A.J. Burnett

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Allan James Burnett

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Biographical Information[edit]

A.J. Burnett was drafted by the New York Mets in the eighth round of the 1995 draft. Fellow major leaguer Craig Monroe was also taken in this round, several spots higher than Burnett. He was traded to the Florida Marlins for Al Leiter in 1998, one of several very good young players the Marlins acquired when they dismantled their 1997 Championship team.

His first brush with fame on May 12, 2001, when he pitched a 3-0 no-hitter against the San Diego Padres. He ended the season with a solid 11-12 record and a 4.05 ERA for the young Marlins, giving a hint of future stardom. His five shutouts in 2002 led the National League and established a Marlins team single-season record that has since been tied by Dontrelle Willis. He was also first on the club's career shutout list with six until 2002, and ended his Florida career with 8. That has since been broken by Dontrelle Willis as well. He improved to 12-9, 3.30 that season and seemed ready to form a tremendous duo with Josh Beckett.

However, Burnett's career was derailed when he underwent Tommy John surgery after only four starts in 2003, missing the Marlins' run to the 2003 World Championship. He came back in 2004 and won six of his last seven decisions, including a 14 strikeout outing against Colorado - a Marlins team record (as of 2004). After a solid season in 2005, in which he won 12 games and pitched over 200 innings, he became a free agent and was signed by the Toronto Blue Jays.

Burnett went 10-8 for the Blue Jays in both 2006 and 2007, missing time both seasons with various injuries, and alternating periods of dominance on the mound with very frustrating outings, He put it all together in 2008, winning 18 games and striking out a league-leading 231 batters. Showing durability for the first time in years, he was tied for the most starts in the American League with 34, and pitched the third most innings in the circuit. As a clause in his contract allowed him a possibility to opt out after three seasons, speculation grew as to whether he would become a free agent at the end of the year, as he was demonstrating that he could be a top-line starter. The New York Yankees' Hank Steinbrenner even expressed interest in him publicly as the season was winding down, in a statement that was very close to tampering.

Burnett did in fact sign a lucrative free agent contract with the Yankees after the season, joining CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira as a newly-minted Yankee in 2009. He had a solid first season in the Bronx, helping the Yankees to the 2009 World Series title. He went 13-9, 4.04 in 33 starts, pitching over 200 innings while striking out 195. He did walk an American League-leading 97 batters, but formed a solid threesome with Sabathia and Andy Pettitte at the top of the starting rotation. He pitched 6 solid innings with a no-decision against the Minnesota Twins in Game 2 of the ALDS, then made two starts against the Los Angeles Angels in the ALCS. He did not do as well, giving up 8 runs in 12 1/3 innings, but did not suffer a loss as the Yanks moved on the World Series. He registered a key win in Game 2 of the Fall Classic, giving up a run in 7 innings after the Philadelphia Phillies had won Game 1. He then lost Game 5 when he gave up 6 runs in 2 innings, but overall his contribution was quite positive. One bad note was that he was unable to work well with veteran Yankee catcher Jorge Posada and forced Joe Girardi to team him with back-up Jose Molina during his starts. Things went less well in 2010, as he fell to 10-15, 5.26 in 33 starts and struggled with inconsistency. He then lost his only postseason start, giving up 5 runs in 6 innings in a Game 4 start against the Texas Rangers in the ALCS.

Burnett struggled some more in 2011, at a time when he was expected to step up following the retirement of Pettitte. Instead, he was 11-11 with a 5.15 ERA. He still had good stuff, as his 173 strikeouts in 190 1/3 innings showed. However, he was like Forrest Gump's proverbial box of chocolates, as the Yankees never knew what they were going to get when they sent him to the mound. In his only postseason start, it was the good A.J. that showed up: he gave up a single run in 5 2/3 innings in leading the Yankees to a 10-1 win over the Detroit Tigers in Game 4 of the ALDS, but the Yankees then lost Game 5 to bow out of the playoffs early. The Yankees' brass had had too much of his inconsistency by then however. After acquiring starters Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda in the off-season, they began shopping around Burnett, a task made more difficult by his hefty salary. On February 17, 2012, they found a taker in the Pittsburgh Pirates, but had to agree to pick up $20 million of the $33 million remaining on his contract for the next two seasons. In return they received two minor leaguers a long way from making any contribution in the big leagues in AA pitcher Diego Moreno and low Class A outfielder Exicardo Cayones. The deal was made official the next day, after A.J. passed a physical administered by the Bucs, and Commissioner Bud Selig gave his approval for the trade, a necessary step given the amount of money involved.

