Archive for A.J. Burnett
Via Ken Rosenthal, the Pirates are just one of four teams with interest in trading for A.J. Burnett. One of those four teams is on his no-trade list, and the Yankees feel Pittsburgh makes the “most sense” as a trade partner. It might have something to do with them being in the NL, or a non-contender, or both. Yesterday we heard that the Pirates are willing to take on $10M of the $33M left on his deal, but the Yankees are holding out for a 50-50 split.
Friday: Via Jon Heyman, the two sides continue to discuss a Burnett trade, and the Pirates are said to be willing to eat $10M of his contract. The Yankees are pushing for a 50-50 split, however. Heyman says there is hope for a deal. Joel Sherman adds that the ten clubs on A.J.’s no-trade list are all West Coast teams simply because his wife doesn’t like to fly. I get the sense that this is just a stare-down; each side is waiting for the other one to blink and take on more money. If the Yanks manage to unload half of A.J.’s deal and get something more than a non-prospect in return, it’ll be a minor miracle.
Thursday: Via Buster Olney, the Yankees want Garrett Jones from the Pirates in any deal involving A.J. Burnett. They know they’ll have to eat most of the $33M left on Burnett’s contract, but the problem is that Pittsburgh has no interest in dealing Jones and talks haven’t progressed at all. Jones, 30, is a late-blooming left-handed DH candidate who’s tagged righties for a .360 wOBA and a .208 ISO in his three seasons. He’s spent most of his defensive time at first and right field. Larry looked at him more in-depth a few weeks ago.
Via Joel Sherman, the Yankees are still diligently working to trade A.J. Burnett for some level of salary relief before the season. We first heard they were shopping him at the winter meetings, but so far interested teams have asked the Yankees to pay pretty much all $33M left on his contract. The Pirates are one of those interested teams, and Ken Rosenthal says they are not one of the ten clubs A.J. can block a trade to with his limited no-trade clause. After losing out on Edwin Jackson despite a substantial three-year offer, Rosenthal opines that the Bucs might reignite talks about Burnett. I don’t expect him to be traded, but you never know.
For those of you sick of A.J. Burnett analysis, you have my sympathies, and please feel free to skip this post. For the masochists in the audience, I was inspired to take another spin down the Burnett freeway by our pal Brad Vietrogoski, who wrote a thought-provoking piece about everyone’s least-favorite Yankee on Tuesday. The following statement in particular caught my attention:
It’s not so much the two nasty curveballs that they swing and miss at in the at-bat that matter any more; it’s the fastball A.J. grooves with 2 strikes that they’re squaring up on and driving for power.
Having written about Burnett’s splits last month, I was curious to see whether the idea that Burnett was just laying it in there with two strikes held water.
A.J.’s tOPS+ (his performance relative to how he performs in all situations, with 100 being average and anything lower representing above-average for the pitcher) with two strikes last year was 36, while his tOPS+ while ahead in the count was 16, which means A.J. performed far better than normal in those situations. His sOPS+in each of those categories was 108 and 81, respectively, which means he was slightly worse than league average with two strikes in the count but almost 20% better when ahead. Essentially this tells me that it’s safe to say that A.J.’s issues last season weren’t necessarily grooving a fastball with two strikes.
However, he probably does have a sequencing issue, as evinced by his 208 tOPS+ when the batter is ahead in the count, and 157 sOPS+. While the 208 isn’t as crazy as it might initially seem, as we’d expect a pitcher to perform worse in favorable counts for the batter (for reference, CC Sabathia‘s tOPS+ was a near-identical 206); the 57% worse than league average part is a bit more damning (CC’s was 111 in those situations).
So what is A.J. throwing when falling behind in the count? The following splits are taken from Fangraphs — it’s important to note that these are BIS classifications and not PITCHf/x, and may not be exact, but they should be close enough for our purposes.
