A.J. Burnett’s Yankees Epitaph

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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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Ambiguity And Brandon Webb

Hot Stove

There’s absolutely no risk and a massive reward for the Rangers to sign former NL Cy Young Award winner Brandon Webb to a 1-year, incentive-laden contract with a $3 million base salary.

But that doesn’t eliminate the questions surrounding Webb and whether he’s going to regain a semblance of the form that not only won him the Cy Young in 2006, but allowed him to finish second in the voting the subsequent two years.

As recently as late September, Webb’s velocity was in the Jamie Moyer-zone of 78-82—MLB FanHouse Story.

This is a problem.

What makes the wonderment of what the Rangers are getting more pronounced is the shift from the National League to the American League and pitching in a Rangers home ballpark that is notoriously hitter friendly. If Webb’s sinker was at its diving, darting, bowling ball best, then he’d thrive in Texas; but this point is moot because if that were the case, he would’ve been unlikely to leave Arizona; and if he did leave Arizona, he’d have been in greater demand than Cliff Lee.

None of this is important in the grand scheme of things. What would concern me more than anything regarding Webb is the ambiguity in his injury. The surgery wasn’t for a torn labrum or a rotator cuff; according to this ESPN Story, Webb’s surgery was “shoulder debridement surgery, which essentially cleans out loose debris and inflamed tissue”.

He’s missed two full years with this injury and the velocity hasn’t returned yet.

If a pitcher has a defined issue, it’s repaired and there’s a proven method of rehab, then you can pretty much know what you’re getting when he returns. With this? After missing two years and being unable to break a pane of glass with his fastball in his early workouts?

You can look at other pitchers who rehabbed from injuries and compare them to pitchers who’ve had similar issues. Tommy John surgery has become so common that it’s almost a guarantee that a pitcher will be as good or better than they were before.

Rotator cuff surgery is more dicey and, for the most part, the pitchers who’ve rehabilitated have altered their approach to account for the diminished stuff.

Frank Tanana was a power fastballer in the Sandy Koufax mold who blew people away until he hurt his shoulder; rejuvenating his career as a junkballer, he carved out a long career for himself. But he, like Moyer, was a lefty.

Alex Fernandez and Steve Busby were top-tier pitchers who tore their rotator cuffs and were never the same; both retired at 30.

Another aspect of Webb’s comeback is how the injury will affect the unique sinking action that has been the foundation for his success.

For all the dissection of pitching mechanics using various techniques prevalent today—computer generated, eyeballing, whatever—no one can adequately explain why a Webb or Kevin Brown have had the ability to throw the ball and create a seemingly natural movement where others have tried to copy them with different grips, twisting of the wrist and even scuffing the ball—and failed.

Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Al Leiter made a living off of a cut fastball; Bruce Sutter from a split-fingered fastball; Webb and Brown from their sinkers.

Pitching is such an individualistic endeavor that the thought of creating a baseline set of mechanics for everyone to follow can’t work any better than trying to make everyone into a scientist for NASA. Some have the aptitude; some don’t.

If mechanics and techniques are altered to prevent injury, who’s to say that the change isn’t going to ruin what it was that made the pitcher effective in the first place?

When he broke into baseball with the Texas Rangers, Ron Darling was a pitcher who had movement with a 3/4 arm angle. The Rangers made him change to an over-the-top motion to develop a curveball. The results weren’t good. When he was traded to the Mets, they immediately switched him back to his normal way of throwing. Had he stayed with the Rangers, there’s every chance he would never have made it to the big leagues.

Webb might come back. He might need to adjust his style to account for the diminished velocity. It may be that the mere thrill of competition will pop his fastball back up into the high-80s range—that’s enough to get by if a pitcher is skillful and has control; but there will be those questions surrounding Webb; they’re not helped by the absence of a defined problem that was solved by the surgery.

A clean-up?

Personally, I’d prefer to have someone say, “you tore your rotator cuff” and move on from there rather than wait two years and still not be able to pitch.

If I were the Rangers, I’d expect nothing from Webb and be happy if he contributes anything at all. It’s a shame because the way Webb was going, he was on his way to the Hall of Fame; now, he’s trying to rebuild his career and may not have the tools to do it.

History is not his friend.

  • Viewer Mail 12.28.2010:

Mike Fierman writes RE Bob Feller and Dave Eiland:

it’s hard to even make a comparison to what guys like Feller and Williams did back then. The zeitgest was so different I think we can’t even wrap our heads around what most people simply considered to be a duty. duty..a word that hasn’t completely disappeared, but has lost most of it’s relevance. What i DO wonder is what these guys would have done if there had been draft dispensations given to Major Leaguers. How many of them would have volunteered to go anyway?

