A.J. Burnett’s Yankees Epitaph

There are some pitchers who need to be left alone.

Because pitching coaches are pitching coaches, they feel the need to jump in whenever they see something amiss or the results are lacking and adhere to mandate of “do something” even if there’s really nothing to be done other than letting the pitcher try to straighten himself out or wait for him to come and ask for help.

Upon his arrival at Pirates’ camp, A.J. Burnett made a few comments about his time with the Yankees that have been taken as criticisms of the Yankee organization.

Here’s Burnett’s quote from this piece in the Washington Post:

“I let a few too many people tinker with me, maybe,” Burnett said. “When you let that happen, you start doubting yourself sometimes. You wonder, ‘Am I doing it right? Is this how it’s supposed to feel?’ and things like that. In ‘09, nobody messed with me. I was able to do what I wanted to do on the mound, whether it was turn around, close my eyes and pitch upside down. Then you have a few bad games and you start changing and listening.”

There are absolutely pitchers who have to be hounded; some have to be cajoled; others need to be left alone. It’s up to the individual pitching coach to gauge and determine how best to unlock the potential and get the pitcher to be the best he can be or to find a way for him to get hitters out regardless of stuff.

Earl Weaver and his pitching coaches George Bamberger and Ray Miller were great at that. Weaver would spot a flaw in a pitcher, whether it was a pitch he shouldn’t be throwing or a pitch he should throw and didn’t have in his repertoire, and he’d have his pitching coach instruct him on how to throw it; if the pitcher resisted, Weaver would ask him if he wanted to be a loser all his life—but he only intervened as the enforcer and left the tactical and mechanical work to the pitching coaches.

It worked with Mike Torrez, Steve Stone and Ross Grimsley among others.

Greg Maddux openly says that Dick Pole was the pitching coach who influenced him most on his way up to the big leagues, but Pole has bounced from team to team because he insinuates himself on the manager. Some managers don’t like that.

So there’s a limit to what the pitching coach can do and much of it is contingent on the manager and the pitchers.

I’m not blaming Joe Girardi, Dave Eiland, Larry Rothschild, Mike Harkey or any of the other Yankees’ staff members for Burnett’s complaints, but because Burnett struggled with inconsistency for much of his time as a Yankee and again proved why he’s basically a .500 pitcher in spite of having all-world stuff, there could be something to Burnett’s statements. It could be that the Yankees should’ve just tossed their hands in the air and let him be rather than immediately fiddle with him. They tried everything else.

As for Burnett, if this was a problem, he should’ve expressed it earlier rather than be polite and incorporate every little suggestion he received. Tom Seaver pushed back if his pitching coaches and catchers tried to interfere with him when he felt strongly about something. Perhaps Burnett’s lack of focus and lapses in competitiveness stem from his laid back personality. If he were a little more feisty, he and the Yankees might’ve been a lot better off.

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