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Circling the Bases: A.J. Burnett Among the Elite

Ray Flowers

Ray Flowers

The co-host of The Drive on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (Sirius 210, XM 87: M-F at 5-8 PM EDT), Ray Flowers has spent years squirreled away studying the inner workings of the fantasy game to the detriment of his personal life. You can follow Ray on Twitter (@BaseballGuys), he never sleeps, and you can also find more of his musings at BaseballGuys.com.


A.J. Burnett has been one of the best pitchers in the National League this year. There, I said it. Not only is he 8-2, but he has a borderline impressive 3.24 ERA and 1.24 WHIP. But those numbers tell only part of the story. You know what I'm talking about. You remember that fateful night when the universe conspired to turn Burnett into one of the worst pitchers in the history of baseball. The Cardinals came to the plate and obliterated Burnett like he was a slow pitch softball arm. On his way to recording a mere eight outs (2.2 innings) Burnett allowed 12 hits and a walk, and 12 of those runners came around to score. That's right – 12 earned runs in 2.2 innings.

I'm going to do partake in some revisionist history here. Just how impressive would Burnett's numbers be if he hadn't made that start? I know it's ridiculous to do that, you can always look at pitchers and remove a start or two and get much better results, but the issue is so acute in this scenario that I think it's valid to take a look at how Burnett has performed the other 11 times he has taken the hill. Here are the highlights.

His record would be 8-1.
His ERA would be 1.87. He has allowed 15 earned runs in the 11 starts.
His WHIP would be 1.11.
He would have made 11 starts without once allowing more than three earned runs.
In fact, he would have made 10 starts allowing two or fewer runs.

Before I get a bunch of comments at the bottom of this piece about how stupid it is to remove an atrocious outing that occurred, I hope you all understand what I'm trying to do here. What I'm saying is that for 92 percent of his outings this year that A.J. Burnett hasn't just been a good pitcher – he's been elite. There, I said it.

Grady Sizemore hasn't resumed running after having to shut down that aspect of his workload when he suffered a setback a couple of weeks bad. The Indians still think he will contribute at some point this season, but it's so sad to see a former fantasy star just flat out disappear so quickly because of injury.

Chase Utley says his knees feel great. Right Chase. I'm also in line to win the 2016 Presidential Election. The only thing I need to do between now and then is to get married to raise my Q-rating. Once that final piece is in place, there's nothing that can stop me. Whether Chase was being honest or merely being delusional, you should still be interested in adding a guy who should be a productive big leaguer (he's hopefully of returning to the Phillies this week). I know he's had 425 and 398 at-bats the last two years as his body continues to break down on him, and that he has zero big league ABs this year, but some perspective. If we take his work the past two years and pro-rate it for 550 at-bats, it's pretty amazing how productive he has been given the perception that he has been relatively useless.

.267 average
18 homers
73 RBI
86 runs
18 steals

Obviously it's foolish to expect him to do anything remotely resembling that pace in terms of base stealing, but is it really unreasonable to think that his bat wouldn't be able to produce at that rate, even if he isn't able to play every day? If that is the case, if you believe that is possible, you should store this away in the back of your mind before you dismiss Utley outright. How many second basemen hit .267 with 18 homers, 73 RBI and 86 runs scored last season? The answer is just four, and they are all pretty damn good players: Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia, Brandon Phillips and Ben Zobrist.

BY THE NUMBERS

.664: The OPS of Josh Hamilton in June. That means his OPS this month is less than his SLG the first two months of the season (.744 and .781). In 20 games in June he has gone deep just two times leading to nine RBI and eight runs scored as he's hit a sickly .197 with a .282 OBP and .382 SLG (he batted .395 in April). Overall his numbers are still amazing – .318-23-66-47-6 with a 1.031 OPS – but it just goes to show you that the regression monster is always lurking.

0.70: The league leading ERA at home of Jered Weaver, who has allowed three earned runs in 38.3 innings in Anaheim. He isn't the only AL hurler with an ERA under 1.00 at home. The other is the Athletics Tommy Milone at 0.99 (five earned runs in 45.2 innings). Zack Greinke is your NL leader at 1.08 (A.J. Burnett is just behind at 1.11).

1: The number of steals for Starlin Castro over his last 23 games. He's still on pace for 30+ steals after swiping 10 in April as he has 16 overall, but he's only swiped six bags in his last 52 games, partially a result of an OBP of just .301 in that time. In 72 games Castro has walked a mere seven times, and that's just embarrassing.

2: The number of pitchers in big league history who have had 30 saves with an ERA over 6.50 in a single season. Shawn Chacon had 35 saves despite a 1-9 record, 1.00 K/BB and 7.11 ERA for the Rockies in 2004. The other was Brad Lidge in 2009 when we went 0-8 with a 7.21 ERA and 31 saves (11 blown) for the Phillies. I bring this up because Heath Bell, after his humongous meltdown Monday night, is on pace to make the duo a trio. Bell has 14 saves on the year an a 6.59 ERA for the Marlins. Save Monday, he has pitched much better of late though, converting 7-straight save chances while going 10-straight outings without allowing a run.

2.75: The amazingly low K/9 rate of one Henderson Alvarez this season. Given that he throws so hard and generates so many grounders (58 percent of batted balls) he's had some success this year with a 4.36 ERA and 1.37 WHIP, but you simply have to miss more bats to be effective enough at this level to be mixed league relevant (Tim Heaney of KFFL and I had a lively debate about Alvarez in early April). He's being sent for an MRI on his elbow Tuesday, but the team is still hopeful he will be able to start on Saturday, though it's debatable if you should care at this point.

3: The number of hits the past five games for Melky Cabrera as his average has fallen from .369 to .351. That's a pace of 0.6 hits a game, a far cry from the 1.35 hit per game pace that he has been working on since the start of last season.

4.04: The ERA of Nathan Eovaldi after the Giants, of all teams, ripped him up for eight runs Monday night. The youngster has done a solid job the the Dodgers in six starts, but everyone needs to slow their roll with him. He's also posted a 1.43 WHIP and 1.62 K/BB ratio signaling that he's nothing more than an NL-only option, and one that might lose value once Ted Lilly is ready for the rotation.

19: The amount of runs that Felix Doubront has allowed in his last four starts (two of the runs were unearned). As a result of those rough times, despite 21 Ks and just four walks, Felix has seen his ERA rise from 3.75 to 4.54. The K's are still mighty impressive, 9.18 per nine innings this season, but the rest of his line isn't overly exciting. Consider this. The AL ERA this season is 3.99. Again, Felix has that 4.54 mark. The AL WHIP this season is 1.30. His WHIP is 1.39. I'm just saying.

33: The homer pace for Pedro Alvarez is we prorate his current pace – 13 homers in 215 at-bats – for a 550 at-bat season. Could he get to the 30 homer level if given that many at-bats? Absolutely. At the same time he is extremely streaky and is hitting only .228 with a .296 OBP making him Adam Dunn Jr. On the plus side, he does have a hit in 5-straight and eight of nine games.

Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive on Sirius 210 and XM 87 from 5-8 PM EDT, Monday through Friday. Ray's baseball analysis can be found at BaseballGuys.com and his minute to minute musings can be located at the BaseballGuys' Twitter account.