Eiland is making a fool of himself, but since he is safely out of the media glare in Florida not many are paying attention. Not only would I keep very quiet after the stunt he pulled ( and NO i do not care what the reason was- either do your job or quit)- he really hasn’t got much to crow about as a Yankee pitching coach. see Joba and AJ. but also look at CC– he’s been excellent, but his K’s have gone down and his walks, up. I’ll grant that he’s been good with some of the bullpen guys like Robertson. I’m glad he’s gone

good post

It’s such a different world now. Today’s players, for the most part, were probably treated differently from the time they were children because they could hit the ball a mile or throw harder than everyone else; this led to the sense of entitlement and the notion that the rules of regular society don’t apply to them. It’s brought us to where we are now. I would think that there are a fair number of players who would willingly go to fight if they were called upon; others would try and use connections to weasel their way out of it.

With Eiland, there’s not much more to say. I would tend to think that he’s going to keep his mouth shut; we’re not the only ones saying it and I wouldn’t be stunned to hear that someone from the Yankees contacted him and told him to pipe down…or else.

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Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE Bob Feller and Jorge Posada:

Excellent piece on the heroes of Feller’s day compared to the so called ‘heroes’ of today. Pretty sure Mike Vick ain’t gonna go fight no Nazis.

You really think Posada would waive his no-trade clause to get dealt? I feel like he wouldn’ t know how to act in another uniform. And I’m serious!

Everyone involved with the nurturing of these star athletes like Mike Vick shares in what they become as they reach the pinnacle. If they don’t know anything else, how are they supposed to know better?

With Posada, I think it’ll come down to money and wanting a new contract that he’s not going to get from the Yankees; plus, the Yankees he knew—Joe Torre, Don Zimmer, Paul O’Neill—aren’t the Yankees of today. He doesn’t seem particularly happy these days and they have treated him shabbily. For all his moodiness and reputation for being difficult, he has some legitimate gripes.

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Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE the Yankees and having patience:

You’re right – Yankee fans don’t like to wait…and I don’t.

Unless you want Carl Pavano, you’re not going to have a choice. And I doubt you want Carl Pavano.

Sunday Blizzard 12.26.2010

Hot Stove

Admittedly, while he was alive and regularly jabbing his finger into the faces of today’s athletes, scolding them for their selfishness and behaviors, I often dismissed Bob Feller as a miserable old man who was: A) jealous of the money today’s players make; and B) held a death grip on antiquated Mid-American concepts that had no basis in reality.

Following his death, many of the eulogies and tributes extended towards him glossed over his short temper and overt lack of patience that expanded as he aged; as society grew more and more callous and disinterested.

After reading one such eulogy in The Weekly Standard, I’ve come to something of an epiphany regarding Feller’s core beliefs and why he was so irritable.

He had reason to be.

The on-line content is subscriber-only, but here’s the relevant excerpt:

And for all Feller accomplished—he was an eight-time all-star who led the Tribe to a World Series victory in 1948 and was named to the Hall of Fame in 1962, his first year of eligibility—he might have put up even better numbers, were it not for the war. But then, the same might be said of all of that era’s great stars.

As David G. Dalin wrote in our November 1 issue, Hank Greenberg enlisted at the age of 30, when he was officially exempt from military duty, to fight the Nazis. “My country comes first,” said Greenberg. Feller, who joined the Navy just after Pearl Harbor, felt the same. “I’ve never once thought about all the prime years that I missed,” Feller said later. “I’m as proud of serving as anything I’ve ever done in my life.”

We admire as much as anyone today’s professional athletes, young men whose athletic skill and daring cannot but entertain and amaze us, but in the end their image is not well served by the rhetorical excess, often their own, of referring to their place of well-paid work—the gridiron, diamond, court, or rink—as the -“trenches.” Greenberg and Feller knew the difference. So did Ted Williams, who flew combat missions as a Marine pilot; same with Braves lefthander Warren Spahn, who saw action at the Battle of the Bulge.

This week, America lost (…) a right-handed pitcher, Chief Petty Officer Bob Feller, U.S. Navy (ret.).

Think about this.

And think about today’s athletes, many of whom profess a love of country that rivals those of a years past.

Would any of them—-one—-walk away from his prime years as an athlete to serve his country and place himself in harm’s way?

Every time Curt Schilling rants for one of his conservative causes, can you picture him actually taking up arms and entering into the fray to fight and risk his life? He with his faux presidential and poorly written missives concluding with, “God bless you; and God bless the United…States…of America” and ill-informed falling in line with whatever the line happens to be at the moment?

Is pitching with a bloody sock the badge of a “hero”? Or is is it something more?

For all the admiration doled on Derek Jeter (poor Derek will only have to live on $15 million in 2011), would he behave so selflessly? As selflessly as the players from the 1940s did when, presumably, many of them had the connections to get out of service if they chose to do so? Or, at the very least, could’ve been shielded in safety on a base somewhere, out of the legitimate combat theater?

