First Pitch: If That’s All For A.J. Burnett…

A.J. Burnett Pirates

Tonight might have been the final start for A.J. Burnett with the Pirates. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Tonight may have been the final start for A.J. Burnett in a Pirates uniform.

There’s the chance that he could pitch in the playoffs, but that can only happen if the Pirates win the Wild Card game against the Reds on Tuesday.

There’s a chance he could return next year, but that’s not a guarantee.

If this was the final start for Burnett, then he went out with a bang. He absolutely dominated the Reds, putting the Pirates up 1-0 in a huge series that will have big implications on the Wild Card game next week. That’s pretty much what you want an ace to do. Francisco Liriano might be the ace of the staff this year, but ever since he was acquired, Burnett has been the leader of the pitching staff, and one of the leaders of the team. Tonight was the stuff of a leader.

Prior to Burnett, the Pirates had a ridiculous run where they saw a starting pitcher post strong numbers one year, only to fail to put up those numbers again the following year. They had some horrible starting pitching ever since Doug Drabek left town, to the point where Ross Ohlendorf putting up two years in a row of an ERA around 4.00 was seen as a high mark for pitching over the last 20 years.

Burnett broke that run. Last year he posted a 3.51 ERA in 202.1 innings. He followed that up this year with a 3.30 ERA in 191 innings. Here is how Burnett stacks up when compared to the other pitchers during the losing streak:

**His ERA with the team was 3.46 prior to tonight. That was the fifth most of any pitcher with the Pirates from 1993-2013. The guys ahead of him are:

1. Gerrit Cole (only counting this season)

2. Mark Dewey (78 innings between 1993-1994)

3. Evan Meek (3.34 ERA between 2008-2012)

4. Bryan Morris (3.39 ERA the last two seasons)

Considering Burnett has close to 400 innings, or more than the other four players combined in their time with the Pirates, it’s safe to say that he has had the best Pirates career of any pitcher since 1993.

**If you look at the individual seasons, then Burnett has the fifth best and the ninth best season ERAs of all starters with 162+ innings since 1993. The only other player to appear in the top ten on two occasions was Denny Neagle, who had a 3.05 ERA in 1996 and a 3.43 ERA in 1995. Neagle also bombed his first three years with the Pirates, which is why he didn’t end up on the “top overall list” above.

So if we’re looking at the best two year stretch, Neagle’s 1995-96 run would be the best. Burnett would be a close second.

The Pirates acquired Burnett for Exicardo Cayones (who probably won’t make it out of A-ball) and Diego Moreno (who has been injured, but might have a shot at being a hard throwing reliever in the majors). They also got salary relief from the Yankees, and ended up paying him an average of $10 M per year.

If that’s it for Burnett as a Pirate, then he’ll go down as one of the best pitchers the team has had over the last 21 years, if not the best. He was definitely one of the best acquisitions. The only person who can really challenge him in all of these categories is Francisco Liriano if Liriano does well next season.

Hopefully this isn’t the end for Burnett and the Pirates. Hopefully there are more starts this year, and more starts beyond this year. But if that is all, then he’s done everything you could ask from a player who was salary dumped to you and came in with no expectations of being a top of the rotation pitcher.

Links and Notes

**Pirates One Game Away From Home Field Advantage After Win Over Reds

**Playoff Race Update: Cardinals Clinch the NL Central

**Pirates Announce Ticket Price Increase and Tiered Pricing in 2014

**Who Would Be On Your Playoff Roster?

**From earlier this week: Moneyball – The 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates Version

Author: 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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