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With the Pirates heading home at the hands of the Cubs, one of the most enigmatic pitchers we've seen over the last two decades will go out into that good night. In honor of his retirement, and to look back at his long, successful career, let's review 17 years of BP Annual comments about him, as he grew from the pitcher who couldn't quite live up to his immense potential into a veteran leader on one of the league's best pitching staffs.

Year Comment
2015 They all say they want to play for a contender, but how many voluntarily take a 32 percent pay cut to do it? Burnett did, after a season slogging along with the rest of the Phillies, turning down the $12.5 million player option he had and returning to Pittsburgh under a one-year, $8.5 million deal. Burnett has long been a player whose performance seems to mirror his environment, so we might not be so swayed by the one-and-a-half runs he added to his ERA and FIP as PECOTA is. He still has a 93 mph fastball, a swing-and-miss curve, a changeup that gets copious grounders and, even in his late 30s, 200-inning durability. A contender can use him as much as he can use a contender.
2014 Burnett proved his first season with the Pirates was no fluke, and along the way set a new career-high in strikeouts per nine. Which raises the question: Why is this guy talking about retiring? He's still got the stuff to be an effective big-league pitcher, and he's treading close to beloved status in the Steel City. At this writing, Burnett is set to pick between returning for another season with the Pirates or riding off into the sunset. Here's hoping he takes one more shot at delivering a World Series title to Pittsburgh.
2013 Pittsburgh’s decision to buy low on Burnett paid off almost immediately. The enigmatic right-hander had his best season since 2008—that’s pre-Yankees—according to FIP and FRA. Most of the improvement is being credited to a better state of mind. It sounds silly, and like something an earlier copy of this book would’ve trashed as a narrative, but it may be right. Remember the constant mound visits in New York? Or the idea that Burnett needed various veteran players around as a support system? Some players are just wired differently. Burnett might be one of those who needs certain niceties to perform.
2012 After an August start in Minnesota in which Burnett could not make it through the second inning, Yankees fans were treated to a peevish Girardi berating YES's Jack Curry after the latter dared ask, in so many words, if this trip was really necessary. The Yankees clearly thought it was, as Girardi vehemently argued. After the season, the manager suggested that Burnett had "only one bad month." Indeed, his August ERA of nearly 12.00 sticks out badly. Yet, Burnett was often thrashed all season long. His quality start percentage of 31 was last in the AL among qualified starters and was the lowest of any pitcher who was allowed to make more than 13 starts and about even with such luminaries as Jo-Jo Reyes and John Lackey. Since there is apparently nothing Burnett can do to get bounced from the rotation, sit back, enjoy another 60-odd erratic starts from now through the end of 2013, and think about how unfair the universe can be—if you did your job half as badly as Burnett does, you'd be out on your ass.
2011 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. On that date—depending on the status of their other long-term commitments—the Yankees may no longer be able to claim that they host one of baseball’s most expensive mediocrities. In last year’s edition, we said that Burnett comes out of the pen with either no-hitter stuff or absolutely no feel for his pitches. The latter was the case the majority of the time in 2010, particularly down the stretch, when Burnett’s ERA was 6.61. There was no injury and no real pattern to it—Burnett was perfectly capable of interrupting a string of poundings with a couple of strong starts, only to turn around and get thrashed by the Mariners. He is what he is: one of baseball’s most perplexing mysteries and an all-time great underachiever. Three years to go.
2010 When Burnett, AKA the Comeback Pie-Man, was on, he dominated with a 1.81 ERA. When he was off, he got thumped for a 7.09 ERA. The spread is not all that unusual as far as the disparities between pitchers at their best and worst last year, but seems extreme in Burnett's case because his stuff is just too good for him to be in aggregate just a few ticks above league-average. The mid-90s fastball and the biting curve capable of fooling both opposing hitters and Jorge Posada seem to promise more, and quite often they do. He had 21 Quality Starts in 33 tries, a good success rate. There's just not a lot of middle ground; Burnett comes out of the pen with either no-hitter stuff or absolutely no feel for his pitches. Perhaps the biggest triumph of his season was that he stayed healthy. Four more years to go.
2009 That the only three 200-inning seasons of Burnett’s career have been followed by either free agency or Tommy John surgery would seem to be a bad omen for the Yankees after giving him a five-year, $82.5 million contract. The Yankees were wowed by Burnett’s dominating them in five starts last year (3-1, 1.64 ERA, 43 K, 6 BB, 38 1/3 IP), but if you take those starts away, his 2008 ERA swells to a decidedly unimpressive 4.57, his WHIP gets up to 1.43, and his strikeout/walk ratio shrinks to 2.4. Indeed, Burnett was sporting a 4.67 ERA on August 12 before making a strong contract push in his last eight starts, three of which came against the Yankees. He still has the high-90s fastball, the low-90s sinker, and the nasty knuckle curve, but despite press-conference claims that he learned a lot from Roy Halladay about how to use his stuff and keep his arm healthy, he has yet to prove it in a non-walk year.
