A.J. Burnett is giving Daniel McCutchen’s daughter a college fund in exchange for his jersey number

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We often hear about veterans coming to new teams and asking younger players for their old jersey numbers.  Often there is payment involved.

Last year Julio Borbon gave Adrian Beltre his customary number 29 in exchange for a watch. The year before, Jim Thome gave Alexi Casilla a Rolex in exchange for his number with the Twins.  My favorite of all time — which I mention whenever this comes up — was former Giants punter Jeff Feagles who got Plaxico Burress to pay for an outdoor kitchen at his vacation home in Phoenix in exchange for number 17 and — before that — got Eli Manning to send the Feagles’ family on a vacation to Florida in order to give up number 10. Dude was a ninja.

The latest in this sub-sub-sub genre of baseball news comes from Pittsburgh, where new Pirates starter A.J. Burnett wanted to wear his lucky (Lucky? Sure, lucky) number 34. Except Daniel McCutchen wears it.  Or, wore it, because A.J. has ponied up:

Some players get a watch when a veteran who joins the team takes their jersey number. Daniel McCutchen got a college fund. For his unborn daughter, due in May.

It was McCutchen’s idea, by the way. Burnett asked him what he wanted and McCutchen said a college fund.

Now, to be sure, a 529 fund can be in all manner of amounts and, as McCutchen notes in the article, its true value will be determined in 18 or 19 years when it matures and his daughter goes to college.  The initial investment by Burnett could very well be less — much less — than a Rolex.

But the optics here are pretty great. Way better than a vacation or a watch or a grill. Good for McCutchen for thinking of it and Burnett  for doing it.

In the playoffs, the Yankees’ weakness has become their strength

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Two weeks ago, when the playoffs began, the idea of “bullpenning” once again surfaced, this time with the Yankees as a focus. Because their starting pitching was believed to be a weakness — they had no obvious ace like a Dallas Keuchel or Corey Kluber — and their bullpen was a major strength, the idea of chaining relievers together starting from the first inning gained traction. The likes of Luis Severino, who struggled mightily in the AL Wild Card game, or Masahiro Tanaka (4.79 regular season ERA) couldn’t be relied upon in the postseason, the thought went.

That idea is no longer necessary for the Yankees because the starting rotation has become the club’s greatest strength. Tanaka fired seven shutout innings to help push the Yankees ahead of the Astros in the ALCS, three games to two. They are now one win away from reaching the World Series for the first time since 2009.

It hasn’t just been Tanaka. Since Game 3 of the ALDS, Yankees pitchers have made eight starts spanning 46 1/3 innings. They have allowed 10 runs (nine earned) on 25 hits and 12 walks with 45 strikeouts. That’s a 1.75 ERA with an 8.74 K/9 and 2.33 BB/9. In five of those eight starts, the starter went at least six innings, which has helped preserve the freshness and longevity of the bullpen.

Here’s the full list of performances for Yankee starters this postseason:

Game Starter IP H R ER BB SO HR
AL WC Luis Severino 1/3 4 3 3 1 0 2
ALDS 1 Sonny Gray 3 1/3 3 3 3 4 2 1
ALDS 2 CC Sabathia 5 1/3 3 4 2 3 5 0
ALDS 3 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 7 0
ALDS 4 Luis Severino 7 4 3 3 1 9 2
ALDS 5 CC Sabathia 4 1/3 5 2 2 0 9 0
ALCS 1 Masahiro Tanaka 6 4 2 2 1 3 0
ALCS 2 Luis Severino 4 2 1 1 2 0 1
ALCS 3 CC Sabathia 6 3 0 0 4 5 0
ALCS 4 Sonny Gray 5 1 2 1 2 4 0
ALCS 5 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 8 0
TOTAL 55 1/3 35 20 17 20 52 6

In particular, if you hone in on the ALCS starts specifically, Yankee starters have pitched 28 innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on 13 hits and 10 walks with 20 strikeouts. That’s a 1.61 ERA.

While the Yankees’ biggest weakness has become a strength, the Astros’ biggest weakness — the bullpen — has become an even bigger weakness. This is why the Yankees, who won 10 fewer games than the Astros during the regular season, are one win away from reaching the World Series and the Astros are not.