The Best & Worst of A.J. Burnett

aj burnett pirates

Yesterday, A.J. Burnett officially became a Philadelphia Phillie:

While he was only in Pittsburgh for two short years, his work won’t go unnoticed.

A key piece of two of the best Pirate teams in my lifetime, Burnett brought talent and passion that few others have shown over the years. He’s one of the reasons why a lot of Pittsburghers have come back to baseball the past couple years, why this city has been re-bonded with its baseball team. From the standing ovations to the A.J. inspired t-shirts, not too many recent baseball players have gained as much respect in the Burgh as A.J. Burnett. Not only did he bring a different character, but he was actually a really good pitcher.

A huge thank you goes out to A.J. – for the good memories and just overall solid pitching.

Here’s a look at some of his best and worst times as a Pirate.

BEST

- The Debut

Missing the start of 2012 due to a bizarre injury (more on that in a bit), Burnett was working on a rehab assignment in which he gave up 14 runs over 10.1 innings. April 21st was marked as another scheduled minor league outing, but plans changed late in the afternoon when the big league club needed a starter to replace an aching Kevin Correia. Burnett would be making his Pirates debut, and a rainy day in Pittsburgh quickly turned into an excellent night.

It didn’t start so well – the first three Cardinals reached base to start the contest, with Burnett looking like a flop. However, he struck out Carlos Beltran and David Freese, then got Yadier Molina to line-out to end the threat. Burnett cruised the rest of the way, allowing no runs on three hits over seven innings, striking out seven and walking two. The Pirates won, 2-0.

- The One-Hit, Complete Game Masterpiece

One of his best starts in a Bucco uniform, Burnett nearly twirled a no-hitter on July 31st, 2012 at Wrigley Field.

After cruising into the eighth inning, he faced rookie Adrian Cardenas with two outs. He painted the black with a 2-2 curve ball, but the umpire didn’t give A.J. the corner. On the next pitch, Cardenas roped a single to right field to end Burnett’s no-hit bid. He got the next four outs without a problem, leaving just one blemish on the scorecard.

History wasn’t made, but Burnett still had one of his best outings. And the Pirates won, 5-0.

- The Strikeouts (#AJ2K)

The Pirates really haven’t had many dominant pitchers over the years, especially in the strikeout department. A breath of fresh air, Burnett mowed down hitters at excellent rates, posting an 8.0 K/9 in 2012 and a league-leading 9.8 in 2013.

A.J. notched his 2,000th strikeout on April 17th, in what I thought was one of the more memorable moments last year. We haven’t seen many milestones either, so that was cool.

He struck out more batters in a single season than any other Pirate right-hander in team history last year (209), placing him at 55th on the all-time MLB K list. Burnett will have the chance to pass the likes of Juan MarichalDwight Gooden, and Tommy John in 2014.

- The Walk-Off Pies

Burnett liked to have fun after walk-off victories, bringing his pie-in-the-face tradition over from New York.

JordyMercer pie in face AJBurnett

- STFD

When Burnett told Hanley Ramirez what to do on August 16th, 2012…

AJ BURNETT STFD

…he really became a fan-favorite. Famous t-shirts and Twitter hashtags were born, endorsed by Mr. STFD himself:

AJ BURNETT STFD

WORST

- The Broken Orbital Bone

It was great to see the Pirates pick up a big name pitcher like Burnett back in February of 2012. After spring training started, Burnett suffered a totally bizarre injury that brought a ton of “this WOULD happen to the Pirates” responses. In the team’s annual bunting competition, A.J. knocked a ball right into his eye and broke his orbital bone. It was frustrating as a fan, and I can only imagine how frustrated Burnett was. Fortunately, no serious damage was done and he was only set back a few weeks.

- The Rosin Bags

This is a joke more than anything, but…

aj burnett rosin bag opening day

AJ Burnett Rosin Bag Explosion

- The Busch Stadium Implosions

aj burnett st louis

This, unfortunately, is not a joke. Burnett sucked in Busch Stadium for whatever reason, giving up 24 earned runs there over 16 regular season innings as a Pirate.

