Earlier this week, the interwebs were abuzz with rumors that the Yankees have their eye on Nats lefty Sean Burnett. At first glance, he doesn’t appear to be all that appealing for a team trying to win the World Series this year. His stuff isn’t anything special, he throws a 90ish fastball that he backs up with a good slider, which is exactly what Boone Logan throws. He’s having a horrible year 3-5 with a 5.76 ERA (4.94 FIP) and a 1.449 WHIP. Hits and walks are up, strikeouts are down, so what’s to like besides the fact that he throws with his left hand?
A few things. First, as often happens with relievers you’re dealing with a tiny snapshot. In this case, 29.2 IP for the 2011 season. A few bad outings can really blow up your numbers, and looking at his game log in 5 of his 40 appearances he’s given up 2 ER or more. Having a good bullpen around him with reliable options backing him up (like Dave Robertson or Mo) can help limit his exposure on nights when he doesn’t have it. But the Nats bullpen is pretty good as well. They’re 6th in NL bullpen ERA and Tyler Clippard is having another outstanding year with Henry Rodriguez and Drew Storen setting him up admirably. If anything, Burnett has dragged down an otherwise fine relief corps.
Burnett would be a classic buy-low candidate, which is smart when it comes to the volatile nature of relievers. He had a terrific year in 2010 (2.14 ERA 1.143 WHIP 8.9 SO/9) and appeared to be building off a solid 2009 (3.12 ERA 1.110 WHIP 6.7 SO/9). There’s no indication he’s hurt, his stuff is pretty much identical to what its been in recent years. So what’s gone wrong this year? Newly minted Nats manager Davey Johnson recently hinted at an answer:
“(Burnett) has been kind of bounced around in the pen,” Johnson said. “He was closing a little bit, he was setting up and he even came in early in the ball game.”
Johnson said he has a new plan for when he wants to use Burnett in games and will go over it with him before Friday’s game with the Colorado Rockies. It may mean Burnett will be more than just the classic lefty specialist.
As often is the case with relievers, it comes down to usage and role. In 2011, he’s had more PAs facing RHB (75) than LHB (57) and the righties have crushed him (.308/.378/.431) while lefties have been largely neutralized (.240/.316/420). Righties have squared him up to the tune of a .333 BABIP while lefties are at just .233 BABIP. That’s not just luck, that’s getting hit harder. After his stellar 2010 campaign it would stand to reason that the Nats would have expanded his role, but it appears to have been more than he could handle. As a low cost LOOGY, he’s worth a shot.
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