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.