The Bullpen Didn’t Need Burnett’s Control Issues

A.J. Burnett struggled with his control tonight, leading to more innings from the bullpen.

A.J. Burnett struggled with his control tonight, leading to more innings from the bullpen.

Looking at the stat line, A.J. Burnett didn’t have a terrible start. He gave up just two runs on five hits and three walks in five innings, while striking out seven. Looking beyond the stats, that start was definitely not what the Pirates needed right now.

The bullpen is currently over-worked. That has been a trend early in the season, and it is leading to almost all of the relievers being on pace for career highs in innings. Tom Bragg wrote about that this afternoon, projecting out the current pace for each reliever. On top of that, the bullpen had to combine for six innings on Sunday, so a long start from Burnett would have been helpful.

Instead, the right hander struggled with his control, walking three and throwing just 59 strikes in 101 pitches. The runs even came from control problems. A wild pitch scored Jonathan Pettibone in the third, after the opposing pitcher led off the inning with a walk. In the fourth, Burnett hit Jimmy Rollins with a pitch while the bases were loaded to bring in his second run.

The result was that Jared Hughes had to pitch an inning, and Vin Mazzaro had to go two innings to close out the game. Had the Pirates been winning, then they would have had to turn to either Jason Grilli for the third game in a row, or Mark Melancon, who didn’t throw yesterday but went back to back days before that.

The Pirates did keep the game close, despite the struggles and a few jams from Burnett. Pedro Alvarez hit a solo homer in the second inning, putting the Pirates up 1-0 at the time. The blast was a line drive home run that got out of the ballpark in a hurry. The second run of the game came from a solo home run by Russell Martin, who crushed one to left field to tie the score at 2-2 in the fifth inning.

Hughes gave up a run in the sixth inning, giving Philadelphia the go-ahead and eventual winning run. The Pirates threatened in the ninth inning with a one out Garrett Jones double, but Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez couldn’t bring Jones in to score.

How Taxed is the Bullpen?

Even worse than the loss is the fact that the bullpen once again didn’t get a break. They can usually rely on that when Burnett is on the mound. The current state of the bullpen workload is as follows:

Jason Grilli – Threw two days in a row prior to today.

Mark Melancon – Went two days in a row on Friday and Saturday.

Jared Hughes – Has now thrown two days in a row.

Tony Watson – Threw two days in a row prior to today.

Justin Wilson – Threw 1.1 innings on Sunday. Threw 6 innings total last week in three appearances.

Jeanmar Gomez – Threw 2.1 innings on Sunday.

Vin Mazzaro – Threw two innings tonight, two days after throwing on back to back days.

It’s safe to say that Grilli and Melancon would be available tomorrow. Watson could also be available. But if the Pirates need a long reliever, they’re probably going to have to turn to Justin Wilson again, as Mazzaro was used tonight. Wilson has been going every three days in a multi-innings role, so this would be a bit shorter, with one fewer day of rest. Based on previous starts, you’d rather have a long reliever available for a Jeff Locke start, rather than an A.J. Burnett start. Now would be the perfect time for Locke to start figuring out major league hitters.

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Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • leadoff

    Grilli and Melancon should not be involved with an overworked bullpen, there only overworked if the Pirates are ahead and that is a good thing. The rest of the pen working 2 innings and sometimes 3 is what is going to wear them down, My biggest concern right now is if they get into extra inning games, an 18 inning thriller that they seem to end up in somewhere down the road would kill this pen in a hurry.
    Hurdle has his own system, he does not think a bullpen pitcher should pitch more than 3 days in a row. If you go by that theory, he is not overworking them, I have not done the research, but I don’t think any of them has pitched more than 3 days in a row with the exception of Melancon, I think he went 4 in row once.
    Having said all this, IMO, Hurdles 3 day theory would only work if the pitchers pitched 1 inning each, therefore he would have to adjust days off by innings pitched. It would be interesting if someone would ask him his formula for resting pitchers beyond pitching 1 inning 3 days in a row.
    Since Melancon and Grilli only work 1 inning with a rest after 3 games in a row plus they don’t pitch at all if he Pirates are behind in the late innings on paper they should not wear out.

  • leadoff

    It could be with baseball changing to modern day stats and the 100 pitch limit or close to it that baseball needs to adjust.
    Teams might want to carry more pen pitchers because few pitchers these days and into the future are going to go past 6 innings or possibly get to 7. They should plan on covering 3 every night and consider covering 1 or 2 a rare night.
    I think someone is going to think outside the box and start a new trend something like 2 starters per game is a thought.
    Another way would be to go with a 7 man rotation giving pitchers more rest between starts keeping them stronger.
    Widening the strike zone by 1 inch would also keep a lot pitcher around longer.
    Major league baseball has enough money that they could easily add 2 players to the major league rosters.
    Just some thoughts!

    • http://battlingbucs.wordpress.com battlingbucs

      I’ve had some similar thoughts. Instead of expanding to a full 26 or 27 man roster I thought about keeping the “taxi” position permanent. What I mean is having 26 players but only having 25 active for a game. So if you have a bullpen pitcher that went three innings the day before he could be deactivated for the next day or two without shortening the pen.

      I also like your idea of a 7 man rotation but sort of combined with the 2 starters per game approach. Essentially you carry 7 starters two of which won’t make an official start that turn in the rotation but you can have them on a schedule for like two 3 inning outings each cycle. The remaining 5 pitchers will cover the rest of the time.

      Also a final thought is what about teams starting to attempt and develop players like Micah Owings. Meaning players who can play the field and hit serviceably well but also be suitable bullpen pitchers. Just one of these guys would allow a team to essentially carry an 8 man bullpen without sacrificing a bench spot.

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