It started with his third Bucco start on May 2nd, 2012, when he surrendered 12 runs to the Redbirds in just 2.2 innings.

It ended with his final Bucco start on October 3rd, 2013 – NLDS Game 1 – when he gave up seven runs and couldn’t even get an out in the third inning. He pitched well against St. Louis at PNC, but just couldn’t handle them at Busch. And it cost him the ball in Game 5, as Gerrit Cole got the nod instead.

- The Fallout

Word is that after Burnett found out he wouldn’t be pitching in Game 5, he threw a huge tantrum and threatened not to make the trip to St. Louis. True or not, the decision clearly left a bad taste in A.J.’s mouth.

He also said some dumb stuff on Twitter later in October, when the Steelers only invited Clint Hurdle and Andrew McCutchen for recognition at a game. After shooting the breeze with local media later that week to describe what was going through his head, Burnett pretty much went silent for the rest of winter.

The whole offseason situation was handled pretty poorly, as the Pirates could have done more to get him back. Now he’s wearing red.

In my opinion, the “good” greatly outweighed the “bad” over the last two years. At the end of the day, he’s one heck of a pitcher.

Congrats to A.J. Burnett on the things he’s accomplished so far, thank you for the great memories in Pittsburgh, and good luck the rest of the way. Enjoy Philly, A.J.

Go Bucs

AJ Burnett’s impressive age-36 season

AJ Burnett Pirates

The latest updates on A.J. Burnett:

Bill Brink had a good piece in the Post-Gazette today looking at how Burnett’s return would impact the rotation, payroll, and roster. But it seems that retirement is on the horizon, which – from a fan’s perspective – is a shame considering he’s coming off two of the best years of his career. Even as a 15-year veteran, Burnett can still bring it.

To see just how good he was in 2013, I compared it (his age-36 season) to other starting pitchers’ age-36 seasons in the last 50 years. Check ‘em out:

Best FIP in Age-36 Season
Season Pitcher FIP
1981 Steve Carlton 2.33
1981 Don Sutton 2.35
2000 Randy Johnson 2.53
1972 Bob Gibson 2.54
1985 Rick Reuschel 2.58
2003 Curt Schilling 2.66
2013 AJ Burnett 2.80
1975 Gaylord Perry 2.98
1965 Whitey Ford 2.99
1967 Larry Jackson 3.01
among qualified starting pitchers

 

Best K/9 in Age-36 Season
Season Pitcher K/9
2000 Randy Johnson 12.56
2003 Curt Schilling 10.39
2013 AJ Burnett 9.85
2006 Orlando Hernandez 9.09
1981 Steve Carlton 8.48
1999 Chuck Finley 8.44
1983 Nolan Ryan 8.39
2013 Ryan Dempster 8.32
1999 David Cone 8.24
1999 Roger Clemens 7.82
among qualified starting pitchers

 

Best GB% in Age-36 Season
Season Pitcher GB%
2013 AJ Burnett 56.5
2002 Greg Maddux 56.4
2009 Derek Lowe 56.3
2012 Tim Hudson 55.5
2008 Andy Pettitte 51.5
2011 R.A. Dickey 51.1
2011 Chris Carpenter 46.6
2002 Steve Sparks 45.5
2005 Mike Mussina 44.5
2013 Bronson Arroyo 44.4
among qualified starting pitchers
since Baseball Info Solutions started tracking in 2002

Burnett ranks in the top 10 for all three categories, including first overall in ground ball rate and third in strikeouts per nine innings. 

His age-36 season compares to those of some of the all-time greats. Of the players listed above, seven are Hall of Famers (Carlton, Sutton, Gibson, Perry, Ford, Ryan, Maddux), a few more are on the way, and most of the others were All-Stars at some point. 

The lists include some strong, durable arms capable of continuing success into veteran years. A.J. Burnett’s right up there with them. Even though he’s getting older and might be hard to deal with at times, the Pirates could definitely use him in their rotation. 

