For most of the current offseason it seemed a near lock that A.J. Burnett would either sign with the Pittburgh Pirates or retire, with the veteran pitcher even saying so himself. Well, apparently he had a change of heart, as the Philadelphia Phillies and the pitcher have come to an agreement on a 1 year, $16 million deal that makes the club early favorites for the National League East division title.
The Phillies will be getting a bit of an enigmatic character in Burnett, who at times can go off into his own little world and forget how to throw the baseball, as he did for two seasons with the New York Yankees. Over the last two years, he has had a bit of a renaissance in Pittsburgh though, becoming one of the best pitchers in the National League, guiding the Pirates to their first playoff appearance in 20 years, and it appears he has finally grown up a bit at the age of 37.
In 2013, the results of this maturation were magnificent, as the right handed pitcher compiled a 10-11 record, 209 strikeouts, a 1.21 WHIP, and a .231 BAA. While the record isn’t spectacular, this can largely be chalked up to going against number one starters for much of the season, an issue that he will not face in Philadelphia with Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels on board. Furthermore, he still has a dominant arsenal of pitches, which includes a fastball that sits between 92-94 mph., one of the best curveballs in baseball and a change-up that serves as a change of pace. This helped to earn a 9.85 K/9 rate and only a 24.2% flyball rate, which bodes well at spacious First Citizens Bank Park.
Teaming up a guy that could easily be a number one starter on many teams in MLB behind an already established 1A/1B combo in Lee and Hamels looks destined to end in domination. When you add onto this the intriguing presence of Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, and Kyle Kendrick you have a group of five that has four potential number ones, and an overall starting staff that should rank in the top five in MLB. Over a prolonged 162 game schedule you need starting pitchers that are going to give you a chance to win on a nightly basis, and granted good health, these five will do just that.
Of course you have to score runs to win games in the major leagues, and a lineup core that consists of Domonic Brown, Marlon Byrd, Carlos Ruiz, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Chase Utley should be able to. This group will easily be able to hit enough to see the Phillies rank in the top half of MLB in runs scored, and if the latter three stay healthy they could very well rank in the top five.
While there is no doubting that the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves will feel confident in their squads heading into the 2014 MLB season, they certainly need to look out for Philadelphia. With the addition of Burnett the Phillies have the best starting rotation in the division, and a lineup that will score plenty of runs, which in the end should equate to a NL East title.