Pirates A.J. Burnett Pitching Like It's 2002 All Over Again

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It was eleven seasons ago when A.J. Burnett made a name for himself in Major League Baseball.    The tall lanky righty was 25 and pitching for a strong team, at the time, in the Florida Marlins.  Before the season started Burnett tweeted out the Marlins Big Guns picture used above.  In 2013, Burnett is pitching just like he did back then.

Burnett finished that season with a 12-9 record, and was seventh in MLB with 203 srikeouts.   At the end of the season he had five complete game shutouts, which is half of the amount that he has had throughout his whole career. The beginning of his season was similar to the one he is having now. He had 39 strikeouts through his first six starts and he was 4-2 through those six games.

April 21, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher A.J. Burnett (34) on the field before playing the Atlanta Braves at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Burnett is off to another solid start this season. His record is only 2-2, but his run support has been rather mediocre. He was fortunate to come away with a win yesterday thanks to a big seventh inning by the Pirates. So far this season, Burnett has struggled when it comes to going deep into games. In six starts so far this season, he has only pitched six or more innings in three of his starts.

But he is staking those strikeouts at a vicious pace. He is currently first in the National League in strikeouts (48) and only one behind the MLB leader, Yu Darvish.

As I mentioned above, Burnett was a strikeout machine in 2002, especially at the beginning of the season when he averaged over six strikeouts through his first six starts.

This year is very similar to his 2002 campaign. He has nine more strikeouts than he did through his first six starts in 2002.

The main difference between the two seasons has been the maturity that Burnett has developed over the years. Yes, that’s very obvious that a pitcher will mature and grow into a leader as his career goes on, but it’s been a huge difference.

A.J. Burnett is the man around Pittsburgh. When he’s pitching for the Pirates, it’s a big deal.

He’s one of the leaders of a team that was sixteen games over .500 in the second half of the 2012 season, and has been pitching some of the best baseball of his career. We saw him step up to Brandon Phillips last season in the midst of the whole feud between the Reds and Pirates, along with telling Hanley Ramirez to “sit the f*** d0wn” last Summer.

He shows his true passion with the Pirates, and it’s quite obvious that he is pitching for a lot more than just a contract.

When the Pirates acquired Burnett about 16 months ago, I wasn’t all that thrilled. All I expected was two mediocre seasons out of a guy who was consistently booed in New York.  What a difference the change of scenery has been for A.J.  The right hander is a major factor behind the relevancy of baseball in the city of Pittsburgh.

People would be surprised to know that Burnett has never been voted to an all-star game. For a guy who has been in the league since 2000, and is one of the most successful pitchers of the past decade, Burnett has never finished in the top ten for Cy Young voting.

He’s been a steady pitcher for over ten years now, and as I already mentioned, has been pitching great in his one plus years with the Pirates. For a guy who doesn’t have much of a resume other than a World Series ring (2009), a no-hitter from 2001 that featured nine walks, and being one of forty-six players to ever pitch an “Immaculate Inning” (striking out the side on nine pitches), Burnett is definitely looking to make one more run before his days as a Major League pitcher come to an end.

If there’s one guy on the Pirates who I think has the drive and intensity to put the team on his back, I would probably have to go with Allan James Burnett.

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