Data: 11-9, 4.33 ERA, 1.40 WHIP
Malfunction: For the first four months of the season, Burnett was pitching like a guy who deserved his $80 million contract. But heading into the postseason, he's pitching like the guy who's frustrated every team that has ever paid him. After owning a 3.53 ERA on July 31, the Yankee righty has gone 1-5 with a 6.14 ERA and in four of his last nine starts, he's given up at least six runs. It's hard to understand how a guy with stuff that good can get blown out in every other start. As Joel Sherman of the New York Post writes, "In his first season as a Yankee, Burnett has shown the ability to be unhittable and awful, often in the same game."
Diagnosis: Actually, Burnett's success through his first 20 starts was a bit of a mirage. He was only striking out eight men per nine innings, way below the 9.5 he averaged from 2007-2008, and was walking 4.5 per nine, compared to 3.5 the previous two years. Of all the determinants and descriptors of a pitcher's success, few are more important than the ratio of strikeouts to walks. Two is a magic number. If you strike out more than twice as many people as you walk, you're generally a good pitcher. This is the first full season since 2002 that A.J.'s K/BB has fallen below 2.0, and while he was able to succeed for the first few months, it eventually caught up with him — especially now that he's set a career high in home runs allowed with 24.
Reboot Directions: Yankees fans are starting to turn on him and John Harper of the New York Daily News wonders whether Burnett deserves to start for the Yankees in the division series. If he can't figure out how to command his fastball and find the strike zone on a consistent basis, his relationship with the fans and media will only get worse.
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Data: 9-9, 3.78 ERA, 1.19 WHIP (1-3, 7.33 ERA, 1.56 WHIP since trade to Tigers)
Malfunction: Hate to say I told you so, Wash, but here's what I wrote right after the trade: "I don't mean to rain on the man's parade — he really is having a lovely year — but honestly, it just can't last." The Tigers haven't minded too much, since they were only five games over .500 and 1.5 games ahead in first place before they got him, and now they're 10 games over .500 and four games ahead.
Diagnosis: So what's wrong with Jarrod Washburn? Unfortunately, a left knee injury has turned him back into the average pitcher he was in five out of the last six seasons. Washburn doesn't have perfect control and he doesn't have great stuff, he doesn't strike many people out, and he gives up a ton of line drives and a fair number of homers. If he weren't left-handed, it's hard to imagine he'd still be in the league. Here's how he described his one win for Detroit: "My command wasn't good, my stuff wasn't good, but we gutted it out and we won." As best-case scenarios go, that isn't particularly reassuring.
Reboot Directions: It remains unseen if Washburn will pitch again for the Tigers this season. He had a short outing against the Royals on Tuesday and has been scratched from Sunday's start against the Twins. This is a contract year for the 35-year old southpaw and because most front offices operate under the principle of WHIL (well, he is a lefty), it's not hard to imagine that Washburn will find a job somewhere. But he won't get a contract more than two years long and he really doesn't deserve to be more than year to year at this point in his career.
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Data: .297/.348/.457, 16 HR, 94 RBI
Malfunction: Steady and reliable Nick Markakis is having another decent year, but he's been cold for a month now, and the older he gets the quicker he'll move from "promising" to "disappointing." His homers have now decreased for two years in a row, and thanks to the slump his OPS is nearly 100 points down from 2008. More concerning, he has half as many walks this year as last year. Of course, the slump may largely be bad luck. During the past month, he's actually striking out less, and walking exactly the same amount, as he did before, while his BABIP has fallen by 50 points. Unfortunately, that doesn't account for the walks.
Diagnosis: Markakis may be getting unlucky, but this year was supposed to be his breakout. Last year, he was the only under-25 outfielder in the majors with an OPS above .890; this year, he's a 25-year old (turning 26 in a month) with an OPS just over .800. Last year, his OPS spiked because walked in 14.2 percent of his plate appearances (against 8.6 percent in 2007); this year, he's walking in just 7.4 percent, barely half his mark from last year. The other problem with Markakis comes in his homers: his homers have declined in each of the last two years, and while most good young hitters tend to get stronger as they get older, he seems to be in a holding pattern. Okay, maybe there's been slight growth: According to Hit Tracker Online, his homers have gone about a foot further on average this year than last year. As a result, whereas last year nine of his 20 homers were only "Just Enough" to clear the fence, this year only four of 16 are "Just Enough," and all the rest made it over with ease. Still, even if he's not actively getting worse, he's just not getting better, which is what the O's were hoping for when they gave him a new contract.
Reboot Directions: The slippage in walk rate is the most worrisome thing, even more than the stagnation in his power development. He has a .299 career batting average largely because he's got a high BABIP (.330 for his career), which means that his OBP probably won't ever be catastrophic. But there's a huge, huge difference between walking 50 times a year and 100 times a year, between a .350 OBP and a .400 OBP. Over the course of a year, that difference can amount to dozens of runs for a ballclub. Whatever offensive development Markakis has yet to go, it all has to start with the walks.
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Jermaine Dye(notes), Chicago White Sox The last time I wrote about Dye, he was performing like he was half-asleep, but since then he's been catatonic with just eight hits in 59 at-bats. Like Burnett, Jermaine Dye was in the middle of another good season at the end of July. He had 23 homers, 63 RBIs and an .891 OPS through 96 games. Since then he has just two homers and a .164 batting average, and his OPS has fallen more than a hundred points. Not known for being a paragon of health, Dye has only reached 600 PAs in two of the last seven seasons; he's currently at 541. According to the Chicago Tribune, he "doesn't think his slump stems from wearing down in the second half," but considering his lengthy injury history it's hard to believe that his hitting problems are completely unrelated to his health.
Carl Crawford(notes), Tampa Bay Rays Crawford had an awful, injury-plagued 2008, and by comparison this has been a comeback campaign. He's back above .300 for the season, he's stolen over 50 bases again, and his OPS is just a peep above .800 again. But he's no superstar, and when he's not hitting his way on base he doesn't have much to offer. This month, he's hitting just .230 with a .626 OPS and as many stolen bases as caught stealings, three. He's been the face of the Rays franchise, but he's a limited threat and GM Andrew Friedman has to decide to pick up CC's $10 million option for 2010 or if it's soon going to be Desmond Jennings time in St. Petersburg.
Marco Scutaro(notes), Toronto Blue Jays Scooter's still having the year of his life, but he's finally started to come back to earth just a bit. Over the past month, he's hitting .222, and his last day with an OPS over .800 was Sept. 2. He's already set career highs in every single offensive category, except for RBIs, in which he's merely tied his career high. On the other hand, even if he keeps slumping through the end of the year, it will still be a career year. When a guy like him, an over-30 middle infielder, begins hitting for the first time in his life, everyone starts waiting for the other shoe to drop. Well, it's dropping, but that doesn't mean he still didn't have a fantastic year.
- Jarrod Washburn
- Nick Markakis