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February 20, 2012

Transaction Analysis

Burnett the Bucco

by R.J. Anderson and Kevin Goldstein

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

NEW YORK YANKEES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired RHP Diego Moreno and OF-L Exicardo Cayones from the Pirates for RHP A.J. Burnett and cash. [1/17]

The start to Burnett’s BP2011 comment says it all:

Dates all good Americans know by heart: July 4, 1776; December 7, 1941; November 22, 1963; and November 1, 2013, also known, respectively, as Independence Day, Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy assassination, and the approximate day that A.J. Burnett’s contract expires, celebrated in the Yankees' front office as Independence Day II. 

After acquiring Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda, Brian Cashman had to move one of his other starters. The early favorites to be dealt were Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, and Freddy Garcia, since the idea that anyone would take on Burnett’s deal seemed nonsensical. Sure enough, though, Cashman found a partner and a compromise. Eating $20 million of the $33 million remaining on Burnett’s deal may not be ideal, but the Yankees can now use the savings to acquire a left-handed designated hitter and perhaps another bench piece. —R.J. Anderson

While the trade of A.J. Burnett was about jettisoning a problematic soap opera and saving $13 million dollars, the Yankees did receive a pair of prospects who, while not worthy of the Pirates’ top 20 prospects list, are at least somewhat intriguing.

Diego Moreno ranked ninth on the Pirates’ list 15 months ago, but his career has been hampered by injuries, suspensions for immature behavior, and lack of development. He's a wide-bodied right-hander with plus-plus velocity touching 98; he can throw strikes with the pitch, but that remains the sum of his abilities. For every plus slider he throws, he'll deliver three that just sweep across the plate, and his fastball lacks much in the way of deception or movement. He'll likely get to the big leagues at some point on his fastball alone, but it will take an unexpected step forward for him to make an impact.

20-year-old outfielder Exicardo Cayones belongs in a scene from Moneyball. What does he do? He gets on base. He has an advanced approach at the plate and a line-drive swing that should produce good batting averages, but it's hard to figure what he'll do around those skills. He has well below-average power and lacks the speed for center or the arm strength for right. Even if he puts up good numbers at Low-A Charleston this season—and that is a distinct possibility—his upside is limited. —Kevin Goldstein

PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired RHP A.J. Burnett and cash from the Yankees for RHP Diego Moreno and OF-L Exicardo Cayones. [1/17]

Chuck LaMar once said that wins and losses were the only thing separating the Rays from being one of the league’s best franchises. In a similar vein, consistent results are the only thing separating Burnett from being one of the league’s best pitchers. The Pirates will be the latest team to attempt to excavate Burnett’s inner-ace on a start-to-start basis. It comes almost by necessity on Pittsburgh’s behalf; their best young arms are unprepared for the majors, and attempts to woo Edwin Jackson and Roy Oswalt failed. How do you fill a rotation after the best veteran arms on the free-agent market shun you? By getting creative.

Creativity, in this case, means taking on part of another team’s albatross. Though Burnett will receive $33 million over the next two seasons, the Pirates will be responsible for only $13 million of that sum, with the Yankees picking up the rest. The similarities between the deal that sent Derek Lowe to the Indians earlier in the offseason and this trade have made it a chic comparison. Despite contrasting styles—Burnett relies on strikeouts, Lowe on groundballs—the two have posted close to the same numbers in many categories since 2009:

Statistic

Lowe

Burnett

GS

101

98

IP

575.1

584

ERA

4.57

4.79

SO/BB

1.98

1.99

QS%

50%

46%

WARP

4.1

2.7

Even PECOTA sees the resemblance and forecasts the two to post earned run averages of 4.60 (Lowe) and 4.62 (Burnett). The most notable difference between the two deals is how much money the new team is on the hook for, as the Indians will pay Lowe one-third of his $15 million salary in 2012 while the Pirates are picking up closer to 40 percent of Burnett’s tab. Why the difference? Some of it could be tied to the Pirates getting a pitcher with more upside, given Burnett’s strikeout rate.

A move away from the American League East and Yankees Stadium should help in Burnett’s quest, but anyone blaming all of his woes on the ballpark is ignoring reality. As the table below shows, Burnett managed a better earned run average, strikeout rate, and strikeout-to-walk ratio at home during his Yankees career, with a negligible difference in his home run rate given the sample size.

