Pirates Had a Scout Watching A.J. Burnett’s Last Start

Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the Pittsburgh Pirates had a scout watching A.J. Burnett’s last start on Friday. Gelb says that the scout wasn’t on his normal coverage, which makes it sound like this was a trip specifically to see Burnett.

Burnett hasn’t been the same pitcher this year that he was with the Pirates. He has a 4.08 ERA and a 3.93 xFIP. His strikeouts are down, with a 7.4 K/9, which is a rare that is almost two and a half strikeouts less per nine innings. His walks are up slightly, going from a 3.2 BB/9 ratio last year to a 3.8 BB/9 ratio this year. He’s also not a ground ball machine this year, with a 49.6% ground ball rate, down from 56.5% last year. He’s been pitching with a sports hernia, which will probably need surgery at the end of the year, and is most likely the case for his struggles this year.

Burnett’s xFIP would rank him sixth among regular Pirates starters. The current order:

1. Jeff Locke – 3.48

2. Gerrit Cole – 3.58

3. Francisco Liriano – 3.69

4. Vance Worley – 3.77

5. Charlie Morton – 3.79

6. A.J. Burnett – 3.93

7. Brandon Cumpton – 4.13

8. Edinson Volquez – 4.33

I’m not sure what Burnett would cost. He’s got a limited no-trade clause, which would restrict his value. The Pirates are one of the teams he could be traded to, although the Orioles are another team, and Gelb says they’ve had talks about Burnett.

Burnett was great in his time with the Pirates the last two years. This year’s version of Burnett hasn’t been the same. That could be due to the hernia injury, but if that’s the case, it’s not something that will go away for the rest of the year. Right now he’s not pitching any better than the top five starters in Pittsburgh. He was good for the Pirates in the past, but he’s not worth acquiring at this point.

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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  • Henduck

    Would shifts and PNC Park bring his numbers back to what they were?

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com/ Tim Williams

      Doubt it. His BABIP is .293. It was .305 last year and .294 in 2012. His HR/FB rate is 10.3%. It was 9.1% last year and 12.7% in 2012.

      It seems the biggest issue is his lack of strikeouts. He’s performing the same this year as he did when he was in PNC, except for the walks and strikeouts. And those aren’t impacted by park factors or shifts.

      • deacs

        I am yes. Still think they handled the situation poorly by not extending a qualifiying offer to protect themselves but he’s clearly on the decline and the hernia is reason enough not to trade for him. I live in Philly so I get to see him pitch. He’s not what he was last year.

  • leadoff

    Could it be that he was not the only one that they were scouting. Since they played against him recently, I don’t know what a scout is going to see that they did not see first hand. Bastardo is a quality bullpen pitcher and would be a great pickup for the Pirates.

    • stickyweb

      That was my first thought too Leadoff. I can’t imagine NH would want to give up any prospect, no matter how insignificant, for AJ at this point. Who expects him to do any better down the stretch while the hernia’s still an issue? And then there’s the crazy option for next year that I won’t pretend to understand. No thanks.

  • Guy Nito

    so for all the hand wringing over the Bucs handling of AJ this past offseason, we’ve pretty much reached the conclusion that we’re fine without him. Just wanted to verify.

    • stickyweb

      A lot of us reached that conclusion a long time ago. But it is nice to see it confirmed with performance.

  • indybucfan

    Don’t want him. Rather have Kennedy if they must make a trade.

  • Thom

    Velocity is down across the board, too. Would prefer him to Volquez, but not by that much.

  • Mr. Goodkat

    Agreed. If we had a hole in the back end of the rotation and he didn’t cost much, I’d say why not take a chance.
    But he’s not the type of rotation upgrade we need (if you are of the belief we need one) and that hernia is a pretty serious red flag (imo).

  • S Brooks

    I think AJ is worth picking up if the price is right. For one, I don’t think you can count on Cole to make a full complement of starts down the stretch, given that he’s already been on the DL twice. And while Frankie looked good in his first start back, it WAS Colorado, so I’m reserving judgment. So after Morton, Locke and (I believe in) Volquez, sure there are depth options, but they are who we thought they were. Solid #4′s – the kind you need to soak up innings over the course of a long season.

    I get what the numbers say, although you have to allow that FIP is still a mathematical construct, like WAR, and no sabermetrician is going to say that a pitcher with a 3.77 FIP is a “better” pitcher than one with a 3.93 FIP. And to that end, Burnett’s numbers are trending positive. Last 7 starts the FIP is 3.22 – which IS a significant improvement over 3.8-3.9 – and his K/9 up just a tick at 7.8 and BB/9 down to 2.7. That AJ Burnett may be a step down from the one who last pitched for the Bucs, but I would rather have him pitching meaningful innings down the stretch than Cumpton or Worley – neither of whom, incidentally, has a K/9 even approaching 6.

    Don’t get me wrong, I would rather have Kennedy, but the cost will be much higher in prospects. Burnett won’t deplete the farm.

    • Mr. Goodkat

      I would rather have neither, but if I had to choose between the two, I may agree with you. Purely because of the price to acquire each.
      AJ could rebound in the second half some, but the injury concerns me. Plus that last start against the Cards makes me question his actual playoff value.

