With a team like the Pittsburgh Pirates, there are so many storylines you could look at. A team that has locked up a playoff spot for the first time in over two decades has a cast of characters that are each worthy of their own examination and their own storyline, to a certain degree.
One player on this club in particular that provides intrigue is that of A.J. Burnett. Burnett is not nearly the only pitcher on this current staff to have essentially saved his career since joining the club (Jason Grilli, maybe Francisco Liriano), but he is the highest profile one.
Burnett signed a five-year contract worth over $80 million with the New York Yankees prior to the 2009 season. What resulted was a 4.79 ERA in the following three seasons, including two years in which it was over five. Which is why the Yanks agreed to pick up the tab to the tune of $20 million of the $33 million remaining on his contract when they dealt him to the Bucs.
Since Burnett has joined the Pirates, though, he’s been a different pitcher. Out of the spotlight that playing in the Bronx brings, in addition to that massive contract, Burnett’s renewed approach has resulted in him quietly faring as one of the better pitchers in the National League, and the ace of this staff.
His two years in Pittsburgh have featured much more favorable numbers. He’s pitched to a 3.41 ERA in two years, 389 strikeouts (209 of which have come this year), and his walks are down dramatically from his years with the Yankees. There’s little doubt that he may have saved his career since joining the Pirates.
And the Pirates are obviously happy to have him. This is a team that is a serious contender for a pennant in the National League, and Burnett is a prime reason as to why. As of right now, he’s expected to start the National League Division Series for Pittsburgh, assuming they’re able to emerge from the Wild Card round with a victory.