A.J. BURNETT & The Baltimore Orioles
The Baltimore Orioles finished next-to-last in the American League with a 5.40 team earned run average in 2008, and Maryland resident A.J. Burnett (an 18-game winner who led the AL in strikeouts) is a free agent. It certainly seems like a match made in heaven, doesn’t it?
Lots of Orioles fans certainly think so, and it’s no secret that the ballclub’s had an eye on the 6’5″ right-hander for years, with a near trade awhile back for Daniel Cabrera to prove it. What’s money in a crumbling economic climate when the owner’s an octogenarian who hasn’t had a winning team on his payroll for more than a decade?
Hell, as a fan, I’d love to see the Orioles sign Burnett. I’ll still be poor whether they do or don’t, and a potential increase in ticket prices won’t keep me from going to games any more than my toddler already does. He’d give them a good chance to win whenever he went to the mound, and that’s all I’m realistically hoping for from my team in 2009.
The guys actually spending the boss’s money, however, ought to be a little less cavalier; and I won’t fault Andy MacPhail and the boys in the least if they determine that matching an Atlanta Braves offer rumored in the 4-year/$60-million range isn’t in the best interests of the franchise. Let’s face it. Burnett will be 32 on opening day, and consistency and dependability are hardly the first two words that’s come to mind if you stare at his baseball-reference page.
In fact, a visit to that very page ought to make Orioles fans think long and hard about whether they really want their hopes (symbolized by Peter Angelos’ dollars) invested so deeply A.J. Burnett after checking the ten most similar pitchers to him through age 31. Three of those names wore Orioles black ‘n’ orange not too long ago.
First, let me state for the record that I understand all the howls of protest about using similarity scores to make any type of projection. That’s really not what I’m doing at all. It’s just that Burnett’s 87-76, 3.81 in just over 1376 innings through his 31st birthday has been most closely approximated in baseball history by the 10 guys on the list. Since eight of them are now retired, I think it’s interesting to see what happened after they turned 32.
Erik Hanson (a former All-Star) and Jose Guzman never won another game. All-Stars Juan Guzman (who was an Oriole when he turned 32) & Wilson Alvarez, plus Kirk McCaskill, averaged about 14 more wins and 270 innings apiece before they called it quits. Another ex-Baltimore pitcher, Pete Harnisch, fared a little better, making 62 more starts and winning 25. Six-foot-five Stan Williams lasted until age 35 by moving to the bullpen. Ex-Oriole Mike Boddicker was pretty good until he turned 34, then went 6-13 before retiring. That leaves Randy Wolf –whose age 32 season comes next year– and Hideo Nomo, the least statistically similar of the 10 who won 54 games after turning 32. However, Nomo was actually much more accomplished professionally than Burnett before that age as he also put up big numbers in his native Japan.
The bottom line is that if the rest of A.J. Burnett’s career goes anything like the average of his numerical peers, he won’t have even another 400 innings or 25 wins in his powerful right arm. For $52-million, $60-million, $75-million…whatever he winds up getting, that would be pretty disappointing.
Now I hope he obliterates the chart and wins 17 or more for five straight years in an Orioles uniform. I certainly wish the guy good health wherever he winds up. If he doesn’t come close, I won’t say I told you so, but…well, you know.