My feelings on A.J. Burnett have been well documented here. I have spoken about how I expect him continue to regress and there's no hiding from that. However, just roll with me on this one. I'm not sure what made me reconsider my feelings on him, but for whatever reason, I decided to take a further, more objective look. Anyway...
Can A.J. Burnett have success in 2012?
The answer to the question in short is, quite frankly, anything is possible. A.J. Burnett has had plenty of success in his career, and rightfully so. He throws hard and his curveball is outstanding. His command has always been his Achilles' Heel, and it will continue to be as he enters his age-35 season. There's no denying that.
At 35, he's a long way away from the days of his dominance during his age-25 season when he led the National League in shutouts (and wild pitches, of course) while tossing over 200 innings.
With the new rotation beginning to take shape, and assuming there are no further personnel changes, it seems like A.J. Burnett will battle Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia for the fifth spot in the rotation.
But does he deserve the spot outright?
A.J. has been, to put it bluntly, puzzling and frustrating over the last few years. Scanning his peripherals makes me question why his results were so poor last season, especially since some of his peripherals were quite strong.
While Burnett's GB% has increased since he landed in the Bronx, his HR/9 and HR/FB% have also increased. I cannot logically come to a conclusion to make sense of this. In plain English, Burnett has gotten more ground balls while giving up more home runs.
Maybe this has to do with age. He's 35, he's losing velocity, and he's losing the bite on his curveball. A look at his PitchFx confirms this. Maybe the lack of velocity and lack of bite means he isn't getting away with the mistakes he used to get away with. But still, shouldn't more ground balls equal less home runs?
Other peripherals, such as xFIP, seemed to like Burnett. Burnett's xFIP in 2011 was a solid 3.86 and xFIP does have the highest correlation with future predictions of ERA. However, believing in it says you believe his HR rate will regress to the mean.
There's a lot to like about A.J. Burnett. He throws hard and misses bats. However, he walks a lot of people and gives up a lot of home runs. The walks will always be there, but home run rates are nearly impossible to predict from year-to-year. He could, seemingly, improve in that category, because of how very unstable home run rates are.
So, maybe A.J. can be good. It really depends on what you put your faith in. Prior to 2010, Burnett had an above average ERA+ for six straight seasons. He misses a lot of bats. He gets a lot of ground balls. That's a decent recipe for success.
However, his last two years have been terrible, and nothing about the aging curves of power pitchers provides optimism, especially when they are two-pitch pitchers that desperately need to integrate a changeup more often.
But maybe, just maybe, if A.J. can keep his 2011 peripherals in tact while bringing his massive HR rate down - I know these are big ifs and maybes - he can have a successful 2012. Figuring out the likelihood of those if and maybes are far beyond my capabilities.
I guess this puts my stance on A.J. up in the air, but after taking further looks into his numbers, it wouldn't surprise me as much as it would have yesterday to see him have a successful 2012.