    • pilbobuggins

      Neither would kennedy, I don’t see him getting more than two top 100 prospects which the pirates could certainly afford without affecting themselves either short or long term, I say again,prospects are meant to be spent if done so wisely. Getting kennedy would be wisely, he is young,affordable and controllable, not to mention a pretty darn good pitcher.

      • S Brooks

        TWO top 100′s? Jeez, Samardzija and Hammel didn’t even fetch two.

  • pilbobuggins

    I’m not sure if burnett fits this bill but here’s the skinny,all playoff teams need veteran guys with a proven playoff track record. This year the pirates have one and a half combined on the whole staff ( that’s all the starters mushed together)the need for a veteran presence to stabilize this rotation is glaring to anyone with eyes. The front office apparently thinks so to,since they are not only looking at starters but the pen as well.

    • Joe Nastasi

      When that playoff experience is getting shelled by St. Louis yet again & St.Louis is one of the teams your looking to get past. AJ is a very bad option especially when you consider you’d be stuck with that contract past this year

  • dr dng

    As Tim know, I do not know much about this and I did not know where else to post this but did the Pirates make the mistake of not sending Snider to Cleveland and instead keep C. Dickerson? I know its a small sample size, but his .417, .462. .708 = 1.170 sure looks pretty good for 9 games including 2 HR? I know Snider has been a real “team” player, but these numbers look pretty good.
    -

    • deacs

      I’m hoping they use Lambo in his spot at some point but they seem to be comfortable with Snider.

    • lonleylibertarian

      You are assuming Cleveland would want Snider – my impression has been that both Snider and Tabata have been available since spring training and could have been had for a box or two of baseballs.

      • deacs

        Crazy to think that Tabata isn’t even on the 40 man roster at this point.

    • S Brooks

      Cleveland needed a CF to fill in for Bourn. Snider doesn’t even play a passable CF. And you’re right, it is a small sample size. The list of fringe major leaguers who have had a 9-game stretch that good or better is so long you couldn’t count it – and includes guys like Adam Hyzdu and Rob Mackowiak. Remember Emilio Bonifacio? First 8 games out of the chute he was hitting .500 with a 1.116 OPS. He’s hitting .217 since.

  • William Wallace

    The only player I would scout would be Marlon Byrd. He should of been re-signed. Polanco needs more seasoning. They could have tried to move Tabata in the winter. But Byrd’s bat would have been just what the Dr.ordered. AJ just doesn’t move my needle I believe we have two options in Indy who make more sense.

    • Ron Loreski

      Oh now Polanco needs more seasoning? Psh…6 weeks ago everyone wanted Nutting’s head on a post because he was still at AAA. I love hindsight.

      • William Wallace

        Not me – I think he needed more time in AAA- I also believe that he could of used more practice playing right. Byrd made the most sense- let Polanco develop and Byrd played right next year Byrd could of been the fourth outfielder. I liked Byrd when he gave us six weeks. Seemed very capable both on and off the field.

    • lonleylibertarian

      The hnave been trying to move Tabata – and Snider – no takers. Polanco will be fine – just need to work out the kinks and make the adjustments – he can do that while helping the Bucs with his defense/arm…

      I do think a right hand bat is needed – not sure it should be Byrd. I really thought the would give Hague a longer run – platoon a bit at first, third and in Left

  • https://www.facebook.com/willyc Will Conner

    I loved AJ and loved the intensity he brought. My biggest question would be if he would be open to a late career move to closing much like John Smoltz did? If so, then I wouldn’t feel bad about the length of the contract, especially if we could get the Phillies to chip in on the payment.

  • bmcferren

    Were the Phillies playing against St. Louis? Burnett can’t beat the Cards – we should look elsewhere

  • CalipariFan506

    In my opinion Burnett wore out his welcome with Hurdle and that played a part into not making a bigger push to bring him back.

    Between showing up Hurdle over shifts and then his apparent meltdown over Cole pitching in game 5 I think he left on a sour taste with the staff.

  • mam995

    Actually, if the Pirates were to get seriious about picking up a pitcher, I would rather have them shoot for Oakland A’s Lefty Tommy Milone. He’s only 27 and the Pirates actually have the prospects to get him. And he wants out of Oakland. He’s one of the few people to trade for where the trade could actually be a win win both teams. I hope that the Pirates pursue that deal.

  • Lukas Sutton

    Decent depth? Dude is experiencing a drop in velo, a serious increase in walks and decrease in Ks. That, along with his 4.05 ERA, 3.98 FIP, 3.93 xFIP and 4.09 SIERA, which shows his ERA is pretty accurate as to his success this year. He is, statistically, performing at a level less than Locke, Morton, Worley and Cole. His peripheral stats show him as slightly less than Liriano as well. Meaning AJ walks in as our 6th best option, and he is barely an upgrade from Volquez. AJ Burnett being “decent depth” is fans letting good memories cloud current stats. AJ doesnt really upgrade the staff and would take a spot away from otherwise more deserving players. His cost would be enough for smart fans to ask “why did we trade for a guy to plop into a spot that Worley could be better at?”. Liriano-Cole-Morton-Locke-Worley is a better 5 and Volquez is a very similar depth option we already have in house.