The Curious Career of A.J. Burnett

Barring injury, A.J. Burnett will later this year join an elite group of only 7 pitchers with career totals of 2500 IP, 2500 strikeouts, a 2.0 SO/BB ratio, and more strikeouts than hits allowed. But, that’s where the similarity ends as all the pitchers in that group have more than 60 WAR and 35 WAA while Burnett is only half-way to that WAR threshold and has only 20% of that WAA. Sort of the Alfonso Soriano of pitchers, if you will.

More on Burnett’s curious career after the jump.


Here is that group, all pitchers from the recent past and most already HOFers or with legitimate HOF credentials.

Rk Player SO SO/W WAR WAA H IP From To Age G GS W L W-L% BB ERA FIP ERA+ Tm
1 Nolan Ryan 5714 2.04 83.8 35.2 3923 5386.0 1966 1993 19-46 807 773 324 292 .526 2795 3.19 2.97 112 NYM-CAL-HOU-TEX
2 Randy Johnson 4875 3.26 104.3 68.2 3346 4135.1 1988 2009 24-45 618 603 303 166 .646 1497 3.29 3.19 135 MON-SEA-HOU-ARI-NYY-SFG
3 Roger Clemens 4672 2.96 139.4 94.6 4185 4916.2 1984 2007 21-44 709 707 354 184 .658 1580 3.12 3.09 143 BOS-TOR-NYY-HOU
4 Pedro Martinez 3154 4.15 86.0 61.4 2221 2827.1 1992 2009 20-37 476 409 219 100 .687 760 2.93 2.91 154 LAD-MON-BOS-NYM-PHI
5 Curt Schilling 3116 4.38 80.7 54.1 2998 3261.0 1988 2007 21-40 569 436 216 146 .597 711 3.46 3.23 127 BAL-HOU-PHI-ARI-BOS
6 John Smoltz 3084 3.05 66.5 38.0 3074 3473.0 1988 2009 21-42 723 481 213 155 .579 1010 3.33 3.24 125 ATL-STL-BOS
7 David Cone 2668 2.35 61.7 35.6 2504 2898.2 1986 2003 23-40 450 419 194 126 .606 1137 3.46 3.57 121 KCR-NYM-TOR-NYY-BOS
8 A.J. Burnett 2440 2.27 29.6 6.8 2413 2644.0 1999 2015 22-38 421 416 161 152 .514 1074 3.98 3.86 104 FLA-TOR-NYY-PIT-PHI
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 6/9/2015.

So, how has Burnett put up totals placing him in this group, but with so little to show for it in terms of WAR? To find out, I compared Burnett to the 199 pitchers with 2500 IP since 1901, and to the 175 with 2500 IP since 1914. These are some of Burnett’s markers that explain his low WAR totals:

  • Back-end loaded career. Burnett logged fewer than 1000 IP thru age 29, one of 33 of 199 to do so, but the only one with 8 major league seasons as a starter aged 29 or younger.
  • Modest workload. Despite exceeding 2500 IP for his career, Burnett has never reached 225 IP in a season and has topped 200 IP only 6 times. Only 34 of 199 pitchers have so few 200 IP seasons, and only 5 have never reached 225 IP in any season.
  • Modest results. Burnett’s 8 qualified seasons with WAR under 2.5 place him among only 17 of 199 with as many such seasons.
  • Too many free passes. Burnett is one of only 23 of 199 pitchers with no more than two 100+ IP seasons with BB/9 under 3.0. His career 3.7 BB/9 is the highest (by 0.3 BB) of 25 of 199 with HBP amounting to 12% or more of walks, with those results placing Burnett among 16 of 199 with 50% more baserunners than Hits allowed. Burnett also struggled with holding runners at their bases, one of 5 of 175 with stolen bases amounting to 9% or more of baserunners, and the only one with wild pitches amounting to 4% or more of baserunners.
  • Too many long balls. While Burnett’s career 8.21 H/9 places him among the top 34 of 199, he is one of 42 of 199 with home runs amounting to over 10% of hits allowed, and ranks 39th of 199 in highest career HR/9. Including all extra-base hits places Burnett as one of 21 of 175 with extra-base knocks amounting to 32% or more of hits allowed.
  • Jekyll and Hyde home and away. Burnett’s career ERA in away games is almost a full run higher than at home. Burnett is one of only 7 of 175 pitchers with away ERA more than half a run higher than overall.
  • Pitching to the score. With 0-2 runs of support, Burnett has one of the best ERA differentials, one of 16 of 175 with ERA 0.45 runs lower than overall. But, when getting 3-5 runs of support, Burnett’s ERA differential is one of the worst, one of only 5 of 175 pitchers with ERA more than 0.3 runs higher than overall.
  • Phoenix-like revival. Burnett has two qualified seasons aged 30-34 with 4.50 ERA and ERA+ below 85, and three such seasons aged 30-39. Only 4 others of the 199 matched that age 30-34 total and only one other (Doug Drabek) the age 30-39 mark. But, Burnett also has 5 seasons aged 30-39 (and is working on a 6th) with 100 ERA+ and 175 strikeouts, one of 13 of 199 with 5 or more such seasons, including only 8 with 6 such campaigns.

