Like most professional athletes, AJ Burnett incites a wide array of different reactions. To Marlins fans, Burnett is remembered as a promising young starter whose time with the club was marred by injury. To Blue Jays fans, he was an electrifying hurler who turned his back on the team when he decided to opt out of his contract following the 2008 season. And of course, to Yankees fans Burnett will always be remembered as an $82.5 million headcase that was traded away for a bag of Funyuns after three lackluster years with the club (34-35, 4.79 ERA, 4 BB/9, 1.447 WHIP).
With such a roller-coaster ride of a career for the knuckle-curve specialist, who would have thought the long-embattled hurler would not only find consistency, but would once again become dominant in his new Pittsburgh home?
Who would have thought the long-embattled hurler would once again become dominant in his new Pittsburgh home?
Since starting the season with a freak bunting injury, AJ Burnett has been flat-out ace-worthy. He leads the club in wins with 9, is second only to the dazzling James McDonald on the team with a 3.31 ERA, and has a damn respectable 1.240 WHIP. In fact, take out a disastrous May 2 start (12 hits, 12 earned runs allowed), and AJ Burnett would be rocking a a 1.87 ERA in 72 1/3 innings with an 8-game winning streak to boot. The league’s most intriguing story has been the steadiness of veteran knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, but lost in that hype has been one heck of a redemption story for the ex-Yankee.
Burnett is on pace to have the best season of his career, which begs the question, where did this all come from?
For one, Burnett has found a way to remain healthy, something he’s struggled to do for the entirety of his 14-year career. It’s also worth noting that Burnett has always had the potential to be consistently dominant. He led the National League in strikeouts during the 2008 season and has long had a back-breaking two-seam fastball on top of his devastating knucklecurve. Even in New York Burnett was a strikeout machine, a fact that was overshadowed by his alarming walk rate and tendency to have inescapable mental breakdowns on the mound.
Which brings us to the third reason for his resurgence: Pittsburgh. The meltdown-prone Burnett simply could not handle pitching in the spotlight of New York City, a characteristic that actually puts him in some good company. Randy Johnson wasn’t anywhere close to his Diamondback days while in pinstripes, Kenny Rogers was overall mediocre and downright dreadful in the postseason, Kevin Brown was so bad he punched a brick wall, Ian Kennedy became an ace following his departure from New York, and dare I mutter the name Carl Pavano? If anything, Yankees fans should be appreciative of the fact that while AJ was maddening to watch in the regular season, he did come through in two critical postseason appearances (7 IP, 9 Ks, 1 ER against the Phillies in Game 2 of the 2009 World Series, and the win-or-go-home victory last year against the Tigers in the Divisional Round).
Some guys just don’t do well in the juggernaut markets of Boston, Philly, and New York, which is why Pittsburgh is perfect for Burnett. The Bucs have long possessed one of the most dedicated, yet surprisingly under-bearing fan bases in baseball. Despite 19 years of irrelevance, the Pirates have always had respectable turnouts at PNC Park no matter what. But the Pirates get this support well away from the spotlight of the national media, and their fans don’t have otherworldly expectations like New Yorkers do.
With the Bucs very much in the thick of things in the NL Central due to their young talent (a mere game back from Cincinnati), the weaker bats of the National League, and Burnett literally being paid $20 million by the Yankees to NOT pitch in New York, it looks to be a match made in heaven between the Pittsburgh Pirates and AJ.
Of course, there’s no telling whether Burnett can keep up this season of redemption; we’ve yet to even reach the All-Star Break. However, if you’re looking for a good storyline that does not involve R.A. Dickey, then consider monitoring the resurgence of one of the league’s most unhittable hurlers.
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Michael T Carr May 16th
Another good article, Craig Lowell.
Charlie Lobosco May 1st
This is a very compelling story because Mr. Collins is a very passionate, tough, intelligent, athelete taking on some additional responsibliity to help others as…
Scott Cohen May 1st
Charlie.. very well said.. he does have guts
Scott Cohen May 1st
but it shouldn’t require guts. .like you said it’s nobody’s business but his own
Hisham Zameeth April 30th
best player ever…..
Kareem Musa Mayowa April 29th
We don’t need to be hopeless about the situation bryant his. Because even david villa situation also up to the level of his own to…
Maritess Lim April 28th
I still believe in KOBE’s power…… He is still the best…… He will make it possible no matter what……
mimi_aragon84 April 28th
I feel no pity for him. First of all, it is EAGLE, COLORADO, not Eagleton, secondly he enjoyed success and adulation from fans from 2003…
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