Pittsburgh Pirates: Top 5 Pitching Performances of 2015

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Jun 14, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher

A.J. Burnett

(34) delivers a pitch against the Philadelphia Phillies during the first inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

#3) June 14 – A.J. Burnett vs Philadelphia Phillies

Game Score: 80

The Pirates’ longest winning streak of the season was 8 games in a row but they would not have gotten there if it weren’t for this performance by A.J. Burnett in the final game of a weekend series with the Phillies.

It took 11 innings for the Pirates to declare victory but when the bats didn’t show up, Burnett did. A.J. gave the team 9 shutout innings. The reason Burnett was allowed to go deep into the game is because he only struck out 4 and walked 1, meaning that most of his outs came quickly and efficiently. In fact, he retired 16 Phillies with 2 pitches or less and retired 24 of the first 28 he faced.

Despite the fact that any run he allowed could have cost him the game, Burnett only had two stressful innings – the 1st and the 9th. Aside from a double in the first inning by Jeff Francoeur and stolen bases by Ben Revere (who was immediately thrown out trying to steal third) and Chase Utley in the 9th, the Phillies weren’t able to get a baserunner past first base.

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2015 was shockingly the first time A.J. Burnett was selected to an All-Star Game and this game was the showcase performance that helped him get in (it happening so close to the All-Star Game probably didn’t hurt either). Burnett has always been known to have a lot of movement on his pitches and when he’s got them moving the right way, nine shutout innings is the result.

Here’s a graph from Brooks Baseball showing the correlation between his vertical movement and velocity. To no surprise, his hard stuff was rising about 5 inches while his offspeed (most notably, his sinker) were dropping a good 5 inches in the other direction. When you can put a fastball past a guy at eye level and then blow a sinker by him at his knees, even the best batters are going to struggle and the Phillies weren’t exactly dressing the 1927 Yankees.

It’s a shame he couldn’t get the win but Burnett was a major part of the team’s success, especially early in the season and this was the pinnacle of his farewell season. Josh Harrison would drive in the winning run in the 11th inning, pushing the win streak to four games and giving the team a spark that allowed them to win the next four.