Some other Burnett oddities.

  • With his 2014 season at age 37, Burnett joined Bert Blyleven as the oldest pitchers of the live ball era with ERA+ below 85 in a 200+ IP season. That season by Burnett is the only one since 1901 with majors-leading totals for most Starts, Losses, Walks and Earned Runs. Quiz: of the three other pitchers to lead their league in those categories in the same season, who did so in the only 100 IP season of his career? 
  • But, Burnett has again revived his fortunes with a 2015 season ERA of 2.11 (as of June 8th) that is the 12th lowest of the live ball era, among pitchers aged 38 or older in 75+ IP over the first 60 games of the season.
  • Burnett had one decent season as a Yankee, then crashed and burned in the House that Ruth Built (that eats alive right-handers with suspect command). Yet, his positive 0.65 ERA differential in Yankee Stadium relative to overall ERA is 7th best among right-handers with 500 IP as a Yankee since 1923, this despite the second worst Yankee Stadium HR/9 (even Burnett couldn’t outpace Phil Hughes) among the 56 pitchers in that group.

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30 Comments on "The Curious Career of A.J. Burnett"

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Dr. Doom
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I think the other thing about Burnett is that his strikeout numbers, while historically good, are not that spectacular for his era. Yeah, 2000 Ks is great… but for a guy who pitched 2500 innings in today’s climate, it’s just not that impressive.

Mike L
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The stats tell you why the pitcher is just one of those errrr guys. All that talent, inconsistently translated into actual on the field success. He drove us Yankee fans completely nuts. Look at his monthly splits for 2010. http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/split.cgi?id=burnea.01&year=2010&t=p
Very good to start the season, then 0-5, 29 ER in 23 IP in June. July, he’s back to 3-1, 6ER in 27 IP. August, right back in the tank.

Kahuna Tuna
Guest

Very odd stat about Burnett in 2010: Opposing batters’ OPS on his second pitch (1-0 or 0-1) was 1.165, while on all other counts it was .759. This is as against Burnett’s career marks of .818 and .681. In 2015 the second-pitch OPS against is .667, all other counts .573.

I don’t know what to make of those 2010 splits, and I’d bet Dave Eiland didn’t either.

mosc
Guest

I like the Alfonso Soriano comparison. Players with long careers and flashy stats in some aeras but severely limited value due to some unusually poor areas of their games. Both got a lot of money over the years too.

I think Burnett has always been a bit of a head case. He gets himself mentally checked out far too often. I feel like he misses over the middle more often that similar pitchers whither it be with a straight fastball or a hanging curve. His body language has always been very expressive and he doesn’t handle adversity well.

Richard Chester
Guest

Quiz answer: Why Stoney McGlynn in 1907, of course, AKA Ulysses Simpson Grant McGlynn.

Albanate
Guest

I know this isn’t the right place for this, but I’m not sure where to ask it. In the recent game where the Mets were no-hit, they batted in nine innings, had no walks, yet had only 26 at-bats. (Three batters were hit by pitches, and one was erased in a double play.) Can anyone give us some idea of how rare it is to bat all nine innings with no walks and no more than 26 at bats?

PaulE
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Our man Soriano is one of only two 30/30 guys to have less than 30 BB in a season. The other? Sabrmetrics superstar Joe Carter

Voomo Zanzibar
Guest

Had a thought about part-time players. Late inning defensive replacements, pinch hitters, that sort of guy.

Wondered… who has had the fewest plate appearances with at least 100 games played?

I’ll post the top 10 later.
Anyone want to take a guess at it without looking it up?

Voomo Zanzibar
Guest

I meant to say… part-time players who played a plurality of games.

Richard Chester
Guest

I’ll guess Ross Moschitto.

Voomo Zanzibar
Guest

That is a great guess.
Almost.

96 games / 28 PA

Lowering the criteria to 75 games and Moschitto is easily the champ, excluding the Oakland pinch-runners:

0 / 92 … Herb Washington
8 / 82 … Don Hopkins
28 / 96 .. Moschitto
47 / 90 .. Matt Alexander

Voomo Zanzibar
Guest
Here is the answer: 36 / 106 … Mike Marshall 75 / 106 … Gene Stephens 82 / 106 … Jack Reed 89 / 104 … Mike Squires 93 / 102 … Bobby Clark 95 / 107 … Tom Hutton 97 / 105 … Chuck Diering 102 / 102. Bob Gallagher 104 / 100. Jason Ellison 107 / 105. Mick Kelleher #1 is a pitcher. A bit of a trick answer. . Gene Stephens was 37 year-old Ted Williams’ LIDR. . Reed did it all – pinch hit, pinch ran, and was LIDR for all three Yankee outfield positions (injuries… Read more »
Richard Chester
Guest

Jack Reed had one notable PA for the Yankees. On 6-24-62 he hit his only ML HR in the top of the 22nd inning to give them a 9-7 victory over the Tigers. I guess it’s safe to say that he is the only player to have hit all his HR after the 21st inning.

wlcmlc
Guest

Did that A’s pinch running guy make 100 games?