In 2011, A.J. Burnett decreased the percentage of fastballs he threw while upping his changeup percentage in every favorable hitter’s count. This unsurprisingly resulted in A.J. throwing more changeups overall last season than at any point in his three-year Yankee career (these are PITCHf/x classifications):
Why would he do this? Well, for starters, if you had the least-effective fastball in the American League, you’d probably stay away from it too. We’re all painfully aware of the diminished effectiveness of A.J.’s once-dominating heater.
Despite the drop in velocity, A.J.’s 2011 fastball still ranked as tied for the 15th-fastest in the game. Of course, it doesn’t matter how hard you throw if (a) you’re not getting any movement on it, (b) you don’t offer enough different looks to keep hitters guessing, and (c) all of the above. As far as (b) goes, to A.J.’s credit it appears he was toying with something of a cutter this past season, although it wasn’t exactly effective. He also appeared to have significantly cut back on sinker usage in favor of the change in 2011, though he barely threw either pitch in 2009.
While I commend A.J.’s appearing to be willing to try new things to right his ship, it’s pretty clear the change isn’t the answer for him, as its ineffectiveness (12th-worst in the AL) is likely tied in part to the fact that there’s just not enough separation in velocity from his heater. In 2009 the delta between his four-seamer and change was 7.2 miles per hour. In 2010 that shrunk to 5.3, and this past season it fell even further to 4.7.
So essentially in 2011, Burnett began turning to his changeup more frequently due in part to the decreased velocity on his fastball — this is not a terrible idea in theory; Mike Mussina for one had to reinvent himself as a pitcher as his velocity decreased near the end of his career — however, an inability to concurrently decrease the speed on his change resulted in what at times probably just looked like a slow, eminently hittable fastball. With hitters knowing full well that the likelihood of seeing a curve in a hitters’ count was slim to none, it’s sadly no surprise they teed off on Burnett’s changeup.
Following Larry’s examination of the best pitches in the Yankees’ rotation, we received an email from a reader who asked an excellent question.
I was wondering if you guys could do some kind of guide to what pitches each of our pitchers throw and how often.
Thanks to FanGraphs, identifying these pitches and frequencies becomes much easier. Previously, to identify a pitcher’s entire arsenal would require quite a bit of video watching, and would likely also require an outside resource. Frequency was out of the question, unless you had a paid subscription to a service such as Baseball Info Solutions. Now FanGraphs aggregates all of that data.
Today we’ll look into what the Yankees’ seven starters throw, and how frequently they throw it. But before we do, a few disclaimers. First, we’re going by Pitch f/x data here, since it’s captured on high-speed cameras. The Baseball Info Solutions data, also available on FanGraphs, gets recorded, from videos, by stringers. There’s much more room for human error there. Also, the Pitch f/x data includes more pitches, so there’s a more accurate breakdown.
At the same time, Pitch f/x isn’t error-free. It often misclassifies pitches, and consistently. For example, before 2010 it didn’t do a good job of separating different types of fastballs. I’ll try to combine personal knowledge of arsenals with the Pitch f/x data in order to provide a clearer look at each pitcher’s repertoire. Remember, too, that you can look into this yourself; the data is available on every FanGraphs player page.
Inspired by the excellent Red Sox blog Over the Monster, today I’m going to take a look at which Yankees starting pitchers throws the “best” pitch among each pitch category. As there are a variety of factors involved in determining a given pitch’s overall effectiveness, “best” in this instance is going to be subjective. In the interest of simplicity, I’m ranking the hurlers by their respective Whiff rates, as the ability to generate a swing-and-miss is probably the most transparent indication of pure stuff.
