminish and i think its time we look for a younger catcher, dont get me wrong I think Posada has been a true, loyal Yankee, he has worn the pinstripes with respect, but once again, hitting wise, hes not a clutch hitter!

Rick,

Interesting take on CC/Posada, and one I’d probably agree with. One thing I find interesting is how the very same members of the media who were praising AJ for being so accountable just one start ago are now screaming and yelling about his lack of accountability–when, in fact, his schtick was the same both times. I personally like Burnett based on my very, very limited exposure to him; he was tremendous with the kids from Camp Sundown during HOPE week, and seems pretty decent with people overall. But I think he needs to learn what David Wells did from Jeter–you do NOT show up a teammate on the field.

Suddenly, for some, Jorge Posada has forgotten how to call a game. I also note the comment stating that the Yanks need to return to the halcyon, winning days when he was on the DL . . . as opposed, I guess, to their current horrid losing record. Yup, it a problem having a catcher and arguable Hall of Famer who is switch hitting power bat, and who, despite coming off major shoulder surgery that would have ended the careers of many players his age, is presently having one of his best offensive years ever. Thos who doubt it should check his stats at baseballreference.com.

The Posada-hatred has never made any sense to me. But to bash Posada and clamor for Cervelli is just about the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. He seems like a nice kid and all, but he’ll probably hit .190 in the big leagues. If all you care about is game-calling, he’s your man. I guess. We don’t actually know if he calls that great a game (or if Posada calls that bad a game).

So now that AJ pitches pretty much lights out with Molina as his catcher, what do you say?

And why isn’t anyone complaining about him being squeezed on those two walks before the homerun?

RC

How long have the Yankees signed Burnett for? Toronto had him long enough. He can be great at times and pretty ordinary lots of the time. He has made his money because teams think that they can get him to be great all the time. Toronto would certainly be higher in the standings with him on the mound, but who misses him around here?

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