A.J. Burnett has had a dominant season so far in 2015. Heading into Sunday’s action, Burnett leads all of baseball in ERA (1.37) and leads the National League and is second in all of baseball in WAR (2.6). In the NL, he also ranks 12th in WHIP (1.10), seventh in innings pitched (59.0), and 15th in strikeouts (53). He’s having an incredible start to his farewell season in the big leagues to say the least. His exceptional pitching this year has led fans, analysts, and media members alike to speculate as to whether this really will and should be his final season. Heck, if he can pitch well all season long, why couldn’t he pitch well for one more season?
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There are countless baseball reasons for the Pirates to keep Burnett around. Starting pitching depth has been paramount to this team over the past few seasons, and great pitching is needed to get to a World Series, often times more than a great offense is (see: 2014 San Francisco Giants). Not only would Burnett add to that depth for next season, but he would be a top pitcher on the starting staff next to Francisco Liriano and Gerrit Cole. This three-man rotation would be dangerous in the postseason.
One of the reasons Burnett came back this season is because he loved pitching in Pittsburgh in the past. He wanted to finish his career in Pittsburgh, with the goal of bringing the franchise a World Series championship for the first time since 1979. He took less money to pitch for the Pirates than he would have made in Philadelphia (or that he could have potentially gotten elsewhere). If Burnett wasn’t interested in retiring, it’s safe to say that Pittsburgh may be the only destination he would be willing to come back and pitch for.
This is all on top of the performance he’s putting on this season. It’s a good bet that a 1.37 ERA isn’t sustainable over the course of the season for just about any pitcher in baseball. But Burnett has had two of his best seasons pitching for Pittsburgh in the past, so this season he could very well have another great year. He’s on pace to pitch over 200 innings this season and to notch over 200 strikeouts at the ripe age of 38. At worst, if Burnett stays healthy, he could be a solid four or five starter next season.
[Burnett’s] exceptional pitching this year has led fans, analysts, and media members alike to speculate as to whether this really will and should be his final season. Heck, if he can pitch well all season long, why couldn’t he pitch well next season?
The reasons for Pittsburgh to bring back Burnett next season seem tantalizing. As a Pirates fan that wants nothing more than to see Pittsburgh win a World Series, I would love to see A.J. back next season pitching in a Bucco uniform.
But as a fan of the game of baseball too, and as someone who loves the story of A.J. Burnett just as much as someone who loves his performances on the mound, this should be A.J.’s last season. What better feeling can it be than to go out on top rather than to go out at your worst? Sports’ fans saw Brett Favre hang on for far too long and end his career in a Vikings uniform. They saw Michael Jordan come out of retirement to play as a Washington Wizard. Imagine, Pittsburgh fans, if Troy Polamalu were back for another season. Imagine if Jerome Bettis hadn’t retired after Super Bowl XL. In today’s age, fans don’t often get to see athletes end their careers when they should, especially in baseball. The money will always be out there, even for those approaching the age of 40. Wouldn’t it be something to see A.J. Burnett go out on his own terms, at potentially the top of his game, when many didn’t think he had much left to give?
Baseball is a romantic sport. It’s the romantic sport. Far too often athletes hang on for too long and go out on a low note. Personally, I’d like to see A.J. go out on top. He’s made a lot of money is his career, and already has a World Series under his belt. Hopefully he decides to end his career when he should. After all, far too many athletes don’t.