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Getting to know A.J. Burnett

Allan James Burnett was born in North Little Rock, Arkansas, on the third of January, 1977.


His pro career began when he was drafted out of high school by the Mets in the 8th round of the 1995 draft (217th overall). He pitched for the Gulf Coast League Mets as an 18-year-old, displaying an incredible lack of control, walking more than six batters per nine innings. He didn't walk fewer than 6/9 ip until 1998, when the Mets gave up on Burnett, trading him to the Marlins (in their infamous fire sale) for Al Leiter and the immortal Ralph Milliard. His career turned around after that. Burnett was phenomenal in 1998, dominating the Single-A Midwest League: 119 ip, 1.97 ERA, 74 h, 45 bb, 186 k, 3 HR.

He debuted for the Marlins the following year, pitching 5.2 innings of one-run ball against the Dodgers on August 17.

Burnett's best year came in 2002, when he amassed 204.3 innings, struck out 203, gave up just 1.19 baserunners per inning, had a 3.30 ERA and led the NL in shutouts (with five). His zenith came a year earlier though, when he threw a no-hitter against San Diego in a 3-0 win (while walking nine batters!).

In early 2003, Burnett underwent Tommy John Surgery, sidelining him until mid-2004.

He pitched for Florida through 2005, then signed as a free agent with Toronto on a 5-year, $55 million deal with an opt-out clause after the third year.

A player with an opt-out clause has never not opted-out, and Burnett did so on November 13 after being one of the best pitchers in baseball in 2008 (leading the AL in starts and strikeouts). He signed with the Yankees almost exactly one month later for $82.5 million over five years (without an opt-out clause).

Burnett has dominated right-handed hitters in his career, holding them to a .223/.303/.360 line. What seems like a big reason (whether rightly or wrongly) Brian Cashman signed him was his unusual dominance against the Yankees. In 11 career starts totaling 77.2 innings, Burnett fashioned a 2.43 ERA against us. He's also pitched nearly as well against our division rivals: 2.56 ERA vs. Boston and 2.98 ERA vs. Tampa. The one AL East team he does not fool is Baltimore, who has tattooed him for a 4.97 ERA.

A.J. has one of the top fastballs in the game, averaging 95 mph with it. His secondary pitch is a nasty 1-7 hard curve and he'll occasionally throw a changeup.

Burnett is also known for his wild side. He features an array of tattoos and used to wear nipple rings, and yet leads a seemingly normal family life: he's married and has two sons, Ashton and A.J., Jr.

Injuries and control have been Burnett's problems. While he's mitigated both in recent years, he'll never truly be rid of them. He's topped 200 innings just three times in his 10-year career (though it's gone up each of the last three years), and has walked fewer than 3/9 ip just once.  We can only hope that he 'learned' how to stay healthy in Toronto.


Sources: Baseball Reference, Baseball Cube, Wikipedia, Cot's Contracts, Josh Kalk's Pitch/FX tool, ESPN

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