Do you think A.J.’s done for good? Any chance at coming back? Let us know.

Go Bucs

Three Reasons Why A.J. Burnett Should Come Back in 2014

AJ Burnett and his buddy/fellow free agent, Clint Barmes.
AJ Burnett and his buddy/fellow free agent, Clint Barmes.

A.J. Burnett has been rumored to be 50-50 between retirement and returning to baseball in 2014. His Twitter bio currently reads:

[quote_simple]”Nothing better than riding Can Ams, bass fishing, killing zombies, and most importantly spending time with my family!”[/quote_simple]

Sounds like someone who wouldn’t mind riding off into the sunset, huh? A.J. would have plenty of time to spend on the things he loves, and it’s obviously important for anyone to spend more time with their family.

aj burnett video games family retirement 2013

But if he has any desire to keep pitching, here are three reasons why he should come back for at least one more year…

1. There’s still something left in the tank

Even as he nears the end of his MLB career, Burnett can still pitch. This isn’t some 36-year-old who has lost his stuff; A.J. arguably pitched the best baseball of his career in 2013. His 3.30 ERA matched a career-best, and his 9.8 K/9 led the National League. Many of Burnett’s 2013 numbers rank first among fellow free agent starting pitchers (K/9, xFIP, WAR, etc.), making him one of the more attractive pitchers on the market. But his heart’s in Pittsburgh, and he’d definitely solidify the starting staff in 2014. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, and a healthy Wandy Rodriguez/other fifth starter would give the Bucs a great strength. While the organization has the depth to replace him, his loss would still leave a hole in the rotation.

2. Pittsburgh loves him

aj burnett standing ovation pirates

Unlike the New York faithful, Pittsburgh has treated A.J. with unwavering support since day one. Even on his worst days, Bucco fans have treated him like a superhero both at PNC Park and on Twitter. While that might get to his head at times, there’s no doubt that Yinzers are attached to #34. A battle cry to Hanley Ramirez led to t-shirts, hashtags, and more. The fans have embraced him here, and you know they’ll continue to have his back if he returns to the Burgh.

3. Unfinished business

As bench Jeff Bannister described in this great tweet: the Pirates knocked on the door in 2012, opened it in 2013, and will kick it down in 2014. Burnett has been a vital part of that three-year process, and he’d definitely be an essential piece of completing the third and final leg, starting on March 31st at PNC Park.

Although veteran leadership can be overrated and overhyped, A.J. actually does bring a fire that this franchise didn’t have for a long time. There’s no question that he can be a pain to management and controversial at times, but he still gets the job done every fifth day. Burnett’s a solid pitcher with an entire city behind him and work still to be done.

With free agency set to begin, we will know A.J. Burnett’s decision soon enough. If he comes back? Great. If he retires? That’s okay, too. He’s had two great seasons in Pittsburgh and his success won’t go unnoticed.

Go Bucs

A.J. Burnett: Even better in 2013

AJ Burnett 2013

Last season, A.J. Burnett came to Pittsburgh with some question marks. However, he put a few rocky years in the Big Apple behind him and turned doubters into believers. In a staff consisting of James McDonald, Kevin Correia, Erik Bedard, Jeff Karstens, and later Wandy Rodriguez, Burnett became the Bucs’ best starter and “ace.”

Now, in a Bucco season with unbelievable all-around pitching, Francisco Liriano may have passed up A.J. as the staff ace (read here and here). But don’t discount Burnett.

After a pair of tough outings, he bounced back strong with a seven inning performance in San Diego on Tuesday night.

Believe it or not, the 36-year-old right-hander has actually improved in 2013. Check out the numbers through 23 starts:

2012

2013

Record

15-4

6-8

ERA

3.63

3.09

K

133

160

BB

48

53

HR

16

9

Opp. BA

.245

.231

Opp. OPS

.686

.644

Other than a worse record and slightly increased walk total, Burnett has improved his numbers across the board. You can’t fault him for the win-loss, as that also hinges on your offense and A.J. has received poor run support all year (other than Tuesday night’s eight-run outburst). As for the walks, he’s handed out five more free passes over the span of 23 starts – not much of an issue unless they really start to pile up.

