Before we get started: Chicks dig the long ball.
The biggest problem with A.J. Burnett in 2011 was the carefree fashion in which he handed out home runs. A.J. gave up a career worst 31 homers after serving up a career worst 25 dingers in both 2009 and 2010; surprisingly enough, Burnett’s HR/FB% this year, 17.0, was not the worst of his career. That came all the way back in 2007 with the Jays, when A.J. gave up taters on 17.7% of his fly balls.
The irony here is that in 2011, Burnett had his best xFIP of either of those three years. Last year, it clocked in at 3.86. In 2009, it was 4.23; in 2010, it finished 4.49. In terms of xFIP– (remember, lower than 100 is better here), his tallies have been 96, 108, and 95 with the Bombers. The main problem with xFIP–despite its reputation as a good ERA estimator– is that not all pitchers will regress to the mean in terms of HR/FB% (for reference, the average HR/FB% is 10.6). Perhaps it would make more sense to use a pitcher’s career HR/FB% when calculating xFIP. This tactic will help Burnett, but not as much as xFIP.
If we go by Burnett’s career rate of 11.3%, he “should have” yielded just 21 home runs instead of 31. That would make his FIP 4.13, instead of the horrific 4.77 he had, which netted a 114 FIP–. Had he tallied a 4.13 FIP, his FIP– would’ve been 101. That’s still not great, 1% worse than average, but much better than 114.
A huge swing in HR/FB% like that is a bit odd, but it has risen from 2008-2011. A ~6% spike from one year to the other, though? Maybe there was a little bit of bad luck against A.J. To find out what kinds of homers A.J. was giving up, I headed over to his Hit Tracker Online page. Once there, I compared his last three years in terms of homers labeled as “plenty,” “no doubt,” and “just enough.” I also looked at the average number of parks each type of homer would’ve gone out in:
|Type||Number of HRs (rank of 3 yrs)||Percentage of HRs (rank)||Avg # of Parks (rank)|
|Plenty||16 (1)||51.61 (2)||23.25 (3)|
|No Doubt||5 (t-2)||16.13 (2)||30|
|Just Enough||10 (1)||32.26 (1)||14 (3)|
|Type||Number or HRs (rank)||Percentage of HRs (rank)||Avg # of Parks (rank)|
|Plenty||13 (2)||52 (1)||22.5385 (1)|
|No Doubt||4 (3)||16 (3)||30|
|Just Enough||8 (2)||32 (2)||17.375 (1)|
2009 (caveat: Burnett gave up 25 homers in 2009, but only 24 were tracked/charted by HTO):
|Type||Number of HRs (rank)||Percentage of HRs (rank)||Avg # of parks (rank)|
|Plenty||12 (3)||50 (3)||23.0833 (2)|
|No Doubt||5 (t-2)||20.83 (1)||30|
|Just Enough||7 (3)||29.17 (3)||15.2857 (2)|
So, in 2011, Burnett gave up the most raw “plenty” and “just enough” homers; his percentages were second and first respectively. The thing that stands out to me is that his average parks number on “just enough” homers was its lowest (slightly) in 2011. Perhaps…MAYBE…POSSIBLY…Burnett got a little unlucky with his “just enough” homers in 2011, but that’s making a huge stretch.
All in all, A.J.’s HR problems were serious last year. Maybe they got a bit inflated, but we could just as easily say Burnett is the cause of that. He’s not exactly a master of control out there and I’d be more than willing to blame most of the homers on Burnett’s pitches than on the parks or luck or whatever. The only thing we can hope for is that his HR/FB% goes way back down towards where it has been for his career, and stays away from 2007 and 2011 territory.
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