On February 20, 2012, New York Yankees fans rejoiced as A.J. Burnett was no longer on the team and they only had to eat $18 million of the $31 million remaining on his contract. In return, New York received Diego Moreno and Exicardo Cayones.
While Burnett’s tenure on the Yankees was over, his career was far from it.
Burnett surfaced with the Pittsburgh Pirates in the middle of April of 2012 after making three horrific minor league starts, compiling an ERA of 9.58 in only 10.1 innings. Despite this, Burnett was called up anyway and threw two quality starts in the month of April for the Pirates. In his third start for the Pirates, Burnett tossed 2.2 innings, giving up 12 earned runs.
Having watched Burnett’s career up to that point, I thought this was certainly the end as the questions had rarely been about Burnett’s ability to pitch, but rather his mental makeup.
Burnett bounced back from that start, compiling a 16-10 record last season with a 3.51 ERA and 180 strikeouts. Coming into this season, Burnett was penciled in as the No. 1 starter for the Pirates. In this role, despite having an unfavorable win-loss record, Burnett has been excellent this season.
In his nine starts, he has yet to give up more than three earned runs, nor has he struck out fewer than six in a single start. Though control is still an issue as he has issued three or more walks five times this season, his strikeout to walk ratio of 3.79 is good for 26th in the league.
This is mainly attributable to his amazing ability to miss bats this season. His 72 strikeouts is tops in the National League, and his 11.57 strikeouts per nine innings is second in the entire league and tops in the NL.
One reason for Burnett’s increased success this year in particular has been his improved sinker. This season, 15.3 percent of his pitches are sinkers as opposed to 13.3 percent last season and 10.6 percent the year before.
With his increased use of the sinker, it has also become more effective. In 2011, the sinker led to a walk 15.6 percent of the time and a strikeout 9.4 percent of the time. This season, his sinker leads to a walk only 10.9 percent of the time and a strikeout an astounding 34.8 percent of the time.
Burnett looks to his new-found success in his upcoming start against Erik Berdard and the Houston Astros. The first pitch is set for 7:05 p.m. Eastern from PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Penn.