The Yankees’ New Carl Pavano?

It appears the ghost of Carl Pavano remains hovering over the 2009 New York Yankees.

The Yankees may have spent $80 million for a new version of Pavano in A.J. Burnett. So fans might have surmised after the damage he inflicted on the Yankees Tuesday night at Fenway Park against the Boston Red Sox. A dismal 7-0 thrashing.
Let’s quickly review why Burnett was so important to the Yankees this offseason. For one thing, the youth movement of 2008 (Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy failed). Chien-Ming Wang was coming off a foot sprain that ended his season in early June. Mike Mussina chose to retire. And, at the time of the CC Sabathia and Burnett signings, Andy Pettitte was not signed.
It was pretty obvious the Yankees needed starting pitching and lots of it.
Burnett hit the free-agent market riding a tailwind off his best season as a professional. He had an 18-10 record and 231 strikeouts for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2008. What might have been overlooked was his 4.07 ERA and Walks/Hits to Innings Pitched (WHIP) of 1.34. Those two stats suggest two things: Burnett put a lot of people on base and the Blue Jays must have scored a lot of runs in his starts.
Yankees GM Brian Cashman ignored that because of one important thing on Burnett’s resume: He carried a 5-0 record against the Red Sox.
But now after 12 starts it appears there may be some buyer’s remorse in the Bronx. Burnett is 4-3 but has a 4.89 ERA and a WHIP of 1.48. However, even more important to Yankee fans are his two outings against the Red Sox.
Burnett took his first career loss to Boston on Tuesday. But it was not the loss itself. It was the way he lost. He was wild and inconsistent in his delivery. He also seemed to be intimidated by the Red Sox and afraid to throw a pitch in the strike zone.
He gave up four runs in the second inning. He let the Red Sox bat around and, though he was not helped by an Alex Rodriguez error, he went to three-ball counts to 12 of the 18 batters he faced. He threw 43 pitches in the second inning alone. Is that depressing enough?
The result: In two outings versus Boston, Burnett has pitched 7 2/3 innings, given up 13 hits, 8 walks and 11 earned runs. For those scoring at home that is an ERA of 12.91 and a WHIP of 2.74. Numbers that are not pretty in anyone’s league.
Either Burnett is hiding that he is hurt, there is something off in his mechanics or he just plain is the Yankees next Carl Pavano. None of those scenarios bodes well for Burnett or the Yankees.
To be sure, Pavano’s latest run of success with the Cleveland Indians makes this situation even worse. Pavano was offered a four-year $40 million contract by Cashman in 2005 following his best season as a professional with the Florida Marlins (18-8 record with an ERA of 3.00). Sound oddly similar?
Of course, Yankees fans are well aware how that free agent signing worked out. Pavano spent more time rehabbing than at Yankee Stadium. He could have actually had a Greek god named for him: Whirlpoolis.
Cashman, the Yankee front office and even the players wanted Pavano and his sour disposition gone when his contract expired. When you make only 26 starts and win just 9 games in four seasons that will kind of get your ticket out of town punched. Considering thaey were paying a pitcher $4.4 million per victory, it didn’t make much economic sense even for the big-spending Yankees.
So Pavano was sent packing and he landed in Cleveland on a small $4 million make-good contract. Pavano seems to have begun making good on that deal after a rough start in April. Since May 1, Pavano is 6-1 with an ERA of 3.00 and 1.06 WHIP.
He also has pitched two excellent games against the revenge-minded Yankees (a 1-0 mark with an ERA of 2.70). Seems Pavano got the better of the revenge angle.
Oh, and this not is for A.J. Burnett to know. Without a 96 mph fastball and a knee-buckling curveball that Burnett possesses, Pavano also managed to beat Boston on May 5, giving up six hits, three walks and just two runs over six innings.
Granted, Pavano might have felt compelled to leave the Yankees anyway after the way he was treated by the front office, the players, the fans and media. But I am beginning to think signing Burnett and letting Pavano walk was a mistake the Yankees might regret for the next four years. That is the length of Burnett’s deal.
Let’s just hope we get more than 9 victories from him. But, right about now, I think most Yankees fans just want to see Burnett pitch like he is capable of pitching and not like an expensive veteran like Kei Igawa or a scared rookie like Ian Kennedy.
The Yankees deserve a lot better from him. It’s time he start earning that money.

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