One silly media narrative that I have always hated is the idea that inconsistent athletes struggle due to some sort of mental deficiency rather than a simple lack of talent. The issue came up this morning, when Joel Sherman stated the following in a column:
It was craft vs. daft. Moyer, the pitcher with the greatest ratio of least stuff to most savvy, discombobulated the Yankees without topping 81 mph. Burnett, the pitcher with the greatest ratio of most stuff to least savvy, single-handedly revived the reeling Phillies with a combination of inaccuracy, indifference and ineptness that would have made Oliver Perez proud….
Can you imagine if you could put Moyer’s brain in Burnett’s head? You would have fewer tattoos, a higher pitching IQ and an ace. Instead, Burnett is what he is: the Lamar Odom of baseball, a player who fails to maximize awesome skills due to a lack of concentration and daily conviction.
AJ Burnett’s struggles have nothing to do with a lack of conviction, effort, or concentration. They are attributable to a lack of skill.
Burnett has some of the best “stuff” in all of baseball, which leads people to believe that he is as skilled as some of the aces that grace the mound around baseball, such as Doc Halladay or Justin Verlander. Once one makes that assumption, it is easy to take the next logical step and believe that he simply does not try as hard as they do or focus as well as they do and therefore is not as successful. However, this house of cards is built upon a faulty foundation, as it ignores the fact that command and control are both physical skills of pitching.
Being able to locate the ball and throw strikes where you want them on a consistent basis requires incredible precision, something that AJ Burnett is simply not equipped for. He has trouble consistently repeating his delivery, not for a lack of trying but because it is quite difficult, particularly for a pitcher of his height and build, and he is not physically gifted enough to do so. While his stuff compares favorably to that of anybody in the game today, his subpar command and control and his limited repertoire mean that an off-day for even one of his pitches can lead to a difficult outing.
Even if Burnett does lose focus at times, his struggles have little to do with conviction. He can go to the mound with complete focus and want so very badly to throw strikes, yet some nights it will be to no avail. He has physical limitations that make him a solid #2 starter rather than an ace, and people need to stop psychoanalyzing him after every run of poor starts.