Still, Burnett has lowered his ERA, gotten more punch-outs, given up fewer home runs, and held opponents to a lower batting average and OPS.

A.J.’s 9.9 K/9 is a career high and ranks first among NL starting pitchers. He still has a nice hook to help him with the strikeouts:

AJ Burnett Curve Ball

Six of his seven strikeouts on Tuesday came via the curveball.

With an expiring contract at the end of the season, Burnett will have a decision to make. The Pirates should be making a nice offer to him. A.J. has also said that it’s either Pittsburgh or retirement in 2014, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a team try to sway him with big money considering the way he’s pitching. He’s made it seem like he has some gas left in the tank, and it wouldn’t be a bad thing to see #34 back in the black and gold next season.

Will the Pirates score for A.J. Burnett tonight?

The Pirates have produced slim to no run support for A.J. Burnett at PNC Park since the end of last season. A pretty remarkable stat from Opening Day:

 

Here’s a look at those games…

August 27th vs. Cardinals
L, 4-3
BOX SCORE

Burnett pitched 5.2 innings against St. Louis, giving up four runs (three earned) and suffering the loss. The Pirates scored twice in the fourth and once in the seventh, but Burnett was chased from the game by that point.

September 7th vs. Cubs
L, 12-2
BOX SCORE

Burnett’s next home start was on the first Friday of September, and it was one of the Bucs’ worst games of 2012. He pitched five innings and got crushed for seven runs, although only three were earned. The Pirates committed a ridiculous seven errors, and didn’t score until Burnett was three innings removed from the ballgame.

September 18th vs. Brewers
L, 6-0
BOX SCORE

A.J. pitched relatively well – two runs on seven hits in six innings – but the offense couldn’t get anything going, scratching out just three hits. Milwaukee crossed the plate four times against the Bucco bullpen, going on to win the game by a score of 6-0.

September 28th vs. Reds
L, 1-0
BOX SCORE

Burnett was good against Cincinnati on September 28th, allowing just one run in eight innings of work. But his mound opponent was better: Homer Bailey threw the first no-hitter in PNC Park history. Other than Clint Barmes reaching on an error and Andrew McCutchen drawing a walk, the Bucs were completely blanked by Bailey.

October 3rd vs. Braves
L, 4-0
BOX SCORE

A.J. took the hill in the regular season finale and wasn’t too sharp – four runs in 5.2 innings. But the Bucco offense mustered just four measly hits, struck out 11 times, and didn’t walk once. Eight different Atlanta pitchers shut them down, ending the Bucs’ season on a sour note.

April 1st vs. Cubs
L, 3-1
BOX SCORE

Burnett got the Opening Day nod for Pittsburgh, and his biggest mistake was serving Anthony Rizzo a first-pitch fastball that was crushed for a homer. He kept the game close and the bullpen was perfect, but the bats started the season on a cold spell. Neil Walker, Andrew McCutchen, and Pedro Alvarez collected the only three Pirate hits, and their first run of 2013 didn’t come until the ninth inning.

The Bucs haven’t crossed the plate at PNC while Burnett was still in the ballgame since last August; hopefully that streak ends tonight. Mike Leake will be on the mound for Cincinnati; here’s how he’s performed against the Pirates in his career:

I Split W L ERA G IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP SO/9
Pittsburgh Pirates 2 3 3.20 11 70.1 64 32 25 8 23 45 1.237 5.8

At PNC Park, Leake is 0-3 with a 2.68 ERA in six outings.

It should also be noted that Burnett is 10 strikeouts away from 2,000 in his career. He’s struck out 10 and 9 batters in his first two outings, respectively. If A.J. doesn’t get there tonight, he should hit 2K in his next start.

Go Bucs