A.J. Burnett’s Comeback Season

On February 19 the New York Yankees traded A.J. Burnett and cash to the Pittsburgh Pirates for minor league RHP Diego Moreno and minor league OF Exicardo Cayones.  The Yankees came into the 2012 season thinking they had plenty of pitching depth, and with Burnett’s struggles over the past two seasons (21-26, 5.20 ERA) he became the odd man out.

Given he has only made five starts in his new home in 2012, Burnett has outside of one start great numbers.  The following table shows his total numbers with the Yankees and his first five starts with the Pirates.

Year Tm W L ERA G GS CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2012 PIT 1 2 5.12 5 5 0 0 31.2 33 18 18 3 7 31 1.263 9.4 0.9 2.0 8.8 4.43
NYY (3 yrs) 34 35 4.79 99 98 2 0 584.0 587 332 311 81 258 513 1.447 9.0 1.2 4.0 7.9 1.99
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/14/2012.

Your numbers say what you have done.  It is what you are at a certain spot in time, but when summed up it does not always tell the whole story.  Burenett has not pitched a full season yet so the the full sample size can be easily effected by one outcome.  Here is Burnett’s 2012 game log:

Rk Date Tm Opp Rslt Dec IP H R ER BB SO HR HBP ERA BF Pit Str StL StS GB FB LD PU GSc SB CS AB 2B 3B GDP
1 Apr 21 PIT STL W,2-0 W(1-0) 7.0 3 0 0 2 7 0 0 0.00 25 76 53 15 7 10 6 4 0 76 0 0 23 0 0 1
2 Apr 27 PIT @ ATL L,1-6 L(1-1) 6.0 6 2 2 3 8 0 0 1.38 27 94 57 15 12 6 10 6 1 57 1 0 23 0 0 0
3 May 2 PIT @ STL L,3-12 L(1-2) 2.2 12 12 12 1 2 2 1 8.04 22 72 41 10 6 10 8 6 0 -13 1 0 19 0 1 1
4 May 8 PIT WSN W,5-4 8.0 6 2 2 1 10 1 0 6.08 29 93 64 20 14 12 6 4 0 71 0 0 28 1 0 2
5 May 13 PIT HOU W,3-2 8.0 6 2 2 0 4 0 0 5.12 30 103 73 15 9 14 12 2 2 66 0 0 30 1 0 1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/14/2012.

On May 2, 2012 he was not good.  He allowed 12 earned runs while only getting 7 outs.  Other than that start, all his other starts have been quality starts.  Also when you take that one start out of the equation his season pitching line would look like this: 29ip 21h 6r 29k 6bb 1hr (1-1, 1.86 ERA).  The Pirates should be happy with the 4.83 K/BB and 7.25 inning pitched per start they have gotten from him in those outings.

According to Fangraphs thus far in 2012, he is getting ground balls at a higher rate, 54.8 percent, than he ever did in New York.  His average fastball velocity has remained comparable to its average the past two years so it not like his stuff has gotten all of a sudden better.  It all comes down to control.

Burnett is currently sitting at an all-time low for himself at 2.0 BB/9.  The biggest difference in my opinion is that he is getting ahead of hitters at an all-time personal best rate.  He is throwing a first pitch strike 65.4 percent of the time.  For his career has thrown a first pitch strike 57.7 percent of the time.  That 7.7 percent difference could mean all the difference in the world for Burnett.

I Split PA AB H HR BB SO SO/BB BA OBP SLG OPS
After 1-0 3671 2983 806 102 610 646 1.06 .270 .396 .435 .832
After 0-1 3731 3435 700 69 223 1176 5.27 .204 .259 .314 .573
Batter Ahead 3193 2301 710 102 833 272 0.33 .309 .491 .520 1.012
Even Count 2907 2793 687 77 0 573 .246 .257 .383 .640
Pitcher Ahead 2412 2362 422 27 0 977 .179 .188 .258 .446
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/14/2012.

The average that batters hit off of him after a first pitch strike is .204, compare that to the .270 average after he gets behind 1-0 in the count.  The OPS difference stands out even more.  When Burnett throws a first pitch strike he allows a .573 OPS.  When Burnett does not throw a first pitch strike he allows a .832 OPS.

In 2012, hitters are 0-19 in the 0-2 count vs Burnett.  Baseball has its way of regressing people to their level over time so Burnett’s production should probably drop off, to a point.  With the statistics Burnett is putting up right now it would not surprise me to see an ERA at the end of the year in the 3.80-4.30 range (Especially if he stays in the National League).

If the Pirates fall out of the playoff race and Burnett is still pitching well, you should expect to hear his name brought up before the trade deadline.

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