Cliff Lee took “less” money from the Phillies to go where he wanted to go and received nods of approval through pursed lips as if it makes a grand difference whether he makes $125 million, $150 million or whatever amount million he’s guaranteed.

Has any current player voluntarily walked away from his contract and lush lifestyle to take part in the effort?

The only athlete who has done so since the country’s been in conflict is the late football player Pat Tillman. Apart from that, today’s players scarcely know what’s even happening overseas; that there’s still a war going on; that people are being killed in service to the country.

I’m not sitting here saying I’d do it either, but the entire cultural shift that angered the likes of Feller and others who sound grumpy and envious may not be envy; it may not be anger; it may be disgust. Disgust at the rampant disinterest in the way they got into a position to make that money in the first place.

You can agree or disagree with the wars that are currently being waged, but politics aren’t why there’s no reports of a wealthy athlete walking away from it all to join the military and it has nothing to do with principles of protest; it has to do with the self-interest and lack of concern about the community at large that weren’t considered back in Feller’s day. They served because they felt it was their duty to serve. That they cost themselves money and statistics when they could conceivably have been padding their bank accounts and numbers was irrelevant.

Their own accumulations held no sway back then. Does any player today feel a similar duty?

Judging from their actions, it doesn’t appear so.

And things are going to get far, far worse as time passes and the separation of community grows more and more vast; as the athletes make more and more money and become separated from society because of such money, fame and status.

  • It sure sounds like there are hard feelings:

I wish someone would come out and say, “Yeah, I’m mad!!!” when they’re trying to express themselves in a way that’s unoffensive and it’s known that they’re not saying everything they’d like to say.

Former Yankees pitching coach Dave Eiland was a guest on ESPN Radio talking about his new job as a special assistant with the Tampa Bay Rays and his dismissal from the Yankees.

You can read Wallace Matthews’s column about Eiland and listen to the podcast here.

No one in their right mind could expect a former employee not named Gary Sheffield to detonate a bridge that he might need later in his career, but obviously Eiland was irked by what happened.

Apart from a rumor here and there, the details of his monthlong leave-of-absence at mid-season have never been disclosed; I said at the time that if I knew what really happened, I might’ve fired Eiland as well. If it’s something that would be negatively perceived in Eiland’s attempts to get another job or for him to be embarrassed in public, then the Yankees did him a favor by keeping it quiet; and Eiland hasn’t helped his own cause by refusing to expand on what happened.

Truthfully, it’s the business of Eiland, the Yankees and his prospective employers as to what happened—-nobody else’s; one would assume the Rays know what the deal with Eiland and the Yankees was; why he left at mid-summer; why he was dismissed.

But if I were Dave Eiland, I’d keep my mouth shut. The allusions to his “shock” at being fired; the inference that there’s more to the story than is being revealed; that he has a lot to say and is saying it cryptically can only hurt him in the long run.

If I were advising him, I’d drill these words into his head: “I really don’t want to talk about what happened with the Yankees; I work for the Rays now and I thank the Yankees for the opportunity and the championship ring.”

That’s it. The more he says, the more people are going to ask; and if he gets someone with a temper and faulty mouth filter (see Levine, Randy; see Steinbrenner, Hank) angry, dirty laundry might be aired; laundry that’s been carefully pushed down into the bottom of the hamper.

Keeping quiet is the best course of action—-whether Eiland will adhere to that is the question; judging from his interview last week, he’s not holding to it.

It’s a mistake.

  • Viewer Mail 12.26.2010:

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE the Yankees and Jorge Posada:

I don’t think Posada will be happy about being the DH either, but I do think the Yankees will pull off some sort of trade for a pitcher. Wishful thinking maybe but Cashman has to do something.

The only reason Posada might—-might—-keep quiet is his impending free agency. A whining 40-year-old with Posada’s rep for being difficult might have a hard time getting another lucrative contract.

You’re right about getting a pitcher—-he’ll get one because he has to get one, but it’s possible that it won’t be until June/July.

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Joe writes RE Joaquin Benoit and Paul Konerko:

Why don’t you expound on the Konerko and Benoit signings? They might be winners for a year, but both of those contracts will most likely bite them. 3 years for an injury prone reliever.  And 3 years for a mid-30’s 1B with only the ability to hit.

I’m not prepared to say that Konerko will “bite” them over the long term. His hitting and durability has been consistent for the most part; defense at first base isn’t as much an imperative as it would be in center field, catcher or middle infield; the White Sox don’t concern themselves with defense all that much anyway.

He’ll hit for the life of the contract—-that’s what White Sox GM Kenny Williams is worried about.

With Benoit, you’re missing the point. Of course the money and contract are horrible, but the posting was in reference to 2011 and what the club needed; the Tigers needed bullpen help, had the money to pay for it and spent it on a pitcher who was masterful in 2010.

