The Pirates just might acquire themselves a veteran rotation presence (in the form of A.J. Burnett) for the low price of basically nothing. Sounds like a great plan! Except for one thing…a thing we will get to in a moment.
On the surface, the murmurs of A.J. Burnett going to Pittsburgh (not San Francisco, to some local chagrin) are getting louder. That just might be a good thing for the Pirates. Less so for A.J. Burnett.
Getting A.J. Burnett the heck away from the AL East is probably a good thing for all involved. Burnett faces some of the stiffest competition of all starters in 2011 while pitching in one of the hitter-friendliest ballparks around. Burnett surrendered 19 home runs at home in 2011 and 18 home runs against right-handed batters overall last season. Pittsburgh’s PNC Park is a great place to rectify both those problems as it offers one of the lowest HR factors for right-handed hitters (73) in baseball.
Moving to a more forgiving park and facing (slightly) easier competition makes A.J. a more palatable choice. While getting older, Burnett remains very durable, making 30+ starts each of the last four years. Sounds like a plan! Order your Burnett Buccos jersey today!
Except for two things, really: Burnett doesn’t exactly give up cheap home runs. A.J. Burnett doesn’t have the best reputation.
At the risk of overextending/embarrassing myself, I will tread lightly into the latter. At this stage of his career, cast out to the baseball hinterland, what kind of effort does one expect to get from A.J. Burnett? Already secured his final payday, playing out the string without any pressing desire to win a ring (got two, suckers! Your move, Halladay!) or realistically compete for another? I don’t know much about his makeup but the things you hear – they aren’t so good.
As for the former. The average home run surrendered across the Major Leagues in 2011 was thrown 0.375 feet (4.5 inches) from the center of the plate. A.J. Burnett’s home runs were thrown an average of 0.216 feet (a little more than 2.6 inches) from the center for the plate. Less than one full standard deviation but Burnett is clearly not afraid to groove one. Or two. Or thirty-two separate pitches last season. No ballpark can save pitches thrown over the geometric center of the plate, as Jeff Sullivan demonstrates.
Rob Neyer suggests acquiring the flame throwing (past life) Burnett makes sense for the Pirates if he’s healthy as he just might turn into a decent trade chip and will likely cost next to nothing. The big question remains: are the Pirates confident they can get anything worthwhile from, as Mister Parkes so delicately put it, the Rotting Corpse of A.J. Burnett.
Pitch f/x data scraped/borrowed from Joe Lefkowitz. Knowledge gleaned from keen observation!