Left-handed bullpen help has a permanent spot on the Yankees’ shopping list, and with the news that Pedro Feliciano had to be shut down with soreness in his injured left shoulder, the search only figures to intensify. Yesterday we learned that the Yankees have had some internal discussions about Sean Burnett of the Nationals, and they had a scout on hand to watch him give up a homer (to Carlos Pena) and walk two others in two-thirds of an inning last night.
No relation to A.J. Burnett, Sean has an ugly ERA (5.76) this year, but that doesn’t tell us anything useful when it comes to relief specialists. Let’s break this Burnett down, starting with the negatives…
- Burnett is a left-handed, but he’s not exactly a shutdown lefty. Same-side batters are hitting .240/.316/.420 with just six strikeouts (10.5%) in 57 plate appearances off him this year, which is pretty awful. From 2009-2010, he held lefties to a .230/.293/.362 batting line with 23.9% strikeouts, which is quite a bit better. Still though, the recent performance is ugly.
- Unsurprisingly, right-handed batters give Burnett a hard time too. They’re hitting .308/.373/.431 with 11 strikeouts (14.7%) in 75 plate appearances against him this season, though from 2009-2010 he held them to a .180/.271/.259 batting line with 18.8% strikeouts. I wouldn’t count on that 2009-2010 performance coming back though.
- His swinging strike rate has declined for the third straight year, sitting at a below league average 7.8% this season. That helps explain why Burnett is striking out just 4.85 batters per nine innings this year, about half his 2010 rate and two-thirds his 2008 and 2009 rates.
- Burnett is not a typical LOOGY in that he actually has three pitches, which comes from his days as a starter in the Pirates’ system. He backs up his low-90’s fastball with an upper-80’s slider and a mid-80’s changeup, but neither of the offspeed pitches is a true put-away offering. He does get plenty of ground balls, almost 56% of the time against lefties and a touch more than 50% against righties.
- Burnett missed the entire 2005 season with shoulder and elbow trouble (including surgery on the latter), but he’s been perfectly healthy and hasn’t visited the disabled list since. He’s only 28 and there hasn’t been a ton of mileage put on that arm in recent years (no more than 63 IP or 73 appearances in each of the last three years).
- He’s not just a rental. Burnett is already under contract for 2012 at $2.3M, and there’s a $250,000 buyout of a $3.5M option for 2013. He will earn $1.4M this year, about $233,000 per month from here on out.
Burnett’s struggles this year might result in a buy-low opportunity, but what would the Yankees be buying low on? A reliever with limited use and limited upside? That’s not to say he’s not worth pursing, in fact he’ll probably provide more bang for the buck than a bigger name lefty specialist (coughFelicianocoughMartecough). It all comes down to cost, what do the Nationals want in return? I think it goes without saying that I wouldn’t give up much for Burnett, certainly not one of the Triple-A starters (Adam Warren, David Phelps, Hector Noesi, that group) or anyone off the big league roster (except Ramiro Pena). Kick the tires, but don’t outbid yourself. One Burnett is more than enough.