Yet earlier in Yankees camp, I demonstrated my theory to Burnett by showing him some numbers — specifically, a career comparison to Red Sox righty Josh Beckett. Pretty darn close.
Pitcher W-L ERA Opponents’ OPS
Burnett 110-100 3.99 .701
Beckett 112-74 3.96 .709
Yet, Beckett’s reputation far exceeds Burnett’s, in large part because of his stellar postseason history with the Marlins and Red Sox.
I’m not trying to discredit Beckett. I’m not trying to artificially inflate Burnett. All I’m saying is the perception of Burnett is worse than his actual performance — or at least, his performance when you remove his enormous talent and contract from the equation.
Just to be clear, I am not ratifying Rosenthal’s conclusion that Burnett is Beckett’s equal, as adjusted advanced metrics suggest that there is in fact a small gap between the two players. Furthermore, Beckett is three years younger than Burnett, and has a playoff resume that certainly needs to be considered. However, Rosenthal is right on the money when he says that there is a massive gap in the way the two pitchers are perceived that is unwarranted. Leaving Beckett aside, I think this is illustrative of the broader perception of Burnett as being an underachiever who, after last season, is not very good. While Burnett has never been an ace, he has crafted a fine career as a very good #2 starter, yet gets little credit for it due to the belief that he has “a million dollar arm and a ten cent head.”
That leads us to Rosenthal’s second point:
Yes, Burnett finished last season with a 5.26 ERA, the worst ever by a Yankees starter who pitched at least 180 innings. His 1.94-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio was his worst over a full season since 2001.
But consider the bigger picture: Burnett’s ERA ranged from 3.44 to 4.07 in his prior six seasons — two with the Marlins, three with the Jays, one with the Yankees. He also has proved far more durable than he was earlier in his career, making 33 or more starts in each of the past three years.
Those numbers do not lie.
As Rosenthal notes, when you put aside the perceptions regarding Burnett, you will likely discover that last season was an outlier for him, and that he has a reasonable chance of bouncing back in 2011. A few weeks ago, I looked at the projections for AJ, and it seems likely that he will put up another season of 180+IP with a FIP around 4.35. While that would still mean that he is being overpaid, it is quite solid for a #3 starter in the AL East and would likely be adequate for a team with an offense and bullpen as strong as the Yankees have. If he does turn things around and contributes in a meaningful way to the 2011 Yankees, maybe more fans will realize that A.J. Burnett does not suck.
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