All of the data in the tables you’ll see below is from the 2011 season, and should be mostly self-explanatory. I’ll be the first to admit that a one-year sample is less-than-ideal, but I tried to run a three-year search and TexasLeaguers.com didn’t take to that request too kindly. The columns headed by “w” and “w/100″ are the pitch type’s linear weights (representing the total runs that a pitcher has saved using that pitch) and linear weights per 100 pitches (the amount of runs that pitcher saved with their fastball over the course of 100 fastballs thrown), which provide some level of insight into a pitch’s relative level of effectiveness but should not be analyzed in isolation, as they are subject to the whims of both sequencing and BABIP.
And right off the bat we have a prime example of the problems one can encounter with pitch type linear weights. If you sorted this table by wFF, Phil Hughes would come out on top. How on earth is that possible, you are likely asking yourself. I’m not entirely sure myself, as I don’t think anyone that saw Hughes pitch last year thought much of his fastball. However, he did get some people out, and presumably the vast majority of those outs came via his four-seamer, because, as you’ll see later on in this post, everything else he threw last season was pretty awful, at least by pitch type linear weights. Lending further credence to this notion is the fact that Hughes yielded a .282 BABIP on ground balls on his heater, compared to a .360 BABIP on ground balls on the curve, .444 on the cutter and .556 on his changeup.
As far as Whiff% goes, it should be quite heartening to see that the Yankees’ two newest rotation acquisitions outperformed everyone else in the rotation by a rather substantial margin. While both will likely see a decrease in their Whiff rates with the move to the AL East, at least they’re starting from a high baseline.
We know Ivan Nova threw a slider more than 3.9% of the time last season and so this table is a bit misleading. However, the pitch did become one of the keys to his improved second-half performance, and so there may be a case to be made for Nova having one of the better sliders on the team. Of course, Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia might have something to say about that. In any event, the Yankees’ front four in the rotation all boast pretty big-time sliders; bad news for opposing lineups.
While Pineda probably threw some two-seamers last season, I’d surmise that some of his four-seamers may have been misclassified, as a 10.6% Whiff% rate on a two-seamer/sinker is pretty damn high when you consider league average is 5.0%-5.4%. Not to mention the fact that the player with the best wFT/100 in MLB last season (Doug Fister), had a 5.4% Whiff% on his two-seamer. Sabathia probably has the best sinker on the team, although Kuroda is in that conversation as well if he can get his GB% back above 45%.
It should surprise no one that Sweaty Freddy had the best changeup on the team given his slow-slower-slowest approach, although Sabathia’s is also pretty great. No one else in the rotation has a particularly effective one, although Burnett’s did generate a slightly above-average Whiff% last year. Surprisingly, despite a rather diverse arsenal, Hiroki Kuroda is the only starter on the team that doesn’t throw a change at all. However, in his case he presumably partially makes up for it with his splitter, which can function like a hard change.
No surprises here; Burnett’s curve is the only thing keeping him away from the glue factory, but as everyone knows you can’t get very far with one working pitch. Nova’s curve is probably best described as a work-in-progress; while there were times in the second half that Phil Hughes looked like he was employing a harder (and more effective) curve and other times where his curve looked terrible. Stop me if you’ve heard the one about Hughes needing to improve his curveball to become an effective Major League starter.
The splitter is a fun pitch that Yankee fans don’t get to see too often, and this coming season we may have two members of the rotation featuring one (albeit in very different forms). Prior to Freddy Garcia, the last Yankee starter I can think of off the top of my head that threw one is Roger Clemens (Ed. Note: Jose Contreras threw a forkball, which is kinda like a splitter but slower). Per linear weights, neither Freddy nor Kuroda fared all that well with their splitters last season, but they still generated plenty of whiffs with the pitch.
So who boasts the best pitch in the Yankee rotation? Probably either Sabathia, with his heater or slider, or Pineda and his heater. I certainly wouldn’t argue against any of those three.
We’ve been getting DH-related mailbag questions pretty much non-stop all week, so Joe and I already answered a bunch of them: Domonic Brown, Jayson Heyward, David Wright, Ross Gload, Kyle Blanks, Jim Thome, and Kosuke Fukudome. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar whenever you want to send us anything, even if it’s not a mailbag question.
