Now that the Yankees have added Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda to its once questionable rotation, rumors are flying about AJ Burnett’s possible landing spots, with Pittsburgh apparently the leader in the clubhouse. The general sentiment amongst Yankee fans is undoubtedly “good riddance” for an unreliable albatross that tanked down the stretch in 2011. A deeper look at the number, however, tells a different story regarding the 35 year old right hander
(1) Though it is hard to believe, Burnett’s 2011 season was basically right in line with his career norms
As one of those diehard Yankee fans that cursed the sight of Burnett on the mound last season, #1 is difficult for me to type. But the numbers don’t lie, and below are some of Burnett’s statistics, both for 2011 and for his career
It would appear our eyes deceived in 2011 – almost across the board, Burnett did what he’s always done – whiffed a high number of batters, struggled with control and limited his line drives. The one number that does stand out meaningfully is his HR rate, which spiked significantly. There is some argument about whether controlling HRs is a skill, to be fair – and Burnett, having just turned 35, is now throwing fewer (and 1 MPH slower on average) of his electric fastballs, so one could make the argument the spike is indicative of a trend rather than something he will regress away from.
With respect to the 2nd point, it is so obvious it nearly goes without saying. Moving from the AL East and its murderers row of DH-augmented lineups to the NL Central means all of Burnett’s numbers should improve. It is not only the move to the NL that helps, however – Burnett is moving to the best HR hitting park in the AL for left handed hitters (by a significant margin) to a neutral park in Pittsburgh. If the HR/FB spike is real, PNC should suppress the weakness significantly – and if regression to the mean appears as we might expect, the park will suppress Burnett’s mistakes even further.
Bottom line: with the Yankees prepared to eat $20MM-$25MM of the $33MM that remains on Burnett’s contract, the Pirates stand a strong chance to realize a return on their minimal investment in Burnett, and if his results in 2012 and beyond approach his peripherals, it will be a steal for the Bucs.