Hidden Vigorish

Detailed Analysis of The Pittsburgh Pirates

Expect A.J. Burnett to Return to his 2013 Form

It is understandable if A.J. Burnett would like to take a mulligan for his 2014 season. No veteran pitcher wants to waste one of the final seasons of his career getting tagged with 18 losses on a last place ball club. Last season started with a regrettable decision to leave the Pittsburgh Pirates and their analytic approach to defending ground balls in favor of an opportunity to make more money in Philly and be closer to his home in nearby Monkton, MD. He got off to a good start to the season, but lost effectiveness after a hernia injury in April. His strikeout rate dropped from 9.85 K/9 in 2013 to 8.00 K/9 last season. His ground ball rate dropped from 56.5% to 50.9%. To his credit he pitched the entire season with the injury and amassed 213.2 innings. That speaks to the competitor that Burnett is. Not many pitchers would gut out an injury like that for a team having such a miserable season. Yes, there were escalator clauses in his contract based on the number of starts he made. But he proved it wasn’t about that when he exercised his option to opt out of his deal with the Phillies in 2015 so that he could return to the Pirates. That sets up 2015 as a do-over for the 38 year old Burnett. Now the question becomes can he return to the form he displayed in his first stint in Pittsburgh?
Despite his age A.J. Burnett is a pitcher I think you can count on for a bounce back. His hernia is now repaired. I believe the injury was the biggest factor in his struggles last season. Burnett’s GB% plunged after the injury. He started the season by posting a very A.J. Burnett-like 56% GB% in the month of April, but the rate dropped to just 42.6% in May and 47.1% in June. The only month in which he posted a GB% below 50% in his entire two year stay with the Bucs was April of 2012 when he made just two starts because he missed the first few weeks of season while recovering from a fractured orbital. As the season wore on his ground ball rate began to rise as Burnett became more acclimated to pitching with the injury. But he was never really quite the same pitcher. Now the injury is repaired and it appears Burnett is back on track. Burnett said he feels great this Spring. There does not appear to be any lingering effects from his offseason surgery. As long as Burnett is healthy there is no reason he can’t be as effective as he was in his previous go around with the Pirates. That means high ground ball rates with plenty of Ks too. At the very least he will be better than what he was with the Phillies last season. Even with the injury last season Burnett had value. He chewed up valuable innings and posted a 1.5 fWAR. That was more than the 1.0 fWAR Edinson Volquez contributed for the Pirates. A healthy Burnett can be a significant upgrade.

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