Phillies Sign A.J. Burnett to One-Year, $16 Million Deal

Two very important and related news items today:

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.

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6 comments

  1. Tim

    February 12, 2014 01:24 PM

    Interesting note on the infield defense/shifting. I wonder if the *analytics guy* is put up at the local La Quinta for ST. Maybe Sandberg can take him to the local Starbucks.

    It’s not my money, so good move. They now have four pitchers who can give ~200 innings (assuming Hamels isn’t giving us the Halladay treatment). In the best case scenario, a helluva #3 and a trade chip if they sink.

  2. CJ

    February 12, 2014 03:18 PM

    1950 Phillies: The Whiz Kids
    1983 Phillies: The Wheeze Kids
    2014 Phillies: The Was Kids
    Thank you.

  3. Bob

    February 12, 2014 04:55 PM

    MY was a brutal -20.2 UZR/150 whereas Asche was -10.6. While Asche’s numbers aren’t good, there should be some modest improvement to the defense that MY was putting up.

    Jimmy had the worst UZR/150 of his career last year and the only one that he has put up a negative. Hopefully, we get some bounce back there. Galvis was on the positive side at 1.8 but only logged 67 innings. If Rollins production remains on the minus side both offensively and defensively, you would think that Galvis would get more time at SS with a groundball pitcher on the mound..

    • Phillie697

      February 12, 2014 05:49 PM

      Sadly, it’s true that if Galvis’s UZR is an indication of his true defensive output, despite being much worse with the bat than even this bad JRoll we now have, it’s likely he’d outproduce JRoll WAR-wise if this is the JRoll we are going to get.

  4. Robby Bonfire

    February 14, 2014 09:00 AM

    Oh God, yet another old, journeyman, stop-gap, over-priced temporary fix. Don’t these expedient, myopic-vision G.M.s have a clue that every time they sign someone else’s refuse, it is an indictment of their failure to draft well and develop an abundantly flowing minors-to-majors pipeline, at a fraction of the cost? (No, they don’t.)

    • hk

      February 15, 2014 12:36 PM

      C’mon Robby, while yes Burnett is old, he’s hardly someone else’s refuse. He pitched great for Pittsburgh and the only reason he’s a Phillie is that he wanted to play somewhere close to his Baltimore home and because the Phillies have the ability to outbid Pittsburgh and Baltimore and Washington does not need another starter. From a fan’s perspective, this is a good deal for one year even if there’s a 2nd year option. What would you prefer, that the owners just held onto the $16M?

      Look, I don’t think there’s been a bigger – I’m sure many are equal – critic of RAJ than me on these boards. However, I think he deserves kudos for this off-season, which in my opinion is by far the best of his tenure. He’s trying to give the Phils a chance at competing in 2014 without doing anything that would negatively impact the roster in 2016 and beyond.

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