Burnett says he’s too hard on himself
Memo to A.J. Burnett: You don’t suck.
I know that might not be a popular opinion among Yankees fans who watched Burnett go 0-4 with a 7.80 ERA last August, or 0-5 with an 11.35 ERA last June.
In some ways it might not even be an accurate opinion, considering that Burnett is underachieving at $16.5 million per season, not $1.65 million.
Yet earlier in Yankees camp, I demonstrated my theory to Burnett by showing him some numbers — specifically, a career comparison to Red Sox righty Josh Beckett. Pretty darn close.
Yet, Beckett’s reputation far exceeds Burnett’s, in large part because of his stellar postseason history with the Marlins and Red Sox.
I’m not trying to discredit Beckett. I’m not trying to artificially inflate Burnett. All I’m saying is the perception of Burnett is worse than his actual performance — or at least, his performance when you remove his enormous talent and contract from the equation.
(Hard to do, I know.)
Anyway, Burnett, upon examining my numbers, reached an almost immediate conclusion.
“I don’t give myself enough credit a lot of times,” he said. “I’m so tough and hard on myself. That’s one of the things I’m trying to work on.”
The power of positive thinking — eureka!
For Burnett, who threw two scoreless innings against the Astros in his first Grapefruit League appearance Wednesday, it surely would help.
“I’d stop short of saying he has self-doubt, but he doesn’t realize how good he is sometimes,” said former Yankees pitching coach Dave Eiland, who is now a special assistant with the Rays. “He knows the potential is there. He’s kind of just waiting for it to happen rather than just trusting it and making it happen.”
“Eventually, whether it’s A.J. or anyone else, you can give them all the information and positive feedback, but they have to believe in themselves, throw every pitch with conviction. A.J. sometimes does not do that. It’s as if he’s saying, ‘Gosh, I’m not sure it’s going to work.’”
Which, of course, is not a healthy way to pitch — or accomplish much of anything else.
There is talk this spring about Burnett clicking with new Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild, adjusting his mechanics to stay on a better line toward home plate, finding a better place mentally, on and off the field.
We’ve heard it all before.
At 34, Burnett is unlikely to transform himself into someone markedly different. Yet he has made changes in the past, notably in his acceptance of greater responsibility upon signing his five-year, $82.5 million free-agent contract with the Yankees prior to the 2009 season.
Burnett could be prickly earlier in his career, particularly during his formative years with the Marlins. He effectively found cover behind Roy Halladay during his time with the Blue Jays. But friends told him that in New York, he needed to be accountable.
To Burnett’s credit, he heeded that advice. He appears dutifully at his locker after every poor performance, obliging the media by confirming that yes, he indeed sucked that night, sucks too much in general and needs to stop sucking overall.
He’s accountable, all right — maybe too accountable. Listening to him sometimes, you just want to scream, “Enough!”
The bottom line is that Burnett is and perhaps always will be maddeningly inconsistent. But hey, if you’re inconsistent, that means you’re occasionally pretty good.
Burnett was pretty good in 2009, his first season with the Yankees, going 13-9 with a 4.04 ERA. His postseason that year was typical: three good outings, two bad ones. Last season he was 6-2 with a 3.28 ERA through May 30. Then he fell apart.
“He comes with a lot of fanfare. His stuff is so good,” Rothschild said. “But even with that stuff . . . these guys are human. There have been a lot of guys with his stuff who haven’t come close to his success. There are lot of pieces of the puzzle he doesn’t get credit for.”
And another thing:
“When he gets knocked down, he gets off the mat,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. “He always rebounds.”
Who’s to say it can’t happen again?
Yes, Burnett finished last season with a 5.26 ERA, the worst ever by a Yankees starter who pitched at least 180 innings. His 1.94-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio was his worst over a full season since 2001.
But consider the bigger picture: Burnett’s ERA ranged from 3.44 to 4.07 in his prior six seasons — two with the Marlins, three with the Jays, one with the Yankees. He also has proved far more durable than he was earlier in his career, making 33 or more starts in each of the past three years.
Those numbers do not lie.
Those numbers do not lie.
“You’ve just got to believe in yourself,” Burnett said. “The New York Yankees signed me to be a No. 2 starter. That’s not enough right there?”
It’s more than enough.
Read the memo, A.J. You don’t suck.