Sabermetric Spotlight: A.J. Burnett, SP, Pittsburgh Pirates
The Reason -
Even before his near no-no last night versus the Chicago Cubs, A.J. Burnett has been an unsuspecting star this 2012 year. After being traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the off-season from a disappointing stint the pinstripes of the New York Yankees, he found himself with a minimal amount of expectations awaiting him for the season with the new team. Being overlooked as a viable fantasy option is an understatement looking back just six months ago. Burnett has been one of the more consistent pitchers in all of Major League Baseball this season with only two substantial hiccups along the way (May 2nd vs. STL 2 2/3 IP, 12 ER and July 3rd vs. HOU 5 IP, 6 ER). Taking all of that into consideration, what better player to dissect and figure out what the heck is going on!
Basic Numbers -
Reviewing his elementary numbers from the past five years paints a picture of the struggle this pitcher presented. (Say that five times fast).
While he has always been somewhat of a horse who will get you close to 200 innings pitched per year, his time in the Bronx is just an eye sore. His ERA and WHIP ballooned while his strikeout’s and wins decreased. See his ERA down almost a full two runs results in a double-take that can be known to snap necks. The complete 180+ degree turn he has had in 2012 is quite remarkable, and a key reason why the Pirates are storming towards to the postseason for the first time since 1992.
Yup, chart time!
One of the first things to pop off the page is the decreased K/9 rate that is being experienced this year, well below his career average. On the flip side, his HR/9 rate is almost cut in half from where it was in 2011. Teaming up a decreasing average against by 20 points the past two years with a BABIP witnessing the same slumps translates into a higher LOB% due to less runners even getting on base.
Jumping down to the next portion we realize that his GB% has jumped way, way up, to 55.5%, easily a career high. Naturally, with more balls being hit on the ground, a drop of flyballs is incurred. Now does playing in PNC Park over Yankee Stadium have something to do with the decrease of HR/FB? I’m sure a case can be made, but nonetheless, A.J. has been stellar in 2012.
Pitch Types and Speed -
So what the heck is A.J. doing to induce more groundballs and dominate the NL this year? If you guessed throw his sinkerball more often, then you would only be half correct. This pitch is being thrown 16.2% of the time, down from 22.5% in 2010 but up from 10.6% in 2011. The other difference in pitch selection these three years is the one year experiment of throwing a cutter in 2011 (6.9%) and throwing the change-up more often (7.8% in 2012, 9.6% in 2011 from 2.6% in 2010). The knucklecuve is being consistently thrown around 30% the past three years, a pitch he has established as his trademark.
I just fell in love with A.J. Burnett this year as a pitcher. He is throwing first pitch strikes more often than any point in his career at 61.4% of the time. Also adding to this infatuation, an increase of total pitches in the zone from past years, which indicates a return of command (48.5% of the time in 2012 from 40.2% in 2011). Because of these two statistics, batters are indeed making contact more often, but when they do they are pounding it in to the dirt and being thrown out at first base.
Forward Looking -
The remaining schedule for 2012 looks bring for A.J. His next start he faces a hapless San Diego team at home on August 11 before hosting the newly re-tooled Los Angeles Dodgers on August 16, in what could be a playoff preview. A return trip to San Diego on August 21 awaits before another test versus St. Louis on August 27. In the month of September he will be slated to throw against a majority of NL Central teams with two NL East foes potentially on the docket in the last two weeks of the year.
Fantasy Analysis -
Mr. Burnett has been a waiver-wire life raft for your fantasy pitching staff this year. His average drafted position (according to ESPN) sits at 260 overall, yeah, I passed on him too. While the 35 year-old has been nothing short of brilliant this year, there is no way you have him in your plans for 2013, unless you are in an auction/dynasty league and can keep him for pittance. Ride him the rest of the year with confidence as he will get you at worst 6 IP and a handful of K’s while driving down your ERA and WHIP.
Did You Know? -
A.J. Burnett is the career leader of strikeouts for the Florida Marlins with 753. He also sports a Bruce Lee tattoo on his left tricep!
Conclusion and Projection -
After reviewing all of the stats and information out there on Allan James, it’s hard not to be convinced that he is in fact the real deal this year. His consistency of pitching deep into games along with a drive for the NL Central title should starve off any missteps along the way. However, checking SIERA vs his ERA, a slight decrease in performance could be expected, especially when realizing his BABIP is well below his average and that with a GB% so high, more are due to find their way into the outfield eventually. And if all goes well, Burnett could be throwing in the postseason for a team with the slimmest of odds to start the year. Somewhere, Yankee fans are secretly pulling for his success.
Reactions and opinions are always welcomed. Find me on twitter: @pf_hayes