Last year A.J. Burnett had his best season since 2005. That’s fact, not opinion. Probably not coincidentally, 2005 was also his last season in the National League before extended stays in Toronto and New York that resulted in six disappointing seasons in the Junior Circuit.
It’s one thing when a player has a player has a throwback season without any changes in their peripherals, but it’s a completely different thing when their resurgence is cued by better performance. That’s exactly what happened with Burnett. In year one with the Pirates, Burnett posted his lowest walk rate since 2006 (2.76 BB/9, 7.3 BB%), his best K:BB ratio since 2006 (2.90), and his best ground ball rate since 2005 (56.9%). If there are just three pitching peripherals you ever look at, it’s those three. Burnett excelled in all of them.
Now, onto year two!
At a Glance
Strengths: QS, K, K/9
Neutral: W, ERA, WHIP, BB, BB/9, IP
Best-case scenario: Ian Kennedy (ARI)
Likely scenario: Edwin Jackson (CHC), C.J. Wilson (LAA), Lance Lynn (STL)
Worst-case scenario: Ivan Nova (NYY)
A.J. Burnett 2013 Fantasy Projection
Fun fact: Last year there were just four pitchers with a K/9 over 8.00, a BB/9 under 3.00, and a GB% over 50 — Adam Wainwright, James Shields, David Price, and Burnett. That’s pretty elite company. Can Burnett put up those numbers for a second straight season? Yeah, probably. We’re going to hedge our bets slightly and project his OBA goes up a little, but his career BABIP is just .290 so it’s entirely reasonable to think that he can maintain a WHIP under 1.30.
Like with most pitchers, though, their overall rank comes down to how many wins they luck into or out of, and we don’t foresee a repeat of Burnett’s 16 wins from 2012 seeing as Pittsburgh was 23rd in the league in runs scored. Check out these comparable pitcher/team combinations:
Jonathon Niese: 3.40 ERA, 13 W | NYM: 25th in runs
Aaron Harang: 3.61 ERA, 10 W | LAD: 26th
Tim Hudson: 3.62 ERA, 16 W | ATL: 17th
Homer Bailey: 3.68 ERA, 13 W | CIN: 21st
Bronson Arroyo: 3.74 ERA, 12 W | CIN: 21st
Matt Moore: 3.81 ERA, 11 W | TB: 18th
Jason Vargas: 3.85 ERA, 14 W | SEA: 27th
Of that group only Hudson and Vargas won more than 13 games. Hudson had the best offense backing him of them all (not to mention a fantastic duo of relievers in the eighth and ninth innings), and I’ve already classified Vargas as “lucky” (c’mon, he won more games than staff ace, Felix Hernandez). Chances are Burnett’s win total is going to drop this year unless the Pirates’ offense makes a big jump, and I don’t think that’s going to happen.