Joe Girardi’s personality exudes loyalty. In his three-plus years as manager, it’s hard to think of one instance in which he publicly criticized a player. In many ways, that’s an admirable trait, one that his players must surely appreciate. However, there is a difference between throwing a player under the bus and acknowledging his deficiencies. Unfortunately, at least with A.J. Burnett, Girardi has been unable to make that distinction.
After surrendering four runs and loading the bases in the second inning, AJ Burnett received another early hook from Girardi. As he departed the mound, the right hander seemed to mouth something in his manager’s direction. Then, the YES cameras caught Girardi following Burnett into the clubhouse. Had there been a confrontation? With the score lopsided, the remaining innings became a formality leading up to the post game.
After the game, Girardi was livid. However, his anger wasn’t directed toward Burnett’s rampant ineffectiveness, nor was it inspired by the way in which the right hander expressed himself while leaving the mound. According to the Yankees’ manager, those events were much ado about nothing. Instead, what sparked Girardi’s post game tirade was the unfair way he believes the media has been treating Burnett.
I’m tired of people looking for something between me and A.J. Me and A.J. have mutual respect for each other. I cheer for this guy. He cheers for me, and we cheer for this team. I want the guy to do well.” - Joe Girardi, quoted by AP, August 20, 2011
Instead of taking the opportunity to hold his erratic right hander accountable for his actions and performance, Girardi choose to make him the victim. In some ways, that has become the organization’s party line. Just last week, Brian Cashman launched into a similarly impassioned defense of Burnett. According to the GM, Burnett’s struggles were as much a media creation as a reflection of reality. Unfortunately, the statistics don’t support the claim.
Two seasons’ worth of awful pitching, not the media, is to blame for the negative aura that surrounds Burnett. For the second straight year, Burnett has posted an ERA+ of under 90 in 25-plus starts, making him only the third pitcher in franchise history to wear that Scarlet Letter (Andy Hawkins and Jack Warhop are the other two). Since 2010, Burnett hasn’t merely been a disappointment; in some respects, his ineffectiveness has been historic.
Ultimately, it really doesn’t matter what was said on the mound. The Yankees’ main concern should be about how poorly Burnett continues to pitch, but unfortunately, neither Girardi nor Cashman seem ready to hold him accountable. Since day one, the Yankees have made excuses for Burnett, so maybe their coddling of the right hander shouldn’t be much of a surprise. With two years and $32 million left on his contract, it’s easy to see why the Yankees have bent over backwards to accommodate Burnett, but how much longer can Cashman and Girardi keep tilting at windmills?
Unless a team with a bad contract of its own is willing to swap headaches (the Cubs and Carlos Zambrano come to mind), the Yankees will either have to swallow hard and eat the remainder of Burnett’s contract, or endure his erratic performance for two more years. If opting for the latter, it might be time for the Yankees to take a different approach. The excuses haven’t helped. Instead, it might be time for some tough love.