Voomo Zanzibar
Guest

Non-Pitchers, most Games Played, with more Games than Plate Appearances:

374 / 195 … Matt Alexander
373 / 366 … Charles Gipson
235 / 197 … Glen Barker
222 / 144 … Jack Reed
157 / 31 …. Allan Lewis
115 / 114 … Ron Shepherd
112 / 39 …. Ross Moschitto
105 / 0 ….. Herb Washington

Kahuna Tuna
Guest
From “part-time players” to “partial-inning pitchers”: Pitchers with lowest ratios of batters faced per game, minimum 100 career appearances. 2.668: Randy Choate, 629 G, 392.0 IP, 2000-2015, 109 ERA+, 1678 BFP 2.701: Mike Myers, 883 G, 541.2 IP, 1995-2007, 112 ERA+, 2385 BFP 2.804: Joe Thatcher, 383 G, 250.2 IP, 2007-2015, 113 ERA+, 1074 BFP 2.853: Javier Lopez, 723 G, 483.0 IP, 2003-2015, 120 ERA+, 2063 BFP 2.946: Ray King, 593 G, 411.0 IP, 1999-2008, 126 ERA+, 1747 BFP 3.016: Kelly Wunsch, 257 G, 177.0 IP, 2000-2005, 125 ERA+, 775 BFP 3.091: Mike Holtz, 353 G, 240.0 IP, 1996-2006, 99… Read more »
Kahuna Tuna
Guest
Now let’s do ROOGYs. Lowest BF/G ratio for a right-handed pitcher with 100+ career appearances is Sergio Romo, 3.399 (434 G, 371.2 IP, 143 ERA+, 1475 BFP, 78 SV). All of the top 18 RHPs in lowest BF/G ratio have an ERA+ over 100, ranging from 103 (Kevin Jepsen and Matt Daley) to 148 (Peter Moylan), with Craig Kimbrel (237 ERA+, 202 SV) as the outlier and thoroughly modern closer. The other seven RHPs with 100+ career appearances and a BF/G ratio below 3.8: Kevin Gryboski, Joe Smith, Jason Motte, Casey Fien, Moylan, Nick Vincent, and Pat Neshek. All except… Read more »
donburgh
Guest
I have a couple questions to put forward that Burnett’s start yesterday (in which he very nicely ‘pitched to the score’) will help me illustrate. The lines for the starting pitchers in Sunday’s PHI/PIT game were: Hamels 7.0 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 12 K Burnett 9.0 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 4 K both pitchers earned 80 Game Scores for their work. My question is: what, exactly, is Game Score trying to measure. I don’t mean the GS formula; I’ve seen that. Is GS trying to measure effectiveness? Dominance? Both blended together? Given the choice,… Read more »
Voomo Zanzibar
Guest

For those reading this in posterity, right now AJ Burnett is

6 – 2, 1.89 in 13 starts
1.132 WHIP

Voomo Zanzibar
Guest
Not including the home run he hit 10 minutes ago, Mark Tiexeira is on pace for: 142 Hits 81 Extra Base Hits ____________________ Fewest hits, with at least 80 XBH: 140 / 80 … Carlos Beltran 143 / 80 … Willie McCovey 145 / 87 … Mark McGwire 147 / 81 … Barry Bonds 147 / 81 … Troy Glaus 148 / 85 … Mark McGwire 148 / 80 … Brian Giles 148 / 92 … Jose Bautista (yes, 92) 150 / 83 … Jim Edmonds 151 / 86 … Reggie Jackson 151 / 80 … Adam Dunn 152 /… Read more »
Voomo Zanzibar
Guest

Reggie is the oldest season on the above list (1969).
McCovey was 1970.

Before 1969:

156 / 82 … Hank Greenberg (1939)
159 / 81 … Roger Maris (61)
162 / 80 … Ernie Banks (60)
166 / 82 … Duke Snider (55)
169 / 83 … Ernie Banks (57)

172 / 99 … Babe Ruth (20)
173 / 91 … Babe Ruth (28)
175 / 85 … Chick Hafey (29)
175 / 85 … Hank Greenberg (38)
175 / 86 … Eddie Mathews (53)
176 / 83 … Ted Williams (46)
176 / 82 … Ernie Banks (55)

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