Bolting the Barn Door on Burnett
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.