Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Making some sense of the AJ Burnett noise

There are two ways of looking at this trade. The wrong way, and our way.

The wrong way:

Neal Hussein Huntington was beating down Brian Cashman's door to get a guy who people once thought was good, but now everyone knows is bad. He should have just retained Paul Maholm, and not pulled this Dave Littlefield / Matt Morris shit. The Pirates need to play the game the right way.

The FTC way:

(All star) Kevin Correia was penciled into our starting rotation; the Pirates needed to find some warm body -- really ANY warm body-- to keep (all star) Kevin Correia out of the starting rotation. The price for a warm body in this market is about $4.5m - $6.5m, so when Brian Cashman offered to give us a warm body for $13m / 2 years, Neal Huntington really didn't have any reason not to take a chance on it.

The marginal player in this case, happens to be AJ Burnett. He's known for having a mid-90s fastball, a picturesque 12-6 curveball, and a track record of being a bust. The Blue Jays gave him his first big money, with a 3-year, $30m deal, which yielded 7.6 WAR for them. The Yankees followed that up by giving him $82m for 5 years, which has yielded 3.1 WAR for the first 3 years (the final two years, of course, are costing the Yankees $20m for 0 WAR).

So yeah. AJ Burnett has sort of produced what you'd expect from a marginal dude. It's not his fault that teams have paid him like he's something more than that. We're not doing that.

There isn't a lot to this story beyond the warm body narrative. Don't get excited, don't get disappointed. The guy might help us win a few games, he might stink and we'll end up eating some contract. Reasonable.

Some other things to consider:

-Burnett's home run / flyball rate was at 9.9% when pitching for the Yankees. League average is closer to 8%, so it's reasonable to think he ran into some bad luck pitching in the AL East. He might have an easier time keeping the ball in the park, here in Pittsburgh.

-Burnett's fastball averaged yearly speeds of 94.9mph, 95.1mph, and 94.3mph when he was with Toronto. In New York, it went down to 94.2mph, 93.2mph, and 92.7mph. Averaging a fastball in the low 90s is fine, especially when you can still peak out in the mid 90s; however, being 35 years old and losing velocity on an annual basis can result in a guy getting lit up. Not saying it's sure to happen, but keep an eye out for it.

-Paul Maholm is another guy in the proud tradition of warm bodies. We let him walk, and the Cubs paid him $4.5m for one year. This is a very reasonable deal for the Cubs. The only reason it wouldn't have been reasonable for us, is that we had already been paying him $6.5m for last year's service, and would have had to escalate that to $9.5m to keep him for this year. There's probably a little more boom-or-bust potential with Burnett than Maholm, but it's very marginal.

Again, this was a pretty logistical trade, folks. Nothing much to see here beyond that. Please feel free to be angry that ownership is a cheap pile of shit, and that MLB's CBA is a broken piece of shit. We absolutely encourage that. But as far as what Huntington is doing, there's no need to get angry at him.

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