The Mockingbird

Bolting the Barn Door on Burnett

with 9 comments


So the lip service from both the Blue Jays and A.J. Burnett is finally over and the Jays’ biggest free agent splash of the last decade has duly shuffled over to the Evil Empire just over halfway through his contract, for a boatload more money and time than the Jays were ever seriously considering. Well those grapes were sour anyway! Here is a rundown of the top 5 most statistically similar pitchers to Burnett according to Baseball-Reference through this point in his career, and where their careers went for the next five years from the age of 32 on.

Please note: this is purely meant for Toronto fans suffering through a cold, barren offseason and is in no way an attempt to be particularly scientific or predictive.

1. Pete Harnish

Coming off a career year, Pete put in another quality season at 32, logging 198 innings with an ERA of 3.68. His strikeout rate dropped, bu he won a career-high 16 games. Then his career totally went to hell – he only pitched another 166 innings over two seasons and logged a 5.09 ERA. Pete would tell you it was because he quit chewing tobacco and became clinically depressed, but we know better. He hit his expiry date.

2. Stan Williams

Stan was sent to the bullpen after a lousy April at the age of 32. He bounced back and forth and wound up salvaging a 3.94 ERA on the year, but would only start only one more game in his career after that. He had one year as a lights-out reliever (1.99 ERA), but was again mediocre at 34 and retired 3 games into the next season.

3, Juan Guzman

As I am sure you all remember, Juan’s career was already pretty seriously in the tank at this point. Except for a bizarre AL-leading ERA of 2.93 at 29, he hadn’t done anything since winning two world series in his first three years with the Jays so they dumped him to Baltimore. He managed to pull it together for one full season of 200 innings with a 3.74 ERA and then his career was toast (he was picked up the next season by the Rays, gave up 8 runs in his first 1 2/3 innings, and never pitched again).

4. Erik Hanson

Another familiar face! His velocity was already shot in his first year with the Jays (at 31), which sent his ERA up by about a run. By 32 his ligaments were well and truly spaghettified. After averaging 190.4 innings over the previous 7 seasons, he threw just 15 innings at the age of thirty-two, 49 the next season, and then done.

5. Kirk McCaskill

Similar to Stan Williams, McCaskill went from a really good starter at 31 to bullpen fodder at 32 after a lousy start to the season. And it prolonged his career a few more years as well – but he didn’t get that one more good year to show for it, posting a 5.05 ERA over three seasons in middle relief until retiring at age 35.

The next 5 aren’t much better than that horror show, but you get the idea. Except for a few high-profile automatons pitching into their 40’s lately, power pitchers in their 30’s aren’t really such a great investment. Of course this isn’t such an issue for the Yankees, who just want the cream of the free agent crop right now and can afford to swallow some major busts down the road. But I don’t need some stat dork to tell me that paying A.J. Burnett 16.5 million dollars to pitch when he’s 36 is going to be a farce.

And I’m actually kind of glad Nuke stuck around in the AL East, too – the Yanks would have gotten someone comparable like Derek Lowe anyway, and now we get front-row seats once A.J’s heater starts to lose a few mph and he trots out the old chestnut about how he’s going to start “pitching” instead of “throwing”, promises to bring his changeup out once in a blue moon, and maybe even mixes in his legendary cut fastball as the Bronx Zoo goes positively mental on him.


Written by halejon

December 18, 2008 at 3:46 am

9 Responses

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  1. Look, it is pretty obvious that with his terrible timing flaws (not quite on level with BJ Ryan, Anthony Reyes or Mark Prior, but terrible nonetheless) AJ Burnett is going to breakdown again and again. Beyond that, as Jon has made clear through pitchfx, the guy has one of the nastiest curveballs in the game, but he never hits the ‘zone with it. When you’re a two pitch pitcher and one of your pitches fails to enter the strikezone 2/3rds of the time, they can sit on your fastball and beat the shit out of you. Yes, when, due to the wonders of statistical variance, AJ was putting his curveball into the strikezone for an entire game, he was incredible. When he wasn’t, he got smacked around. This trend will continue unless he decides that the magical disappearing act he has with his 3rd pitch that happens at the beginning of every season is getting tired. So fuck his injury risks and fuck his poor pitch selection. With one more pitch, considering the stuff this guy has, he would be elite, though he would still hit the DL a ton. Unless he reworks his mechanics to fix his timing flaw, unless he stops picking up the ball with his elbow and hyperabducting and unless he adds that third pitch, the Yankees just fucked themselves with another stupid, expensive, long term contract. Brian Cashman is lucky they can afford something so dumb, the Braves would’ve gotten severely fucked by a contract this size and are lucky to have been outbid. The idea that the Jays were even in on Burnett made me cringe. Fuck sour grapes, this is logic, his mechanics are flawed and he is a thrower, not a pitcher, anyone making a serious commitment to him at age 32 is an idiot and the Yankees just bought themselves a time bomb. He leaves a hole in our rotation, to be sure, but I’d rather trot out back end chumps for the season while our roster recovers than commit serious money and years to a guy who is bound to fall apart.


