Is A.J Burnett Really Better Than We Think?
A.J Burnett is the Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde of baseball. There are times where you want to say, “thank goodness we have A.J” and there are times where you want to say, “why on earth do we have A.J?” Fans think that A.J Burnett is mostly bad based on the last 2 years he’s been in the Bronx, but Wallace Matthews of ESPN New York doesn’t seem to think that A.J is all bad. As a matter of fact, Matthews think that A.J is pretty good and that we are only looking at the big picture. As a matter of fact, take a read at this:
The list of American League starting pitchers with the highest rate of strikeouts per nine innings pitched in 2011 is as follows: Brandon Morrow, Michael Pineda, Justin Verlander, Gio Gonzalez, David Price, CC Sabathia, Felix Hernandez, Jon Lester, C.J. Wilson — and Allan James Burnett.
In addition, there are only 11 starting pitchers in the AL who induced more ground balls last year than A.J. Burnett.
Of course, a strikeout or a ground ball are two of the best results a pitcher can hope for once he lets go of the baseball, and Burnett was among the league leaders in both. That combination usually means a sub-4.00 ERA and a W-L record to match.
And if you want to get all Saber-Geeky about it, Burnett’s xFIP of 3.86 — an advanced measurement of a pitcher’s effectiveness on plays not involving fielders — was comparable to that of Matt Cain (3.78) and Jered Weaver (3.80) to name two pitchers any Yankees fan would take over Burnett in a heartbeat.
Here I tend to agree. While A.J has qualities that we would love to get rid of (such as letting the ball fly out the park), Burnett does a great job in getting strikeouts, ground balls and his xFIP was pretty impressive. So why do fans always see the bad? Matthews also points that out.
Lots of reasons. For one thing, he walked too many batters, nearly four for every nine innings pitched. For another, his fastball, which averaged over 95 mph just three years ago, now rarely brushes 93. As a result, on nights Burnett couldn’t locate his curveball — and they were many — opposing hitters hammered his fastball for a .332 batting average, a .421 OBP and a .606 SLG.
But most of all, his home run percentage was, literally, through the roof. Better than one in every six fly balls hit off Burnett last year left the yard. He was the easiest starting pitcher to take out of the ballpark in all of Major League Baseball.
I admit, it’s easier to see A.J’s flaws because all we can think about is when A.J is going to mess up and give the opposing team the lead, but Matthews article opened my eyes. Burnett didn’t have as bad of a 2011 season that we all thought he did which means there is room for improvement. I agree with Matthews on one main thing- Burnett didn’t have a horrible 2011. As a matter of fact, he somewhat did better in 2011 than he did in 2010. It would be easier to see the changes in Burnett’s mechanics if he would pitch well all the time and not give up so many HR’s? Well, a person can only dream, can’t they?
To read the full ESPN article on A.J Burnett, click here