Monday, July 18, 2011
A.J. Burnett looks to regain form vs Rays
The Tampa Bay Rays will complete the rare feat of playing twice on Monday on ESPN as they host the New York Yankees on Monday Night Baseball. The Rays played into the wee hours of the morning before losing to the Red Sox 1-0 in 16 innings. It marked the team's fourth loss in their last five games.
Tampa Bay will look to rebound against A.J. Burnett who takes the mound for New York. Burnett was 4-0, 1.97 ERA against the Rays in his first season with the Yankees (2009). In the two years since he has struggled going 1-4 with a 6.60 ERA.
He has struggled to keep the ball in the park in his two starts against the Rays this season, allowing five home runs in 11⅓ innings pitched.
He allowed three long balls in his only start at Tropicana Field this season. In 11 career starts at the stadium prior to 2011 he had allowed only four home runs.
What has caused these struggles for Burnett?
The Rays have been able to take advantage of his fastball these last two seasons. In 2009 he struck out 13 batters while allowing only one home run in 71 at-bats ending in fastballs.
In the past two seasons he has struck out only four batters while allowing six home runs in 75 such at-bats.
Tampa Bay has been much more selective against Burnett's fastball, with its team chase percentage dropping from 24.3 percent in 2009 to 20.7 percent in the 2010-11 seasons. That has translated into more walks in at-bats ending in fastballs. The Rays on base percentage in those situations jumped from .259 to .404 during that span.
One matchup to watch for is Burnett going up against Rays slugger Evan Longoria, who has owned the matchup. Longoria has a .342 average in 38 at-bats against Burnett, although only three of his 13 hits have gone for extra-bases.
Much like Burnett's recent struggles against the Rays, Longoria has struggled against the Yankees the last two seasons after connecting on seven home runs in 17 games in 2009. He has just one home run in 23 games against the Yankees since. For more on how the Yankees have handled Longoria you can read this feature.
Longoria has not had the season many expected, with his .233 batting average 50 points below his career numbers. His biggest struggles this season have come against offspeed pitches, and his inability to recognize strikes.
Last season, his called strike percentage (called strikes/takes) was 26.9 pct - meaning that one out of every four offspeed pitches he took were strikes. This season, it is a whopping 38.4 pct - nearly two out of every five.