The Pirates skipped Gerrit Cole’s turn in the rotation this week due to a concern over the number of innings he was pitching in this his rookie season. Their attention might better have been directed at A.J. Burnett and the quality of innings he is pitching in this his 15th season in MLB.
There’s no explaining it, but for the four seasons preceding this one Burnett has been flat-out awful in August. His July performances have been OK and he has mostly righted himself in September. But since 2009, Burnett has had an inexplicable August meltdown. What's alarming is that it looks like 2013 is headed in that same direction.
Normally, consecutive bad starts by a pitcher of Burnett’s caliber would not be a concern. But after blowing leads in Colorado and St. Louis in his past two starts -- after a strong first August start -- Burnett could be be headed toward another August collapse.
Including this season, Burnett's August ERA going back to 2009 is 7.03. If August is subtracted from those years his ERA is 3.77.
Here are his August performance since 2009.
Starts IP ER ERA
2009 6 37.1 25 6.03
2010 5 30 26 7.80
2011 5 22.2 30 11.91
2012 5 33 19 5.18
2013 3 19 11 5.21
The suddenness of his most recent meltdowns is particularly troublesome.
Against St. Louis yesterday, he pitched a very nice first four innings -- two hits, one an infield single, and a walk. And then, boom! This top-of-the-rotation starter, who had been one of the best in the National League this season, turned into batting practice: single, double, single, pop up (the pitcher attempting to bunt), triple, single, double
The 4-0 lead given Burnett in the top of the fifth now was a one-run deficit and the Pirates went on to lose.
In his start Saturday at Colorado, there were hints. Burnett was not in command through the first four innings -- four hits, two walks, one intentional -- but he retired the side in order for the first time in the fifth.
But when presented with his first lead of the game in the top of the sixth, Burnett came apart: Single, strike out, fly out, double, walk, double, single. The 3-1 lead became a tie game and the Pirates went on to lose.
Except for 2010, when his September ERA was 5.60, Burnett has donea good job of righting himself after the poor August. He was 1-5 in last Sept.-Oct., but with a 2.98 ERA.
The problem appears to be mainly August. It’s possible, Burnett wears down in August. But the fact the spent almost a month -- June 9 to July 8 -- on the disabled list would indicate the ineffectiveness he’s shown in the past two games is not due to overwork.
Whatever the cause, this deserves some attention from the Pirates. They cannot afford a another A.J.Burnett August.