Split

IP

ERA

SO/9

SO/BB

HR/9

Home

299.2

4.14

8.26

2.12

1.26

Road

284.1

5.48

7.53

1.86

1.23

Whether Burnett can provide league-average (or better) performance is anyone’s guess. What seems more likely is that Burnett gives the Pirates an unusual strikeout total. Over the past three seasons, Burnett has averaged 171 strikeouts; should he reach that tally this season, it would rank as the fifth-highest in Pirates’ history since 1990, trailing just Ian Snell (177), Doug Drabek (177), Kris Benson (184), and Oliver Perez (239). —R.J. Anderson


R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

Related Content:  Pittsburgh Pirates,  A.J. Burnett

9 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

NYYanks826

As a Yankee fan, seeing Burnett in a different uniform is a glorious day. Of course, I wish him nothing but the best in Pittsburgh, but having him replaced with the likes of Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda really gives me optimistic feelings for the 2012 season.

Feb 20, 2012 04:26 AM
rating: 2
 
VDracul

Now the Pirates will win 74 games instead of 72! All for the price of $13 million and two warm bodies...

Feb 20, 2012 08:41 AM
rating: 0
 
Greg Ioannou

As a Toronto fan, I'm remembering how miffed we were when Burnett chased the big bucks and left the Jays for the Yankees. How sweetly that worked out! :o)

Feb 20, 2012 09:10 AM
rating: 1
 
CalWhite

I wasn't miffed! I was offering nightly prayers to the baseball gods that he would go somewhere else...

Feb 20, 2012 10:28 AM
rating: 0
 
CalledStrike3

Good deal for both teams...the Pirates made a Dave Justice moneyball type of move having the Yankees pay him to be a Bucco ...

For Burnett - this is it - a chance to start over for a boy in a man's body - his last chance to correlate his performance to his potential ... As Humans we work best sometimes under deadlines .... This is Burnett's deadline.

the Pirates - until ravaged by injury - were playing great ball last year the first two months - in a division completely up for grabs and one of the best players in the game on their roster (Andrew McCutcheon) 6.5MM per seems a reasonable gamble to me to anchor or enhance a young rotation. The Priates bigger worry is where did the Pedro Alvarez go that they drafted?

Feb 20, 2012 11:48 AM
rating: 1
 
joepeta

I don't know how "great" the Pirates played last year. Yes they were in first at the 100 game mark, but they got there on the back of performance highly unlikely to be repeated. They had a Pythag record of .500, compared to an actual record of 6 over .500. They were turning batted balls into outs at a rate they had never demonstrated before - truly the key to their first half success as their pitchers strike out the fewest batters in the NL. On top of that their runs allowed were supressed by a pitching staff that suddenly turned into the Phillies' staff with runners on base. Again, not "lucky" per se but highly unlikely to repeat.

Indeed it all reversed and after the 100-game mark the Pirates went 19-43, by far the worst record in the NL - even worse than the Astros who were jettisoning their only good players.

I'd make it even money the Pirates don't reach last year's win total of 72 games in 2012.

Feb 20, 2012 13:46 PM
rating: 1
 
UtahDave

As a life long Pirates fan I wish I could refute your statement about the 72 wins, but I don't think I can. And this is the make or break year for Pedro Alvarez. I've been a fan since 1970 and I'll be a fan forever.

Feb 20, 2012 16:30 PM
rating: 0
 
DetroitDale

So it really happened, the Yanks made a salary dump trade...

Temperature in Hell 33 degrees and falling.

Is this upgrade going to be enough to help the Yanks edge out the D-rays for the division? How about edging out the Angels-Rangers runner-up for the wildcard? Could this be the first year the playoff go on without the Yankees or the Red Sox? It would be worth it just to see the hear the disappointment in the voices of ESPN's baseball coverage teams.

Feb 21, 2012 05:38 AM
rating: 1
 
CalledStrike3

Sooo Joe P.... Basically what you stated, even referencing Pythag and BABIP is in fact .... the Pirates played Great for 100 games (with playing great equating to performing or outperforming your ability as a team) ... While a reversion to the mean obviously happened late - not having their key players in the lineup certainly may have contributed to the freefall.

I would take the OVER on 72 with the Buccos this year .... there has to be some sort of reversion to the mean in wins for them the past 35 years since we are family.

Feb 21, 2012 11:17 AM
rating: 0
 
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