2008 Burnett made 46 starts in the first two years of his five-year, $55 million deal. With an opt-out clause waiting to be exercised at the end of this season and hundreds of millions of dollars of extra money floating around the game, look for Burnett to pitch through the minor injuries this season. That should work for the Jays, who have every reason to maximize the short-term value of their players this year. Burnett was badly mismanaged by Gibbons throughout 2007, and spent six weeks on the DL not long after a three-start stretch of 125, 117, and 130 pitches. After coming back, Gibbons had him throw 110, 115, 114, 120, 124, and 119, all for a team going nowhere fast. Those extra pitches will be needed this year; if Burnett does pull up lame, Gibbons will have no defense.
2007 The first reaction that most people will have to A.J. Burnett`s 2006 is: `see, he got hurt again.` Still, there`s a lot to like about what he accomplished. He kept his ERA under 4.00, which is no small feat pitching in Rogers Centre against AL East opponents. His control numbers were the best of his career. And his mechanics improved in the second half, as he had more time to work with pitching coach Brad Arnsberg. Considering the inflation in the system, Burnett could well provide as much value over the remaining four years of his deal as any pitcher that was on this winter`s market. What, you`d rather have Gil Meche`s contract?
2006 One of the most sought-after free agents in a weak class, Burnett got the big wampum from the Blue Jays, signing for five years and $55 million, also known as `Dreifort Money.` But for being briefly sidelined by some elbow inflammation, Burnett stayed healthy for a change and had one of his strongest campaigns. Other than his history of ill health, Burnett`s fall clashes with management after a rough month were troubling–time has proved Burnett right about the Marlins being mismanaged, but management wasn`t the cause of his 5.93 ERA in September. Finally, as with all pitchers exiting the DH-free league and a friendly ballpark, at least half a run of ERA will be lost in translation.
2005 Burnett came back from Tommy John surgery in just over 13 months to post the best strikeout-to-walk ratio of his career, and he was devastating for much of the second half. The bad news is that inflammation in the repaired elbow shut him down in early September. No damage was found, and he made a token relief appearance on the last weekend of the season, so he has a green light. He could be a top-10 starter in 2005.
2004 With the recovery timetable from Tommy John surgery shaved down to as little as twelve months, there's some hope that Burnett could return by May. Though Burnett's on the same aggressive timetable that got Brandon Claussen back in about that time, don't count on a lightning-quick recovery. Burnett had been one of the most abused young arms in the game long before the last Torborgian straw snapped his ulnar collateral ligament. The Marlins hope the time off allows Burnett to reflect and cut down on some of his self-destructive off-field behavior. He's got a world of talent, and could slot in nicely in one of baseball's best rotations if he makes it back to full strength by the home stretch.
2003 Burnett’s impressive but flawed performance in 2001 was followed up by a very good season last year, and he’s assumed the mantle of Marlins ace. How long he’ll merit that title is a disturbing question; as a 25-year-old, Burnett pitched a league-leading nine games of more than 120 pitches, and he hit the DL in September with a “bone bruise.” Hopefully, Jeff Torborg will realize that Burnett’s health is more important to the franchise than a complete-game shutout with the team 10 games back in August, and go easier on him in 2003.
2002 One of the better mysteries in baseball right now is A.J. Burnett's strikeout rate. He throws hard, with a good knuckle-curve as a pitch he can use for strike three, and he's shown himself to be hard to hit at times. He's a hairsbreadth from exploding on the National League, and he’s a better candidate for the All-Star team this year than Beckett is.
2001 There was some concern that A.J. Burnett would miss the entire season after he ruptured a ligament in his pitching thumb in spring training. Much to management’s delight, he busted his tail in rehab and returned in late July, stronger than he was before the injury. Not surprisingly, he struggled to find a consistent rhythm after returning. The only thing nastier than Burnett’s repertoire (95-octane gas and a Mussina-like spike curve) is his mound personality. I expect him to strike fear in the league in 2001.
2000 There was considerable talk in the spring that Burnett would open the season in the major leagues, jumping from the Midwest League. He ended up at Portland, where he struggled and was eventually removed from the rotation. Burnett throws hard with a knee-buckling curveball and improving change-up and should be up for good by midseason. They’re nipple rings, people: get over it.
1999 A big Arkansas kid, and possibly the best thing they got from the Mets in their various deals. Yes, potentially better than Yarnall. Burnett had a very slow start, missing April and most of May with a broken hand. Coming back on strict pitch counts, he completely dominated the Midwest League. The translation should give you an idea: its extremely difficult to pitch well enough in a low A-league to get something that ends up looking this good. He has good mechanics and a deceptive delivery, throwing hard and mixing in a knuckle-curve and a good change. The future doesn’t get any brighter for a low A-ball pitcher than this.