The Benoit deal is likely to bite the Tigers, but if he’s healthy in 2011, Benoit will help them contend. As long as it doesn’t block anyone else’s path nor prevent them from making other moves, what’s the difference?

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Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE the Nationals:

I can add this to the Nat’inals talk: that ballpark is badass. I’ve been there several times and had a blast each time. The park is beautiful, easily accessible and extremely fan friendly.  One problem in DC though is the fact that it’s such a transient city… there aren’t many Nationals fans — instead, they’re mostly fans of other clubs that have been relocated to the DC Metro area. From what I have seen, the largest contention of Nats fans seems to be Latino immigrants, who, ironically, will be priced out of watching their favorite team, now that they’re doling out crazy assed salaries.

This phenomenon—-the absence of legitimate, passionate Nats fans—-was exemplified by my being linked on the Nationals fan forum in which there was little of use said; nothing to promote a discussion on the subject.

They made fun of a typo, attributed to me, but not made by me and claimed the posting was “poop” among other things without a viable retort to my allegations.

I’m willing to talk to anyone and will even alter my feelings if presented with a cogent argument; none seems forthcoming.

If that’s what they’ve got in terms of refutation, the Nats fans who bother to pay attention deserve their fate.

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Matt at Diamondhacks writes RE me and the Diamondbacks:

If a club ever deserved “and the rest” status, it’s probably my Dbacks. I look forward to what you have to say about their makeover. Love the masthead, btw.

Happy holidays.

It’s always nice to hear from a fellow survivor from the calamity of MLBlogs. The society which has sprouted from the disaster is something of a logical conclusion considering the way the entity is run; we were lucky to get away when we did; others are still slogging away.

With the Diamondbacks, as I said yesterday, you’re seeing the Kevin Towers-style of management up close and personally; it won’t take long before the bewilderment pops up and those that were steadfastly on his bandwagon go leaping off at his strange maneuvers that, at the very least, equaled the brilliant ones he made with the Padres.

For those of you unaware of Matt’s blog, if you think I’m a loose cannon, check him out. It’s a wild ride.

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PhillyPhanatics writes RE the Nationals:

Paul – As a guy who has watched Werth closely during his tenure in Philadelphia, I agree that this was a pretty ridiculous contract for a guy who is a complementary player being asked to be a core player.  Still, to not mention  Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann or #1 pick wunderkind Bryce Harper while excoriating the Nats for a guy who they don’t even own anymore tells me you have a lot of homework to do.  Willingham is arbitration-eligible and would have been a lame duck on a market-value one-year deal.  No, the Nats have no shot in 2011, and with Strasburg also out rehabbing, any guys on a one-year deal are absolutely trade fodder.  I don’t know if this will all pan out, but the Nats remind me a bit of the Rays with their multiple #1 overall picks.  The core players are where it’s at.  Which makes the Werth signing look like a knee-jerk reaction to losing Adam Dunn and based on fear of losing the gains they made in attracting fans of late, more so than a wise on-field move.

What homework did I have to do?

The problem implied with the Nationals signing of Werth; chasing Carl Pavano; looking at Brandon Webb; making a big offer to Cliff Lee and combining the moves they made last year are exactly the issues I’m talking about.

What are they?

Are they trying to win now? Trying to build a better reputation within baseball by making improvements to the current product even if they’re not going to wind up contending? Importing competent veterans to teach the young players to comport themselves?

Which is it?

They’ve had Willingham on the market pretty much since they got him; they benched him for reasons unknown, then when they let him play, guess what he did? He did what he always does—-hit for power, was a professional hitter who showed up every day ready to go.

If they were so concerned about his “lame duck” status, why didn’t they trade him in July of this year? This is the problem—-they traded Willingham for prospects while signing Werth to try and get better now.

You cannot do both. When Harper is ready; when Strasburg is back and has the constraints removed (probably by 2013 for that combination to take place); when they know what they have in Jordan Zimmerman and the other pitchers, Werth’s deal will be more easily judged and he’ll be 34-years-old.

Ryan Zimmerman is a superstar; I like Desmond, especially defensively; they’ve cleared the clubhouse of troublemakers, but they’re not any better now than they were before the 2010 season; in fact, they’re worse.

You can’t compare the Nats to the Rays. The Rays had a plan and a stack of young players who were developing and on the way up. They made some brilliant trades in getting Ben Zobrist, Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett; they were notoriously lucky with Carlos Pena and Gabe Gross; and they didn’t make stupid decisions like dumping a Willingham for the “future” while spending ridiculously on a good player like Werth who, as you said, is complementary.

The Nationals have shown no sign of the intelligence and guts the Rays exhibited in building their playoff teams and are now as they clear out players from whom they’ve gotten everything they could and are reloading.

The Rays had a plan. Do the Nats? I don’t see it.