J.R. (and a few others) asks: Does Phil Hughes have an option left? I remember last year that he preferred a stint on the DL rather than a demotion and use of his last option to AAA. Did he accrue too much service time to be sent down without being exposed to waivers?
Hughes does have at least one minor league option left as best I can tell, and the optional waivers thing isn’t really a problem. Apparently there’s a league-wide gentleman’s agreement in place preventing claims from being made. Hughes is roughly ten weeks away from having five full years of service time, at which point he’ll be able to refuse a trip to the minors. I’m not sure that a trip to Triple-A will benefit him at all, he’s got face the challenge of big leaguers to make progress. Then again, Ivan Nova did make tangible progress with his slider following his demotion last summer, so who knows.
J.A. asks: What about Burnett for Adam Dunn?
Antony (and a few others) asks: What about Carlos Lee for the DH? Burnett for Lee?
Might as well kill the two A.J. Burnett trade with one stone. I’m going to give an emphatic no to Dunn, even though I think he’ll rebound (at least somewhat) from his abysmal inaugural season with the White Sox (.266 wOBA) just because he’s too good to do that again. The problem is his contract, which will pay him $14-15M in each of the next three seasons. That’s one-year and $11M more than Burnett’s contract, and will impact the 2014 austerity budget. If he wasn’t so terrible last season, I’d probably say yes. Now there’s so much risk to assume for those three years.
Carlos Lee makes some more sense, even though he’s dangerously close to falling off the cliff. He’ll make $18M in the final year of his contract, and his value is increasingly tied to his batting average as his power continues to decline. Yankee Stadium might be a hitter’s park, but it’s perfectly league average for dead pull right-handed hitters according to StatCorner. Lee doesn’t walk all that much (career 7.3 BB%), so it’s batting average or nothing if the power continues to go. The difference in contracts is significant, so that would have to be worked out somehow. Also, I’m not sure why either the White Sox or the Astros would want Burnett.
Anthony (and a few others) asks: What about Derrek Lee as a DH?
The last two years have been tough on Lee physical, specifically with regards to his hands. He had surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb late in 2010, then missed close to four weeks last season due to a left wrist fracture. Lee managed to hit 19 homers in each of the last two seasons, so he has some power left, and unlike the other Lee he can actually hit the ball to all fields with authority. He’s also has a reputation as strong clubhouse guy, and the Yankees have been emphasizing that of late.
My biggest concern is his walk rate, which dropped to a career-low 6.9% last season after six straight years of walk rates north of 10%. Lee’s strikeout rate (23.1%) also climbed for the third straight year. That’s all a result of him swinging at more pitches out of the strike zone than every before, and that’s tough to reverse at age 36. Lee is said to be considering retirement if he doesn’t find “the perfect situation,” and I don’t know if being a DH and seven-hole hitter for the Yankees qualifies as the perfect situation. He already has a World Series ring (’03 Marlins), so I doubt he’s desperate to win. I am intrigued, but I’m not sure it’ll happen.
Paul asks: $189M or bust. With all the talk of getting to $189M for 2014, am I correct that in 2015 they can go back to, shall we say, less conservative spending habits? Or is this going to be a cyclic thing? Every few years dipping below a threshold and then going back up?
I’m with you there, and Dave Pinto is as well. The Yankees will not only not have to pay $12M+ in luxury tax that year, they’ll also get a rebate on their revenue sharing payout, somewhere between 25-50%. They paid north of $100M in revenue sharing in 2010, so adjust up for inflation a then realize they’re getting a huge chunk of that back by going under the tax, and it’s easy to understand why they’re aiming to do so. They could end up saving themselves $50M+ in 2014 alone.
