A.J. Burnett (34) days until Opening Day.
After a few rough seasons in New York, Burnett came to the Bucs in 2012 and instantly provided a veteran presence, both on and off the field. He will take the mound on Opening Day 2013.
Three questions about number 34…
1. Can he avoid regression? After a pretty successful 2012 campaign, many analysts and experts predict a decline in A.J.’s performance for this year. At the top of the rotation, Burnett is relied upon to pitch his very best every fifth day. If the Pirates plan on contending in 2013, they’ll need Burnett to succeed, with little to no regression from last season.
2. Can he keep home run and ground ball rates in check? Some believe that a potential regression will be led by a decline in his home run and ground ball ratios, as he was solid in both categories last season. After surrendering an average of 27 homers in each of his three years as a Yankee, Burnett allowed only 18 HR as a Bucco. A.J. nearly sliced his HR/9 in half between 2011 and 2012, from 1.5 to 0.8. Furthermore, he improved his ground ball rates with the Pirates. He was around the league average of 44% over the last few seasons, but increased his GB% to nearly 57% last year. He’ll need to replicate similar HR and GB rates in order to put up solid numbers.
3. Will he stay healthy? At age 36, A.J. is entering the final stages of his MLB career. As the leader of an aging, injury-prone rotation, it’ll be necessary for him to stay healthy. He was hampered with a broken orbital bone last spring, and the Bucs started firing on all cylinders once he debuted on April 21st. Burnett has started more than 30 games in each of the past five seasons, and he’ll be expected to do the same in 2013.
“I’m proud to take the mound for the Pittsburgh Pirates. I’m proud, man. I’m proud to pitch for these players, these fans, this city… This just all makes me proud to be a Pittsburgh Pirate.”
- A.J. Burnett