Our Long National Nightmare Is Over (Reportedly)

Well, after days of breathless anticipation, countless efforts by the Yankees’ media shills to invent a “mystery team” to ratchet up the pressure on the Pirates, and about a billion updates all saying more or less the same thing, the deal for A.J. Burnett appears to be about done.  The latest reports have it down to the last details and expected to go today to the Commissioner’s office for what should be a pro forma approval.

Acquiring a truly big name player is a rare event for the Pirates.  This isn’t the first time, of course, and Derrek Lee’s cameo in black and gold notwithstanding, the Pirates’ ventures into name recognition have been largely disastrous.  For all the risk he entails, though, there’s good reason to think that Burnett shouldn’t be a repeat of Matt Morris or Jeromy Burnitz.  Those acquisitions were obviously foolish to anybody who could read a velocity chart or the back of a bubble gum card.  There’s little reason to think Burnett is washed up.  Although his velocity is declining, he still throws hard—his average fastball of 92.7 mph was identical to James McDonald’s in 2011—and he still had the swing-and-miss ability to finish tenth among AL starters in strikeouts per nine innings.  He’s not Morris, whose fastball was down to the mid-80s when he came to the Pirates.  Other indicators are good, too.  Burnett’s a groundball pitcher and his GB% in 2011 was almost identical to his career mark.  His line drive rate was not up; the primary thing that happened to him in 2011 was that 17% of the flyballs he allowed went over the fence, compared to 11.3% for his career.

There’s been some speculation that getting out of Yankee Stadium might help Burnett.  Its cozy confines do seem to have cost him a few gopher balls, but he actually pitched much better there than on the road for the Yankees.  Getting out of the AL East, where even the sad-sack Orioles launched 191 longballs in 2011, might help more.  The O’s, Jays and Rays lit Burnett up like a bonfire in 2011, and the Red Sox hit him well.  He’ll be moving from MLB’s toughest division to one that was very weak even before it lost two premier sluggers, Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, to the other league.  The rebuilding Cubs and Astros don’t exactly look formidable, either.

Maybe most importantly, this should be a small step toward encouraging players around MLB to start taking the Pirates seriously.  Their lack of credibility with veteran players has been especially painful this winter, with Derrek Lee preferring retirement to playing in Pittsburgh, Edwin Jackson preferring a one-year deal with the Nationals to a three-year deal with the Bucs, and Roy Oswalt refusing even to listen.  No, Burnett won’t be coming to Pittsburgh by choice, but the mere presence on the Pirates of a player other than Andrew McCutchen who is widely recognized can’t possibly hurt.  It’s also a major plus that the Pirates have taken a step that potentially upgrades a very shaky rotation, a move that should have been their top priority going into the off-season.  Up until now, all they’d done was replace Paul Maholm with the better but highly unreliable Erik Bedard.  This is a seminal move for the current front office.

UPDATE:  I’ve posted Burnett’s player page.  I may revise it later.  Baseball Reference has some technical issues today and I haven’t been able to access some of the stats for Burnett that I wanted to look at, such as his exact numbers against the AL East, which have been pretty gruesome the last year or two.

Analysis

  • wtm, do you think you could do a q&a session from bradington? i have a few questions and i’d like to hear your opinion.

    • I’m planning to be down there next weekend and will be posting on this blog.  I can check the comments, in fact, I should be able to do it from Pirate City, so I can respond to questions in the comments.

  • There isn’t much reason to think he’ll suddenly turn it around, either. 

    • I agree with your Father Time comment. He threw the same MPH as McDonald LAST year. Will he have that same 92.7 heater or will it drop even more?

      • McDonald’s avg. FB velocity last year was in the top ten among NL starters.  Major league starters don’t throw as hard as a lot of fans imagine.  Also, Burnett’s LOW velocity was about 90, which is what it’s been for many years.  He rarely fell below that.  The difference now is that he doesn’t peak as high.  He still has some margin for error.

        •  Thx WTM….as always, good info. I hadn’t realized JMac’s velocity was top 10 material.

  • I obviously think of it as the Pirates ‘kidnapping’ a good pitcher. They tried with Morris and now Burnett, who has no choice thanks to the Pirates not being on his no-trade. Either way, Burnett should do much better this year than last with lesser bats to pitch against and lesser expectations. 

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