Analysis

Yankees: 3 Stars Who Couldn’t Handle New York

The Yankees have had many star players go through the organization in their history, but some proved they couldn’t handle the bright lights of New York.

Throughout the years, Big names have come to the Big Apple to prove that they can play under the biggest and brightest lights in the world. Some, like Roger Clemens and Alex Rodriguez, have shinned and become greats in Pinstripes. Some struggle in ways that couldn’t have been seen.

Let’s take a look at great ball players then dwindled under the big bright Bronx lights:

Sonny Gray

On June 6 of 2011, Vanderbilt University’s Sonny Goad Gray would be drafted by the Oakland Athletics in the first round with the 18th pick. Sonny Gray would make his major league debut nearly two years later in 2013 on July 10th out of the bullpen in relief of Jerry Blevins, against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

2014 was another great year for Sonny Gray as he cemented himself as a reliable starter for Oakland. Sonny would go 14-10 with an impressive 3.08 ERA and 183 Strikeouts in that time. As impressive as 2014 was for Gray, 2015 was even more special for the man as he’d break out and become an All-Star and finish third in the Cy Young voting. Gray put up an impressive 14-7 record with a 2.73 ERA in the process.

All eyes were on Gray as the next big thing in baseball but the pressure of it all got to him. In 2016, Gray would have a disastrous season, He went 5-11 with a 5.69 ERA in 22 starts, serving stints on the DL with a strained trapezius muscle and a forearm strain. Gray became a star pitcher that had downsides that other teams believed they could get for cheap and turn into the star he had the potential to be, That brings us to the New York Yankees.

Sonny Gray was traded to the New York Yankees for James Kaprielian, Jorge Mateo and Dustin Fowler in 2017. This move was intended to bring life into a stagnant Yankees pitching rotation and getting someone like Sonny Gray aboard would help immensely. Before being traded, Sonny Gray would go 5-2 at home in Oakland while going 1-3 away from Oakland Coliseum. In his first season with the Yankees, Gray would struggle to go 4-7 as he nearly doubled his Home Runs given up throughout 9 innings. Signs of Sonny Gray struggling in New York showed but no one could expect what would come in year two in New York. In 2018, Sonny Gray would crash down and explode.

Gray recorded an 11-9 record in 2018, which at first sounds pretty decent but that’s without looking at the numbers. In Away games, Gray would actually pitch fantastically going 7-5 with a 3.17 ERA in that time but Sonny Gray struggled where it counted the most. At home, Sonny Gray would go 4-4 with a 6.98 ERA. Yes, you read that right, Sonny Gray threw for a near 7 ERA in the Bronx.

The Sonny Gray project would come to an end when he would be traded by the New York Yankees with Reiver Sanmartin to the Cincinnati Reds for Shed Long (Yankees Legend) and 2019 competitive balance round A pick. With all the stats presented, it seems Gray still has what it takes to be a great pitcher, just not in New York.

Carl Pavano

Pavano was selected by the Boston Red Sox in the 13th round of the 1994 amateur draft. In November 1997, Pavano was sent to Expos along with pitcher Tony Armas, Jr., in a trade that would bring Pedro Martínez to Boston (Damn that trade). Carl Pavano in no way played up to superstar status with the Montreal Expos, pitching around a 4.00 ERA in his first 5 years. Pavano was traded to the Florida Marlins in the middle of the 2002 season for no one of importance. This is where Pavano would turn his career around.

In 2004, Pavano would break out into All-stardom for the first time in his career. Pavano would finish 18-8 with a 3.00 ERA and finishing sixth in Cy Young voting. Carl Pavano was ready for the big time, or so it seemed. After becoming a free agent, Pavano would turn down bigger offers from organizations such as The Boston Red Sox, The Detriot Tigers, and The Cincinnati Reds to sign with the New York Yankees. Pavano actually chose to play in New York which is the baffling part. Pavano would go 4-6 in 17 games in his first full season with the Yankees. I say first full season cause Pavano would never play another full season with the Yankees ball club again.

Could The Yankees Use Another Starting Pitcher?

In the next two seasons, Carl Pavano would go on to pitch 9 games in total. A nearly 40 million dollar contract, totaled to 31 total games pitched, which means Pavano made more than one million dollars per start. Pavano would have flashes of dominance later in his career but nothing the bright lights in New York really took their toll on the man known as Carl Pavano.

A.J. Burnett

Burnett was drafted in 1995 in the eighth-round to the New York Mets in the amateur draft. He would then go on to be traded to the Marlins with Jesús Sánchez and Robert Stratton for Al Leiter and Ralph Milliard. Unlike Pavano, A.J. Burnett was fantastic in his first 6 years in the Major Leagues.

A.J. would peak in 2002 with impressive numbers such as five shutouts, seven complete games and going 12-9 with a 3.30 ERA. Burnett was a solid starting pitcher for the Marlins for years. Burnett would declare free agency on October 27, the first day after the end of the 2005 World Series. A.J. would go on to sign a five-year deal with the Toronto Blue Jays, totaling 55 million dollars in total.

Burnett pitched very well in his time in Toronto, averaging a 3.95 ERA in his first three years. In Burnett’s last year, he’d pitch his career high 34 games started going 18-10 in that span. His five-year contract with the Blue Jays allowed him to opt out at the end of the 2008 season, and he chose to do so, becoming a free agent. That’s where New York lights begin to turn on Burnett.

On December 18, 2008, Burnett signed a five-year $82.5 million contract with the New York Yankees. The highlight of A.J. Burnett’s tenure with the organization would boil down to two moments. On June 20, 2009, in the third inning of a game against the Florida Marlins, he pitched an immaculate inning, striking out all three batters on three pitches each, becoming the 39th person to achieve this feat.

The second would come in his first career World Series start in Game Two against the Philadelphia Phillies on October 29.  He would go on to earn his first career postseason win by pitching seven innings, allowing only one run and recording nine strikeouts. Burnett would otherwise fail tremendously for the New York Yankees as a whole. Burnett would average a 5.00 ERA in the three years he spent with the ball club.

He would give up a career high in hits and home runs in back to back season in the Bronx. Burnett’s 2011 season was not much better than his 2010 campaign, as he finished with a record of 11–11, a 5.15 ERA, and a WHIP of 1.44.

After some drama with the Yankees and Burnett following the 2011 season, on February 18, the Yankees agreed to trade Burnett to the Pittsburgh Pirates for minor leaguers Exicardo Cayones and Diego Moreno and to pay $20 million of the remaining $33 million on his contract. The Yankees would rather pay 20 million for AJ Burnett to play against them then for them, one could laugh if they weren’t already crying.

Honorable Mention

Another man that couldn’t handle the Bright lights of the New York area is one Kristaps Porzingis. Have fun in Dallas, snakes are more commonly found there so you should feel comfortable.

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