Phillies Sign A.J. Burnett to One-Year, $16 Million Deal
Two very important and related news items today:
- Cole Hamels will not be ready for Opening Day after experiencing shoulder discomfort during the off-season (via Jim Salisbury)
- Phillies sign A.J. Burnett to a one-year, $16 million deal (via Ken Rosenthal)
Ryan Sommers wrote about the Hamels injury here.
The Hamels news comes as a surprise, as this is the first we’ve heard of this. It was assumed that, if the Phillies did sign Burnett, he would slot in the #3 spot behind Hamels and Cliff Lee. Now, it’s looking like Burnett will be a very necessary #2 until Hamels is back to full health. Hamels did say he sees himself pitching in April. The Phillies don’t have a lot of pitching depth, particularly with the uncertainty around Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez and the questionable health of Jonathan Pettibone and Adam Morgan.
Burnett, 37, is coming off of back-to-back solid seasons with the Pirates. He posted a 3.51 ERA in 2012 and a 3.30 ERA last season. He had impressive defense-independent stats: his strikeout-to-walk ratios with the Pirates are his best since 2006; and his 2.92 xFIP last season was a career-best.
Worth noting, also, is Burnett’s ground ball rate. He was known for inducing grounders in his days with the Marlins and Jays, but in his three-year stint with the Yankees from 2009-11, it plummeted. The numbers-savvy Pirates, using defensive shifting, had Burnett focus on throwing a two-seam fastball rather than a four-seam fastball, and Burnett’s ground ball rate shot back up. Burnett will be dependent on the Phillies’ infield defense, which rarely shifts. While both teams had similar defense on the right side of the infield, the Phillies were among the worst on the left side with Jimmy Rollins and Cody Asche. Per FanGraphs, the Phillies had a -3.6 UZR at shortstop while the Pirates were +2.5. At third base, the Phillies were -16.5 (29th) while the Pirates were +1.0.
Obviously, this is critical when Burnett faces right-handed batters:
Burnett had the platoon advantage against 51 percent of batters he faced last season.
If the Phillies can’t improve their defense on the left side of the field, Burnett is likely due for a bit of regression. Still, his ability to miss bats, and avoid walks and home runs will be good enough by itself. On a one-year deal, this is virtually zero risk, and at $16 million, Burnett should just barely fit into the payroll below the $189 million luxury tax threshold. It is also, arguably, a necessary move because the Phillies would have been a tough sell to bring fans to the ballpark or tune in to the TV broadcast if Hamels has to miss more time than expected.