Originally written on Fantasy Sports Locker Room  |  Last updated 2/14/14

Weeks ago, it seemed as if AJ Burnett would hold to his presumed Pittsburgh or bust position regarding a return to the MLB in 2014 but a sudden change in heart (evidently spurred by a rift with the team over last season’s extension offer) opened up a market for the veteran righty’s services, culminating in his agreement Wednesday to a 16 million dollar deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. Not long ago it looked like he was going to call it a career, so the decision adds a little more depth (he’s just one arm…) to the SP pool this season. He’ll stay in Pennsylvania, and most importantly from a fantasy perspective he’ll stay in the NL, but Burnett won’t be with the Pirates this year. 2013 Results: AJ Burnett Over the last two seasons, Burnett threw nearly 400 innings for the Pirates and posted ERAs of 3.51 and 3.30 in back to back years after four straight (American League) seasons with a number above 4 and two straight over 5. In 2013, the then 36 year old logged 191 innings with noted 3.30 ERA, 1.215 WHIP and 9.8 K/9 with a 3.21 K/BB ratio, both career highs – all numbers were improved over 2012, and yet he finished the season at 10-11 after winning 16 games the season prior. Those 10 Ws limited Burnett’s fantasy value, but he was a bit of a hard luck loser last year and (we’re he staying in Pittsburgh) those number shouldn’t be used to make any projections about 2014. He pitched well enough to win 15 games for a strong Pirates team, the chips just didn’t fall that way. Burnett wasn’t just strong in 2013, he bordered on dominant, which is something that a lot of 36 year old pitchers completing their 15th big league season can’t say. Consider this: of the 801 batters he faced last year, more than a quarter of them (26.1%) struck out. That helped, as did a low HR/FB ratio, and the fact that he fared well at keeping the ball out of the air in general. His 56.5% ground ball rate was about the same as 2012 (56.9%) but both are considerably higher than the numbers produced in the three previous seasons with New York. In recent years, Burnett has relied more on a strong curveball than his fastball, not uncommon of an aging pitcher. His curveball has improved during that timeframe as well, which is what is allowing him to gain effectiveness late in his career – last year, the pitch finished +20 wins above average which is very much on the high side of the spectrum for a pitch. 2014 Outlook: AJ Burnett For a product of 90s/2000s baseball, it seems strange to say it but pitching in Philadelphia won’t be as valuable from a fantasy perspective as pitching in Pittsburgh. We noted that Burnett only got 10 wins last season, but those came on a Pirates team that won 21 more games than their cross-state peers and is generally expected to stay strong in 2014, while Philadelphia will be working to climb back above .500 and into relevance in the playoff picture. Beyond that, it is fair to note that Burnett will now be throwing against NL East opponents who scored a combined 247 runs fewer than NL Central teams last season (with Pittsburgh and Philadelphia removed). That may be a bit of an improvement, but overall the move is still a negative – particularly when you consider that he’ll be pitching half his games in a home park that ranks 18 spots higher than PNC park in terms of runs allowed, and is ranked the easiest stadium in the bigs to homer in by park factors (Pittsburgh was 2nd last). Throwing in Citizen’s Bank Park won’t help Burnett a bit. Still, after two strong season’s in Pittsburgh he’s a very draftable player. We’re going to have to account for an inflation in ERA and home runs, and 9.8 K/9 isn’t sustainable with a strong curve alone, but if Burnett can get to the same inning’s range again this season, a 12-12 campaign with a 3.60 ERA and 185 strikeouts is well within reach, ranking him as a strong back end fantasy rotation option. One thing for owners to keep in mind as the year progresses with Burnett: depending on how things play out in Philly, he could find himself being dealt to a contender mid-summer. The post Faces in new places: AJ Burnett changes tune, signs with Phillies appeared first on Fantasy Sports Locker Room.

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