That money could easily go right into the Steinbrenners’ pockets, that’s always possible, or they could pump it right back into the team in 2015. Given the team’s annual payroll, I’m guessing it’ll be the latter. Remember, they only need to get under the luxury tax threshold once for all the savings to kick in, they can go right back over in 2015. If you want to start looking way ahead, players like Ben Zobrist, Evan Longoria, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Felix Hernandez, Yovani Gallardo, and Clayton Kershaw are all scheduled to become free agents after the 2014 season. Isn’t that convenient?
Bob asks: Love your site! This question actually comes from my wife and came up during the playoffs last fall. When the talking heads were talking about advanced scouting, she asked me, “How does somebody become a scout?” I really had no idea. So: what makes one qualified to be a scout? What different types of scouts to teams employ? (This probably would have been a better question for the early off-season – sorry I took so long to sent it). Keep up the good work!
From what I understand, the easiest way to get into scouting is to have played the game at some point. That’s true for pretty much any job in baseball, really. MLB runs a scout school in Arizona and the Dominican Republic each year, which is basically a ten-day crash course in scouting. They teach you how to scout pitchers, scout hitters, fill out reports, the whole nine. The only kicker is that you have to be sponsored by an MLB team to attend, so a club basically has to agree to hire you before you can attend. It’s not like anyone can enroll, and that’s why the easiest way in is by having played at some point. Baseball America and MLB.com wrote features on scout school a few years ago.
As far as different types of scouts, teams usually employ amateur scouts (for the draft and international free agents), pro scouts (for the majors and minors), and advanced scouts (scouting teams the big league club will soon play). There might be others, but those are the three I know. When it comes to amateur players for the draft, area scouts are assigned a specific region (like the northeast), cross-checkers verify reports (they’re responsible for a larger area), and the scouting director is the head honcho. Many of the area scouts are essentially freelancers, going from one one-year contract to the next, and changing teams pretty regularly.
Over the last few days I’ve explained why A.J. Burnett, Freddy Garcia, and Phil Hughes each deserves to be the Yankees’ fifth starter to open the season while Joe countered with a reason for the team to essentially get rid of each player. Once upon a time all three guys were in the rotation no questions asked (like, three weeks ago), but right now two of three will be on the outside looking in come Opening Day, barring something unforeseen. That’s pretty neat.
Before we jump into the actual poll, let’s quickly go back and summarize each player’s case…
Burnett (case for, case against)
The healthiest of the bunch, A.J. has started each of the last two seasons well before completely tanking in the second half. The Yankees could take advantage of another potentially strong start by boosting his trade value a bit, since we know they’re trying to get rid of him. There are also some reasons to believe he might have gotten a little unlucky last year.
Garcia (case for, case against)
Crafty and sweaty, Garcia straight-up outpitched both Burnett and Hughes last year, and didn’t do anything to lose his job over the winter. He doesn’t have much bullpen experience, and his … ahem … extreme finesse approach would be a nice change of pace in a rotation fronted by four hard-throwers.
Hughes (case for, case against)
It boils down to youth and upside for St. Philip of Hughes, who is still just 25 and theoretically has his best years ahead of him. We know Burnett and Garcia definitely do not. An offseason of rest and a more serious conditioning program should have Hughes more prepared in Spring Training, and there’s no lingering dead arm/innings jump to worry about.
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This whole fifth starter thing is just a weird situation. I want Hughes to get the job but I expect them to give it to Burnett, all while Garcia is the one that actually deserves it based on merit. Anyway, let’s get to the poll…
The Yankees currently have a pitching problem. Most teams would benefit greatly from having one of Freddy Garcia, Phil Hughes, and A.J. Burnett in the No. 5 rotation spot, but the Yankees have just one spot for those three. While they could go into Spring Training with all three, there’s a chance something will give before then. Since Hughes is still cheaply under team control, and since Garcia can’t be traded until June, Burnett could be the one involved in any pre-season deal.
