Why A.J. Burnett reuniting with Pittsburgh makes sense
A.J. Burnett had a dismal campaign in 2014. To go with the dubious honor of leading the MLB with 18 losses, Burnett also walked 96 batters. His ERA stood at 4.59 and speculation of his retirement prevailed throughout the season. Don’t put the final nail in the coffin of his professional career just yet though. According to ESPN and other sources reporting the story, Burnett and the Pittsburgh Pirates have agreed to a one-year, $8.5 million deal. Here’s why this contract makes sense.
With a fastball that stays in the 90s at 37-years-old, Burnett has velocity left in the tank. His curveball remains a heavy dropper and his competitive edge appears present. In 2014, he was part of a gaping hole of non-competitiveness with the Philadelphia Phillies. The organizational toll of a rough season almost surely impacted Burnett’s performance. There’s no excuse for his rotten showing, but 162 games of ineptitude must have been troubling for a player in the twilight of his career.
In Pittsburgh, he’ll return to a place of comfort where he sported two strong seasons in 2012 and 2013. He’ll also return to a winner with playoff expectations. Anticipate this uplifting his performance. Even though Burnett won a World Series with the New York Yankees in 2009, players are always looking for that one last October run before retiring. After pitching 190 or more innings in each of the last four seasons, Burnett can still reliably take the mound for a contender.
While Burnett won’t be efficient or effective every time he takes the hill, the point is that he will indeed take the hill. Francisco Liriano and Edinson Volquez are attracting interest on the free agent market. One or both pitchers could skip town. This makes Burnett a useful resource in Pittsburgh. Over the course of a full season, every team needs a pitcher who can win 10 or more games and eat a heavy amount of innings. Far from what he used to be, absolutely, but Burnett is still an innings-eating horse.
Celebrations of Burnett’s singing in Pittsburgh will be quiet. Media coverage of the deal will silence itself in the extremely near future. Come 2015 though, this move will have a positive impact on the Pirates’ organization. He’ll get by on experience and the last shreds of ability dangling in his right arm. Just don’t be mad when he walks anybody.
-Tyler Birss (@tybirss)