Pittsburgh Pirates’ Burnett making push for first All-Star Nod

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Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher A.J. Burnett has had quite a career. Since making his major league debut back in the 20th century – August 17, 1999 – Burnett has pitched 2,653 innings, amassing 2,444 strikeouts and 161 career wins.

Oh, and there’s that one career milestone that can’t be measured with a statistic. Along with Russell Martin, Burnett helped legitimize the Pittsburgh Pirates as a franchise officially on the rebound. Perhaps more than anyone, Burnett changed the culture of the club to one where losing would no longer be the norm. From his first day with the team, Batman has demanded more from the team, its management, and the fans. The results speak for themselves.

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There is one accomplishment that Burnett has yet to add to his long career. He has never been selected as an All-Star. Not in the National League, where he was a part of the improbable 2003 Florida Marlins World Series championship, tossing a no-hitter in 2001. Not in the American League, including his marvelous 2008 season as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays, in which he went 18-10 and led the AL in strikeouts.

2015 may very well be the year for Burnett to finally be recognized in the mid-summer classic. Against an admittedly strong field – including his rotation mate Gerrit Cole – Burnett’s performance thus far in 2015 is hard to ignore, as the game log below illustrates.

RkDateRsltInngsDecIPHRERBBSOERA
1Apr 9L,2-3GS-65.1422173.38
2Apr 14L,0-2GS-7L(0-1)6.2711282.25
3Apr 20L,2-5GS-66.0811212.00
4Apr 25W,2-1GS-77.0511241.80
MayRsltInngsDecIPHRERBBSOERA
5May 1L,1-2GS-66.0200371.45
6May 7W,7-2GS-7W(1-1)7.0722241.66
7May 12W,7-2GS-7W(2-1)7.0621151.60
8May 17W,3-0GS-7W(3-1)7.0300571.38
9May 23W,8-2GS-7W(4-1)7.05110101.37
10May 28W,11-5GS-6W(5-1)5.2854261.81
JuneRsltInngsDecIPHRERBBSOERA
11Jun 2W,7-4GS-5W(6-1)5.0844252.20
12Jun 8L,0-2GS-7L(6-2)7.0511162.11
13Jun 14W,1-0GS-99.0500141.89
85.273201824741.89

Much has been made about the “new” A.J. Burnett, and his evolution away from a pure-fastball, strikeout pitcher in 2015. Many are crediting his potential all-star bid due to this change in philosophy. Perhaps no start was more indicative of this than his April 20 outing against the Cubs. Going for six innings but needing 91 pitches to get there, Burnett did not have his best stuff, striking out just one batter. Yet, in that game he pitched around eight hits, giving up only one earned run in the process. In info pulled from FanGraphs, we see that Burnett threw the four seam fastball for only 12% in that start, relying more on the Sinker (50.4%) and Knuckle Curve (31.9%). His stuff wasn’t terribly deceiving that day, as batters only offered at pitches outside of the zone at a 27.7% clip. Yet Burnett found a way to get through it, getting a robust 54.5% of batted balls to stay on the carpet via the ground ball.

Being that All-Star pitching staffs are chosen by managers and not wacky fan votes, 2015 is Burnett’s best chance to make the NL roster. His 2015 season has been nothing short of spectacular, even tip-toeing into the category of amazing considering his age and drop in velocity over the past few years. The Pittsburgh Pirates are now reaping  the benefits of Burnett’s aid in legitimizing them in waiving his no-trade clause to join the team back in 2012. If the team hadn’t enjoyed the success over the past two years that Burnett helped them build, then they wouldn’t have been a team he looked to for one last spectacular ride.

Before he finishes that ride and heads into the sunset, it would be fitting and right for A.J. Burnett to take a detour to Cincinnati to be recognized as one of the game’s best in 2015.

Next: Pirates, Liriano pound White Sox 11-0

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