Can A.J. Burnett Have Success at Busch Stadium?

The Pirates open up the NLDS on the road against the St. Louis Cardinals today. The opening matchup features the Cardinals ace, Adam Wainwright, and the leader of the Pirates staff and number two ace, A.J. Burnett. When you look at the roles on their respective teams, Wainwright and Burnett match up well. When you look at the numbers against their NLDS opponents, the numbers favor Wainwright, especially at Busch stadium. A big question today is whether Burnett can have success in St. Louis.

A.J. Burnett has struggled at Busch Stadium the last two years. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

A.J. Burnett has struggled at Busch Stadium the last two years. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

A.J. Burnett

2013 Stats at Busch: 8.10 ERA, 14:5 K/BB in 13.1 IP

2013 Stats vs Cardinals: 3.67 ERA, 37:9 K/BB in 34.1 IP

2012-13 Stats at Busch: 13.50 ERA, 16:6 K/BB in 16.0 IP

2012-13 Stats vs Cardinals: 5.26 ERA, 49:13 K/BB in 49.2 IP

Burnett has struggled on the road against the Cardinals, while his home starts this year have been good. Looking at his starts on the road this year, he gave up two runs in six innings in his first start of the year at Busch Stadium. The next two didn’t go as well. He gave up five runs in 4.1 innings on August 15th, and five runs in three innings on September 6th. That was during a stretch where Burnett was allowing a lot of big innings. He also struggled during that stretch against the Rockies, Giants, and Rangers, while having one good start against the Cardinals.

It doesn’t add comfort that Burnett struggled in those starts on the road, while the good game against St. Louis was at home. The September 6th road game also wasn’t just a one inning performance. Burnett struggled from the start of the game. If you look at the overall numbers from the last two years, they’re worse, mostly because Burnett improved at home vs St. Louis this year. The numbers at Busch do represent a small sample size. The bigger sample would be his numbers overall against St. Louis, and just like Liriano vs the Reds during the home/road debate, I tend to side with pitcher vs team compared to pitcher at park splits.

Burnett on the difference between his good and bad outings vs the Cardinals:

“Just pitch execution at the right time. You know, not getting the ball where I want to. That’s basically the bottom line. They got me early once here and then they got me later on in the game where I had some opportunities to put some guys away and I wasn’t able to. The games that I’ve had decent success off of them, I’ve been able to make those pitches at times. So it’s just execution. You know, that’s all it is. It’s a great lineup over there. You can’t make too many mistakes because they’ll capitalize on them. And the good games I have limited those, and the ones that have got me, I haven’t been able to execute.”

Adam Wainwright

2013 Stats at Home: 2.53 ERA, 114:20 K/BB ratio in 121.0 IP

2013 Stats vs Pirates: 3.00 ERA, 20:6 K/BB ratio in 21.0 IP

I’d point out the career numbers, but the important thing to note is that Wainwright has done well against these Pirates this year, and he’s also done well at home. The overall numbers suggest that Wainwright has been good overall against the Pirates. He’s actually had a mixture of starts. There was a start on the road where he gave up four runs in seven innings. He followed that with a start at home where he gave up three in seven innings. The last start of the year was at home, and featured seven shutout innings.

Wainwright is certainly capable of dominating. He’s also a guy who can go well over 100 pitches. He’s gone 120 pitches or more on four different occasions this year, and 110 or more in 11 different starts. So it’s not like the Pirates can chase him after 100 pitches and get to the weak St. Louis bullpen early. Even if he’s at 100 after five, he could still go an extra inning or two, as he has done before. Wainwright will be a challenge, which is why the Pirates need Burnett to step up on the road in this start.

Wainwright on the Pirates offense:

“It’s just a lineup that can beat you in a lot of different ways. There is tremendous speed out there with Marte and McCutchen, and guys that can hit the ball out of the ballpark all the way down the order, as we saw [Tuesday]. It’s a good opponent with a very good starting pitcher on the mound on the other side. So I’m excited for the challenge.”

Will Cardinals Fans Get to Burnett Like Pirates Fans Got to Cueto?

One of the big stories of Tuesday’s Wild Card game was the “Cue-to” chant, and the possible impact that the crowd at PNC Park had against the opposing pitcher. However, the thing about home field advantage is that it’s not limited to PNC Park. Cardinals fans are definitely capable of making noise and trying to get to an opposing pitcher. If that does happen, Burnett said that he’ll be prepared.

“I don’t think I’ll drop the ball, but I’ve had crowds get on me before, really loud ones, so I’ll be ready for anything,” Burnett said.

Clint Hurdle isn’t focused on the crowd’s impact on Burnett, and figures Busch Stadium will be enthusiastic.

“I haven’t even given it a thought and I’m not going to give it a thought. A.J.’s pitched in big venues. He’s pitched meaningful games late season, postseason.
It’s a great crowd here. It’s a sea of red. It’s going to be a sea of red. They’ll be enthusiastic. It will be fun. It’s going to be competitive. I’m very confident in A.J.’s abilities and demeanor, so I don’t anticipate any restrictions from A.J. or any complications due to the crowd.”

You could make the argument that St. Louis is a bit more reserved. They have the “best fans in baseball” reputation. They’re going to acknowledge when the other team does well. At the same time, if you follow @BestFansStLouis on Twitter, you’ll see that the “best fans in baseball” moniker isn’t universal. I don’t think the crowd will be like PNC Park was on Tuesday, but I don’t think it’s going to be quiet either.

Tim Williams

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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