A.J. Burnett: Undervalued Pitcher

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 13: A.J. Burnett #34 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches against the Houston Astros during the game on May 13, 2012 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

I had an argument with a friend about A.J. Burnett's value yesterday (yes, the same guy who traded him and Matt Kemp for Jay Bruce and Brandon Beachy a few days ago). The argument stemmed over the fact that I said Beachy is only a minor upgrade over Burnett in the comments section of a recent Roto Roundup. He disagreed, so I decided to take a closer look at Burnett's performance this season. I own Burnett in two of my NL-Only leagues, and I think he has been better than his numbers indicate, so let's have a look.

So far in 2012, Burnett is 2-2 with a 4.78 ERA, 3.46 FIP and 3.00 xFIP with 3.30 K/BB ratio, a K/9 just under 8.0/9, a 2.39 BB/9, and a near elite ground ball rate of 55.2%. His ERA is not much different that it was in 2011. But, what is different is his FIP and xFIP, as his FIP is more than a run better than in 2011, while his xFIP is just under a run better. He meets all 3 of the qualities needed to join Bret Sayre's Holy Trinity for starting pitchers, as he is striking out more than 7 batters per nine, walking less than 3 batters per nine, and is inducing plenty of ground balls.

If you take out Burnett's May 2nd start where he was blistered for 12 runs on 12 hits and a walk in 2.2 innings, here is how he has performed on the bump thus far:

IP: 35

ER: 8

H: 28

BB: 9

K: 31

K/9: 7.75

BB/9: 2.31

ERA: 2.06

WHIP: 1.06

We all know we can't throw out that May 2nd start, but if we could, Burnett would have the 5th best ERA in all of baseball at 2.06, and he would be in fine company. The other starters with better ERAs are the aforementioned Beachy, Clayton Kershaw, Johnny Cueto, and Gio Gonzalez.

His 1.06 WHIP would rank him in the top 20, and more than likely a result of his Holy Trinity status this season, as more often than not, a ground ball results in an out. In addition, his walk rate is down from 3.92 per nine innings to just 2.39 per nine. He also has put up a quality start in 5 of his 6 starts this season, and has given up 2 runs or less in each of those 5 starts.

Looking at Burnett's batted ball data over at FanGraphs, we see that his line drive rate of 23.3% is the highest of his career and is due for some regression, as his career line drive rate is 18.5%, so more line drives should turn into outs going forward. His ground ball rate of 55.2% is also the highest of his career, and, while near elite, is probably due to regress closer to his career 49.1% rate.

Now, this article comes on the day that Burnett will face the Chicago Cubs tonight, and the Cubs have struggled to score runs of late, but any team on any given night can bust out and put up 8-10 runs. I just don't think that will happen with Burnett on the mound tonight.

Can A.J. Burnett continue to pitch this well or will he return to performing like the pitcher the Yankees gave up on this offseason? Burnett is probably available in many mixed leagues, so he is worth a grab as his overall stats don't tell the real story about how well he has pitched in 2012.

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