Anonymous quotes that Jeff Bradley of the Star-Ledger obtained for his weekend column back up the idea of a Burnett move. “It’s a waiting game now to see if A.J. can be dealt,” said Bradley’s source, who is apparently knowledgeable about the Yankees’ off-season plans. While a Burnett deal is no certainty — Mike just made the case for Burnett as the fifth starter — it remains the most likely scenario at this point. The only question remaining is of the circumstances that would warrant a Burnett trade.
They should trade A.J. if:
1. They can get back a useful player
This seems unlikely. As Mike noted in the previous post, and as many of us have noted all off-season, Burnett has ranked among the worst pitchers in baseball for the last two years. Even if he has the potential to pitch much better, teams aren’t eager to take that gamble. That Burnett is now 35 years old makes such a gamble even riskier.
Chances are the only potentially useful players they can get back are of the same ilk as Burnett: overpaid with a productive track record but a spotty recent past. Last week Mike discussed the Burnett for Jason Bay idea, which does have a few merits. There are other big names with big contracts, such as Alfonso Soriano and Adam Dunn, but both are owed considerably more than Burnett, and both are under contract for one additional year. There is at least a chance, and perhaps a good chance, that any team can avoid Bay’s vesting option and have his contract end after the 2013 season.
Other options who fit this mold include Alex Rios ($38 million through 2014), Travis Hafner ($15.75 million through 2012), Justin Morneau ($28 million through 2013), Vernon Wells, ($62 million through 2014), and Carlos Lee ($18.5 million through 2012). None of those is particularly enticing, though neither is Burnett.
2. They can use the freed dollars to sign a useful player
This weekend the Red Sox traded Marco Scutaro to the Rockies for a pitcher who probably isn’t as valuable as Scutaro. Why would the Red Sox do this, especially after they traded their other potential starting shortstop, Jed Lowrie, earlier in the off-season? Speculation persists that the Sox made the move in order to free up payroll so that they can pursue a pitcher. The idea is that even though they’re downgrading at shortstop, the overall gain could favor them.
If the Yankees were to trade Burnett, they’d have to eat a considerable portion of his contract. But they wouldn’t have to eat all of it. The portion that they save, perhaps a third of the remaining value, could go towards signing someone to fill the only open lineup lineup spot, DH. They won’t free up enough money to sign Prince Fielder, though, and beyond him the market looks pretty bleak. It means they’d have to find a trade partner, which only complicates matters.
They shouldn’t trade A.J. if:
1. They don’t do anything with the freed-up money
The Yankees have to pay Burnett. It’s the nature of MLB contracts. They can avoid paying some of his remaining contract if they trade him, but if they don’t reinvest those dollars, there isn’t much of a point to making a trade. At that point having Burnett pitch for the team, even in a reduced role, is preferable to paying him to pitch for another team.
2. They have to eat more than two-thirds of his remaining contract
The Yankees owe Burnett $33 million through 2013, so they’d save $11 million, or $5.5 million per season, if they were to eat two-thirds of his remaining contract. Any more than that, though, and it’s probably not worth the time and effort. Again, a look at the free agent list reveals little of use in that price range. Unless the Yankees think that an additional $5.5 million in both 2012 and 2013 can help them swing a deal they otherwise couldn’t, then they should just keep Burnett and see if he can help them in whatever ways possible. (Read: bullpen.)
3. They feel he’s the best option for the rotation
Few fans believe that Burnett is the best guy to take the mound behind Sabathia, Nova, Kuroda, and Pineda, but as the saying goes, if you think like a fan you’ll soon be sitting with them. If the Yankees believe that Burnett is the man best-suited to take the fifth spot in the rotation, then they shouldn’t trade him for the sake of unclogging the logjam. They can do other things to accomplish that.
It seems unlikely that they’d think this, given Burnett’s performances in the last two years. But perhaps they see something different in Burnett now, or have figured out why he has fared so poorly from June through September, 2010 to 2011. In any case, there’s no reason to trade him if he’s the best man for the job.
