Sunday, February 12, 2012

AJ Burnett

So Pittsburgh waits with bated breath as the AJ Burnett watch continues. It probably won't be a long vigil.

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sport's MLB Buzz reports that the Pirates and Bronx Bombers have a framework and are just discussing money and players, one dependent on the other. He hears that the NYY will eat between $19-23M, leaving the Bucs to shell out $5-7M/year for Burnett.

The 35 year old should be an upgrade to the staff as it now stands, and worth the risk, even if it is for two years. And there are risks.

The big righty has a history of nagging injuries, although he has worked over 185 innings and started 30+ games in each of the past four seasons. Also, his age has to be a concern. Some pitchers last into their 40s, while others step off a cliff.

In his past four years, his fastball velocity has dropped off, from 94.3 MPH in 2008 to 92.7 last year. To counter, he threw considerably fewer heaters in 2011 (56% vs 69% in 2010) and more changeups. Burnett also sports a knuckle-curve to go with his usual hook, which he throws both overhand and three quarters.

He can miss bats, something that Pirate pitchers traditionally struggle with. Burnett can also miss the dish with some regularity. Last year, he averaged 8.2 Ks and 3.9 BBs per nine, pretty close to his career 2-1 ratio.

Of course, the key question is can the dude still pitch? His 11-11, 5.15 ERA from 2011 and 10-15, 5.26 ERA from the season prior suggests not so well. But his xFIP for those two season are 3.86 and 4.49, while his K rate shows he still has some life left to his servings. His biggest bugaboo has been his HR rate - 17% of the flies hit against him went yard last year, as did 11.6% in 2010.

The new Yankee Stadium has been a launching pad, but the Clemente Wall isn't exactly Green Acres, either. He does give up the long ball, but if he gets back to his career average of 10-12%, that shouldn't be a terrible problem here. And leaving the AL East for the Albert Pujol/Prince Fielder-less NL Central can't hurt.

Here's the point: the Bucs have some cash to toss around yet, and Edwin Jackson and Roy Oswalt don't want any. The starting pitching is thin, and Burnett would be at least one of the top five pitchers, nudging ahead of Kevin Correia and Brad Lincoln. As we found out last year, a team never has enough starting pitching.

Burnett knows what it's like to be on the short end of the stick. It took him eleven years and three teams to finally get into the post season. According to his agent, he has no negatives about the trade talk. And he does bring passion to the game and a reputation as being pretty good with mentoring young pitchers. After 13 seasons, one can only assume he has some insights worth passing along.

So hey, let's dot the i's and cross the t's and get Burnett to camp this weekend.

Some random notable moments in his career:
  • Burnett was an eighth-round pick of the New York Mets in the 1995 draft. 
  • He was traded to the Marlins as part of a package for Al Leiter before the 1998 season when the Marlins held their infamous fire sale of Jimmy Leyland's 1997 World Series champs. 
  • On May 12, 2001, Burnett pitched a no-hitter. Oddly, he walked more men (9) than he whiffed (7). His cap and a baseball from the game are on display in Cooperstown. 
  • In 2002, he had the top fastball of all major league starters, averaging 94.9 miles per hour and led the NL with 5 shutouts. 
  • He was limited to four starts in 2003 before Tommy John surgery, but returned in June of the following year and once hit 102 on the gun. 
  • Burnett, in his 2005 walk year, was booted from the team in late September after griping about the Marlin on-field management. It didn't hurt him much; the Blue Jays signed him to a five-year, $55M deal. 
  • He had an opt-out clause for 2008, and had a great year, going 18-10 with a 4.08 ERA and leading the AL with 231 Ks in 221-1/3 IP. Not surprisingly, he did opt out and the Yankees inked him to a five year/$82.5M contract. 
  • Burnett was suspended by MLB for five games in 2009 for throwing a heater over Nelson Cruz's bean after Mark Teixeira had been drilled twice. 
  • Also in 2009, he became the first Yankee pitcher to win a World Series game at the new Yankee Stadium against the Phils. 
  • The righty struck out four batters in one inning last year, joining an exclusive club of just two dozen members.

No comments: