AJ Burnett has a formula for success
By Tyler Waite
AJ Burnett took less money to come back to Pittsburgh. He could have chosen to be closer to home in Philadephia or Baltimore, or he could have signed with a different big market club for more money. Instead, he chose to return to the city, for less money, where he had arguably the most success in his career: Pittsburgh. He himself has stated that this will be his last season and that he wants to win a World Series in Pittsburgh. That’s very admirable of him, but there are other underlying reasons for his return.
For starters, his previous two seasons in Pittsburgh in 2012 and 2013 netted Burnett ERAs of 3.51 and 3.30, respectively, the two lowest seasons by ERA he had since 2005. His FIP of 2.80 in 2013 was the lowest of his career. His WHIPs in 2012 and 2013 of 1.24 and 1.22, respectively, were his lowest since 2007. And his home runs per nine innings of 0.5 in 2013 was the lowest he had since 2002. Needless to say, Burnett had two of the best years of his career in Pittsburgh in 2012 and 2013.
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One of the biggest reasons for Burnett’s success in Pittsburgh was the extensive use of defensive shifts employed by the team. In 2012 and 2013, the Pirates frequently relied on defensive shifts to save runs. By 2014, the Pirates had shifted more than any other team in the National League. Burnett, being a strikeout pitcher, was new to the “pitching to contact” philosophy that the Pirates used throughout their organization. Trying to get batters out in less than three pitches wasn’t something a veteran, strikeout pitcher wanted to do.
But these shifts led to Burnett being a huge part of the return of the Pirates to relevance in the baseball world. Burnett, whether he wanted to or not, had to buy into this philosophy. In 2013, he led the National League in ground ball percentage at 56.5%. In 2012, Burnett was second in the National League at 59.9%. More ground balls means less home runs, more balls kept in the infield, and more opportunities for double plays.
But while all of this is very important, one of the more intriguing reasons Burnett chose to come back to Pittsburgh was because of the atmosphere in the Steel City. From an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Burnett had some kind words to say about his return:
"“There’s no other place I want to finish my career than in that city, with those people, with this organization and those guys in the locker room,” Burnett said Friday on a conference call with reporters."
He goes on to say:
"“This is just where I belong,” Burnett said. “There’s certain feelings you get, certain gut feelings you’ve got to go with, and this was a no-brainer for me.”"
All of this adds up to a recipe for success for AJ Burnett in Pittsburgh. In 18 innings pitched so far in 2015, Burnett has an ERA of 2.00, 16 strikeouts, and just one home run allowed. The success in 2012 and 2013 he had with the club, coupled with the love between the player and the city, truly makes this the perfect destination for Burnett to end his career.