As before, any Burnett trade scenario is improbable. There are too many moving parts involved, from Burnett’s contract to potential trade targets. There’s also the matter of using the available dollars to pursue an upgrade elsewhere, something else that is far from guaranteed. The gamblers among us would do well to bet on Burnett starting the season with navy blue pinstripes.
Assuming the first four spots in the rotation are going to CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, and Michael Pineda in some order, the Yankees have three legitimate candidates for their fifth starter’s job: A.J. Burnett, Freddy Garcia, and Phil Hughes. You can make a case that each of those three deserve it, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do over the next few days. Explain why each guy is the best man for the job, starting today with Burnett.
We all know what’s happened over the last two years, during which time Burnett has pitched to a 5.20 ERA (85th out of 86 qualifiers) and a 4.80 FIP (84th) in 377 IP. His strikeout (7.59 K/9) and homerun (1.34 HR/9) rates are well off his career averages (8.22 K/9 and 0.93 HR/9), and his fastball velocity continues to wane into his mid-30′s…
It’s not very easy to make a compelling case that Burnett deserves a spot in the starting rotation given the guys ahead of him and who he’s competing with, but I’m going to give him it a shot anyway and try to be fair.
Considering his spotty (at best) track record of health prior to signing with the Yankees, Burnett has been a bonafide workhorse in pinstripes. He’s one of only 16 pitchers to make at least 32 starts in each of the last three seasons, and one of only 29 pitchers to throw at least 185 IP in each of the last three seasons. His 98 starts since the start of 2009 are the 11th most in baseball. Hughes spent a significant chunk of last season on the disabled list, and Garcia hasn’t topped 28 starts or 160 IP since 2006, before all his arm injuries set it. There’s value in taking the ball every five days.
Strong Starts To The Season
Although he finished the 2010 and 2011 seasons with an ERA north of 5.00, Burnett did manage to carry a sub-4.00 ERA through his first dozen starts in each season. He was terrible after that, pitching to a 6.00+ ERA the rest of the way in both years. Taking advantage of that early season success can have two benefits: one, it’ll help the team on the field, and two, it could boost A.J.’s trade value. We all know the team is trying to move him.
Some Bad Luck
There’s no excusing Burnett’s poor performance over the last two years, but he did suffer from some bad luck down the stretch in 2011. His second half BABIP was through the roof (.376), and his 17.0% HR/FB was crazy high (11.3% career). The last time he posted a homer rate that high (17.7% in 2007), it corrected to 9.6% the next year. Burnett turned into a pretty extreme ground ball pitcher during the final two-thirds of the 2011 season, which will help the long ball problem if he maintains a similar batted ball profile going forward…
After posting a career-low strikeout rate (6.99 K/9 and 17.5 K%) in 2010, he rebounded to his career norms (8.18 K/9 and 20.7 BB%) last season. Burnett was undoubtedly bad in 2011, but he did have some things go against him as well. The astronomical homerun rate is unlikely to last just because no pitcher has ever given up one dinger for every six fly balls they’ve allowed for an extended period of time.
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I want to say that Burnett’s salary won’t factor into the team’s fifth starter decision, but I’m not entirely convinced that will be the case. It’s not easy to toss aside the guy making $16.5M when his two primary competitors are making relative peanuts and aren’t guaranteed to perform any better. Burnett’s case is based primary on his durability an blind faith, faith that he will have his third consecutive strong start and faith that some statistical red flags will even themselves out.
At the same time, A.J. probably offers the most upside of the three fifth starter candidates even at age 35, meaning that every once in a while he’ll go out and throw an absolute gem, one of those eighth inning, one run, double-digit strikeout efforts. Neither Garcia or Hughes have completed eight innings in a start since 2009 while Burnett did it three times in 2010 and twice in 2011. He’s very hit-or-miss, and it comes down to a preference for consistent mediocrity or occasional brilliance mixed in with some serious duds.