Saturday, February 18, 2012

What A.J. Burnett Means to the Pirates

The Pirates (finally) completed their trade for A.J. Burnett yesterday with the Yankees. The Yankees will be paying $20M of the remaining $33M on Burnett's contract -- the Pirates will pay Burnett $5M in 2012 and $8M in 2013 -- and the Pirates sent RHP Diego Moreno and OF Exicardo Cayones in exchange. Neither of these guys will be missed. The Pirates seemed to have tired of Moreno's immaturity, as they stalled him out in High-A with only a taste of AA. Cayones was a Latin American bonus-baby ($400K signing bonus) that has yet to hit a professional home run.

I've seen Burnett described as "old" as a 35-year-old pitcher. I'm 35. Hearing him described as old makes me feel old. Gah....growing old is getting old.

Burnett had a rough 2010 and 2011 with the Yankees due to higher-than-usual HR rates. In my opinion, most of the problem is a lack of separation in speed between his slowly declining fastball (still a top notch 92.7 average) and his firm changeup of 88 mph. You really want to see an 8-10 mph difference between the two. Hopefully Ray Searage can alter that.

But what Burnett does is legitimize this rotation and to a small extent this whole team. He's a "name" and still producing well. Barring injury, Burnett will anchor this rotation and provide 190+ innings this year.

Both Burnett (8.1 K/9 innings) and free agent signee Erik Bedard (8.7 K/9) bring a different dynamic to this rotation in 2012 -- the strikeout capability that has been lacking since...forever. Just as an example, here's the K rates for the rotation in 2011:

2011 -- McDonald (7.47 K/9), Morton (5.77 K/9), Maholm (5.38 K/9), Karstens (5.32 K/9), Correia (4.50 K/9)

Here's what that could look like in 2012:

2012 -- Bedard (8.76 K/9), Burnett (8.18 K/9), McDonald (7.47 K/9), Morton (5.77 K/9), Karstens (5.38 K/9)

Quite a difference. Instead of relying on putting the ball in play, with all that entails in terms of errors and poor decision making of other moving parts, the rotation is now a do-it-yourself type of mentality. I'm just going to throw this ball past the hitter, have my catcher catch it (bye Ryan Doumit), and eliminate the middle man.

This past offseason, the Pirates waded in to free agency early and got guys like Clint Barmes and Rod Barajas as soon as the store opened. Both of these guys are defensive upgrades on their replacements. Barmes should at least be Cedeno's equivalent on offense, too. Barajas has power at least -- hopefully a healthier Chris Synder. The Pirates also stole Bedard at $4.5M, although it will be amazing if he pitches move than 140 innings this year.

The Pirates tried to obtain a big player via free agency, but for the 2nd year in a row they couldn't give their money away. Last year their white whale was Jorge de la Rosa, this year Edwin Jackson. So they did the next best thing and shanghaied someone from another team in A.J. Burnett.

It may be the excitement of the move, still, but I'm excited about the Pirates. I will realistically say this is a 78 win team, but with a bounce or two here and there they could finally break The Streak. If that happens, it will be due to A.J. Burnett fronting this rotation. Breaking the losing streak should finally lead to free agents not using the Pirates as their "back up school" while they wait for Harvard to get back to them.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to listen to the Silversun Pickups.


  1. You're going to listen to the Silversun Pickups?

    Are you being punished?

  2. No lie...did not realize until a month ago that the lead singer was a guy. Swore it was a chick.

    Growing Old is Getting Old is a cool song. Animation snob.

  3. Yeah, well "Lazy Eye" is the bane of existence, sooo....

    On topic: Too bad all those years in the AL made A.J. forget that you don't bunt with your face, huh?