Unfortunately for the Pirates, Burnett was injured at the very start of spring training in 2012. While practicing bunting on February 29th, he fouled a ball into his face and tests showed that he had fractured an eye socket. He underwent surgery two days later, and faced a 2 to 3 month recovery period, but in fact it was much quicker, as he made his debut for his new team on April 21st. It was worth the wait, as he pitched seven scoreless innings, giving up only 3 hits while striking out 7 in beating the St. Louis Cardinals, 2-0. Just a couple starts later, on May 2, Burnett was shellacked for 12 runs in 2 2/3 IP, the most runs allowed by a Pirate pitcher since 1932. The Elias Sports Bureau reported that no one had allowed that many runs in under 3 innings since earned runs became an official stat in 1913. That outing was an uncharacteristic blip on a fine season by A.J. After that shelling, he became unbeatable, and on June 28th collected a win for an 8th consecutive start when he beat the Philadelphia Phillies, 5-4. His record then stood at 9-2, 3.31, and his outstanding performance was a major reason the Pirates were now 5 games over .500 and only a game out of 1st place in the NL Central. No Pirate had won eight straight games since Dock Ellis in 1974. On July 31st, he pitched perhaps the best game of his career - better than his no-hitter - in shutting out the Chicago Cubs, 5-0. He only allowed a single hit, a single by pinch-hitter Adrian Cardenas with two outs in the 8th, walked only two and hit a batter while striking out 8 to improve to 13-3. He cooled down during the last two months - as did the Pirates, who again finished below .500 after a strong start - but was still 16-10, 3.51 while pitching 202 innings and striking out 180 batters as the Bucs' uncontested ace.

He pitched a memorable game on April 17, 2013, when he recorded the 2,000th strikeout of his career in the 2nd inning, the victim being Carlos Beltran of the St. Louis Cardinals. That day, he did not give up a hit through the first six innings, the only baserunner being a hit batsman; Beltran broke his bid for a second no-hitter when he hit a two-out double in the 7th. Burnett left after 7 innings, having allowed only that one hit while striking out 8, and was credited with the 5-0 win. Burnett finished the season 10-11 with a 3.30 ERA and 209 K in 191 IP, with an identical 107 ERA+ to 2012. He led the 2013 NL in K rate and was 5th in strikeouts. In the playoffs, he crumpled in game 1 of the NLDS, giving up 7 runs in two innings in a loss to the Cardinals. When the Series went a full five games, skipper Clint Hurdle bypassed Burnett in favor of rookie Gerrit Cole, giving Burnett's poor Game 1 performance and history at Busch Stadium. Cole did okay but the Buc offense came up nearly empty in a loss. After the season, Burnett said he would either retire or return to the Pirates. In late January 2014, though, he started testing the waters of free agency and on February 16th signed a two-year deal with the Philadelphia Phillies that could be worth up to $33.5 million with performance bonuses. He explained that he wanted to play near his home in Monkton, MD and that Philadelphia, PA, a mere hour and a half away, fit the bill better than Pittsburgh, which was also interested in bringing him back.

Burnett had a difficult season for the Phillies in 2014. While he was a workhorse, making a National League-leading 34 starts, the results were poor, as he also led the circuit in losses, earned runs and walks allowed. His record for 8-18, 4.59 for the last-place team, but he did pitch 213 2/3 innings and struck out 190 batters. On August 25th, he struck out 12 Washington Nationals batters in a game, making him the first pitcher to have a 12-strikeout game for five different teams. A free agent again after the season, he decided to return to Pittsburgh, in order to have another shot at the postseason. "This is where I belong", he told the press, acknowledging that bolting for Philadelphia had been a mistake. It was widely understood that 2015 would be his last season in the majors, and the Pirates wanted him to go out on top, because they appreciated how much his presence on the team in 2012 and 2013 had contributed to breaking the team's historic run of losing seasons, turning the franchise around. He was rising up to the occasion, with a record of 6-3, 2.05 in 14 starts, and the Pirates lobbying hard to have him make the All-Star team for the first time at 38, a camapaign which was successful as he was named one of the NL's pitchers for the game.

Burnett is a classic power pitcher, with an outstanding fastball that can get him out of trouble, but control problems that can place him in trouble as well. His curveball can also be devastating - when he controls it. He has a bit of a bad boy image, with heavy tattoos and a reputation in his youth for having difficulty getting along with his catchers and managers. All of that is forgotten when he gets the most out of his superior stuff, though, and he gained a lot of maturity in his 30's, to the point where he was called a model teammate in his later years.

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • NL All-Star (2015)
  • AL Strikeouts Leader (2008)
  • NL Shutouts Leader (2002)
  • 15 Wins Seasons: 2 (2008 & 2012)
  • 200 Innings Pitched Seasons: 6 (2002, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2012 & 2014)
  • 200 Strikeouts Seasons: 2 (2002 & 2008)
  • Won a World Series with the New York Yankees in 2009

Further Reading[edit]

  • Mark Feinsand: "Burnett praises Halladay's influence on career: Right-hander remembers two-time Cy Young Award winner as 'best pitcher I ever played with'", mlb.com, November 8, 2017. [1]
  • Bob Nightengale: "Pirates hope A.J. Burnett's farewell tour includes All-Star turn", USA Today Sports, June 24, 2015. [2]

Related Sites[edit]