    December 18, 2008 at 4:50 am

  2. Hah, Jon, missed some comments toward the end of your article. I just felt like ranting about AJ I guess. Perhaps it was all the whisky. So nevermind the repeats and the utter lack of seperate paragraphs for seperate thoughts. Late at night and enough whisky later, that shit goes out the window.


    December 18, 2008 at 4:55 am

  3. Here here…or is it hear, hear? Anyways, who-tf cares. The dumbass is NY’s problem now. He’ll be lucky to put together a 15 win season in the next 5 years. What a joke… I say Litsch gets more wins for the offensively-challenged Jays in ’09 than Burnett does for the powerhouse Skankees. Great read btw. Cheers.


    December 18, 2008 at 8:39 am

  4. I will take the tie or over on Burnett wins vs. Litsch wins. I still hope AJ simultaneously blows knee, shoulder, hip and elbow 🙂
    The bet will be writing a guest piece about the greatness of the winning pitcher and their season recap.

    brent in Korea

    December 18, 2008 at 11:39 pm

  5. I suck but can I take the over? Just for the hell of it, I predict A.J. will have the exact same numbers as Randy Johnson in 2006, when he was actually ok just unlucky on runs but still won a 17 games despite his 5.01 ERA.


    December 19, 2008 at 12:01 am

  6. Hah, Matt – as you can see by the 3:46 publishing time, that comment is entirely in the spirit of that article. I didn’t mean to be up that late but it took me forever after the first draft to edit out all the cussing.

    What amazed me last year was the .300+ average against his fastball. Guys were still swinging through it, but over that many pitches it is very rare to see that for someone who throws gas. I think it’s because he’s either trying to throw a completely unhittable fastball or just grooving it, there’s no middle ground.

    And yah, this is beating a dead horse but against A.J. the word around the league has to be just try as hard as you possibly can not to swing at his curveball before two strikes and if he gets ahead of you with them oh well, because it isn’t going to happen that often and you weren’t going to do ANYTHING with his curveball anyway. You see guys not even flinch at offspeed pitches down the middle in hitters counts all the time, but with Burnett sometimes teams do it for an entire game. And strike out like mad for four innings. And then he eventually loses it, gives up a couple walks and then a double when he gets frustrated and puts a fastball on a 95 mph tee. All of a sudden in 1/3 of an inning it’s a circus.


    December 19, 2008 at 12:25 am

  7. [[And then he eventually loses it, gives up a couple walks and then a double when he gets frustrated and puts a fastball on a 95 mph tee. All of a sudden in 1/3 of an inning it’s a circus.]]

    See, this is one of the key reasons that I think Litsch will continue to defy expectations as a pitcher, and why while I would have loved to keep Burnett for the next two seasons, I don’t think his loss sinks the Jays, and that’s performance under pressure.

    Remember the game against Boston last year, when AJ got hosed on a check swing with 2 strikes by Youkilis, which should have been the final out. Instead, he gets a bad call, turns around, and tries to hump a 96mph heater down the middle of the zone, belt high. Youkilis rips an RBI single off it, and then Casey mashes a double off another piece of high heat, and Jays lose 4-3. That’s my issue with AJ; he gets frustrated, he lets the call get into his pitching, and he falls into the pitching version of a ‘dickfight’.

    Compare that with Litsch. Litsch leaves a ball up that gets mashed. Next pitch, he’s back pounding the bottom of the zone. Gets a bad call, goes back to pounding the bottom of the zone; he’s got a plan on the mound and sticks to it, even if luck isn’t going his way, because someone drilled into him that this is how you pitch.

    I’d far rather have Burnett as my second starter, but at this point, I don’t think he’s going to mature any further as a pitcher, which means those ego driven mistakes are going to continue to let games get away from him.

    Bryant Telfer

    December 19, 2008 at 12:51 pm

  8. There were more than a few of those…not sure who it was against, but Jerry Howarth went to town on him on the radio after he gave up a moonshot (after a couple of admittedly bad calls) on a pitch that almost seemed like childish defiance towards the umpire. I think he called it the most unprofessional thing he had ever seen on the mound? (He must not have been paying attention when Ted Lilly dropped down and threw his knuckler).

    “I don’t think he’s going to mature any further as a pitcher”

    No kidding. As I think we all discovered, A.J. is who he is. That’s a pretty darn good pitcher, but the idea that he could ever “pull it all together” is just a pipe dream. A Cy Young brain is just as rare as a Cy Young arm.


    December 19, 2008 at 2:21 pm

  9. It’s a bit of a shame, since with his velocity and that wicked curve, he could legitimately be a top level ace. I think that’s something that’s really focused on a little too much in many of the blogs/fantasy teams, is the idea of ‘stuff’ without looking at the other qualities the make up the pitcher.

    Bryant Telfer

    December 20, 2008 at 10:17 pm

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