The Pittsburgh Pirates had to realize they were getting a quality arm when they pulled the trigger on the AJ Burnett trade earlier this season. But they had no idea he would be this dominant.
Last night in an old-fashioned stare-down against Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto, Burnett gave up an unearned run early, but never blinked. At one point, Burnett retired 17 straight Reds. He didn’t have his consistent punch-out curve ball, so he relied on other pitches to get 14 of his 21 outs via the ground ball.
Getting the ground ball outs has been a key for the Pirate’s veteran. Burnett has put up a 57.9 percent ground ball rate so far this season—the highest ground ball rate he has had since he put up a 5.1 WAR for the Marlins in 2005.
PNC Park might have to change it’s name soon, as Burnett has absolutely owned the park since his arrival in April. Burnett has always been strong in his home park, but this performance in 2012 is crazy.
At PNC Park, he has thrown 35.1 innings and given up just four earned runs. Each of those five starts have been Bucco victories.
Another key: the reduction in home run balls. The right hander from Arkansas has allowed four this year, two of them came in his one ugly start against the Cardinals.
It’s all pointing to this: Burnett is on one of his patented dominant periods of starts. Hurdle talked about it in the postgame. When you look at Burnett’s game logs. there are groups of outstanding starts lumped together throughout his career.
That trend is continuing in 2012. In his last two starts, along with his first start of the season, Burnett hasn’t given up an earned run. In four other starts, he has allowed just two runs. A disappointing start against the Cardinals – when he gave up 12 earned runs – tweaks the whole grouping and will tweak his numbers all season.
Imagine what Burnett will be like when he does have all of his best stuff? He didn’t have the hook last night but only allowed just two hits to the offensive juggernaut known as the Reds. It’s so much fun to watch.
Burnett’s strong stuff on the mound has contributed to the Bucs pitching staff being in the top five in baseball. Burnett is the guy here in Pittsburgh. It hasn’t always worked this way for the Pirates. The names Overbay and Diaz quickly come to mind, but Burnett has been different. We don’t know how much Burnett has really helped James McDonald, but JMac continues to talk about the advice Burnett provides.
What a great move by Neal Huntington. What a great year by A.J. Burnett.