Saturday, January 21, 2012

Bounce Back Candidate: A.J. Burnett

Earlier in the podcast Matt and I briefly talked about who was going to ultimately win the Yankees No. 5 starter job. We both pretty much agreed that A.J. Burnett would win by default, but a deeper look shows that Burnett is actually poised for a nice bounce back year.

I mentioned that Burnett’s 17% HR/FB rate last year looked extremely fluky and was way off his career average. A deeper look shows that was the highest home run rate in Major League Baseball since 2007 when who else, but A.J. Burnett posted a 17.7% HR/FB. Burnett followed that year up by going 18-10 with a 4.07 ERA over 221.1 innings. The year was fueled by a much, much better 9.6% HR/9.

(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
A big difference since that 2008 season, however, is the fact his fastball has dipped 1.6 mph and the decreased velocity has seemed to really have an affect Burnett. He tried to adjust by throwing his fastball an astonishing 10% less than average and rely more on his changeup.  He attempted to become a three-pitch guy for the first time and it failed. If he gets back to throwing primarily fastball and curveballs he could return to being a decent pitcher.

The reason I actually see him having the bounce back is because his peripherals where no different last year than normal. His 8.18 K/P and 3.92 BB/9 were a little worse than his average, but not by much. The hits allowed were also no different; the only major change was the home runs. A inch here or an inch there and things could look very different.

I am not trying to say Burnett will be a miracle and carry the Yankees, but there is every chance he performs like a No. 3 starter in the No. 5 slot. That is something that cannot be taken lightly. His FIP last year was 4.77 and his xFIP was even better at 3.86. Assuming he is healthy I don’t see why he can’t win 10+ games and throw a 190+ innings with an ERA in the low-to-mid 4’s.


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