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

  • I agree, but I’m left wondering how you came up with that top 5 list…? What about Melancon, Hanrahan, Grilli? If we’re counting Bryan Morris and other relievers from recent years, then why aren’t these guys and many others on the list? Hanrahan posted ERAs of 1.72 (2009), 3.62 (2010), 1.83 (2011), and 2.72 (2012). Also, if we’re counting Cole and starters who’ve only pitched this year, then where is Liriano on the list? He has a better ERA than Cole and Burnett.

  • AJ is the modern day “Pops.”

  • AJ was in the right place at the right time for this team, and whether we see him again in a Pirate uniform or not, he played a major part in the success.

    The grizzled veteran who had pitched on the biggest stages, Yankee stadium in October and had a no hitter and a bunch of wins under his belt, who came to this team that had become Pavlovian conditioned to losing every time they hear the words, “Play Ball.”

    He reminded me a bit of Kirk Gibson, who often dispensed with horseplay and clubhouse politics with just that stare down attitude of “I’m here to win ballgames. Do that or get out of my way!” When I think of the clubhouse cancers like Brian Giles and Jason Kendall, who never provided any kind of leadership and were often total “d**ks in the clubhouse over the years, AJ was the one who put an end to that.

    I hope to see him again. For the right deal, I hope he comes back.

  • In those 20 years, we had teams good enough to win, but we always had lousy starting pitching. I am SO glad NH concentrated on pitching.


  • Tim: AJ Burnett could have come to Pittsburgh with a chip on his shoulder like we have seen from other former MLB stars, sort of like getting traded to the Pirates was a career death sentence. He had something to prove and he wasted no time taking charge of the team and keeping them acting like winners even with the overwhelming negative history of this franchise over the past 20 years. Can you put a price on that leadership? We have seen some horrible signings of SP’s in the past – the worst I can remember is Jeff Suppan for 4 years and $50 mil by the Brewers, Barry Zito for $125 mil by SF, and I would also toss in Edwin Jackson. But, if the Pirates make a run at AJ there should not be any fan who would object – the guy is still pitching like he did years ago, and shows no signs of weakening. He is not throwing upper 90’s, but he can certainly get outs on K’s and over the past 2 years he has been throwing a lot of ground balls – much better ratio than during his early days in the majors – and that feeds into what the Pirates do best.

    The Pirates are a very young team, and AJ and Russell Martin provide that veteran legitimacy that we will need to get through 2014 bringing up Jameson Taillon and Gregory Polanco. I would love to see both Cole and Taillon on the same staff as Burnett for possibly 2014 and 2015 at least.

  • AJ has been superb as a SP for the Pirates the last two seasons. However, what he’s brought to the organization in terms of attitude and competitiveness is where his true value lies. Even if we’ve seen the last of him, his legacy will live on when we see Cole take the mound in a big game and make the opponent #STFD!