Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Bye-bye Burnett?

"Ricciardi is not forced to trade Burnett, but keeping him will be a huge distraction. Besides, draft choices are only good when you see what you have four years down the road. Ricciardi likely won't be around that long. The Jays should find a dance partner and allow Burnett to negotiate a deal, ending the Burnett Era in Toronto."
Richard Griffin – Toronto Star

One can argue whether Burnett’s comments to a Chicago reporter last weekend were by design, or just a slip in judgment. But, it hardly matters. Whether Burnett is selfish/stupid/arrogant is irrelevant to the question that needs to be addressed:

Should the Jays unload him?

Richard Griffin is the latest in the media to suggest that Burnett’s value is less than it is perceived. Others, including OOLF’s Tyler King, in the comments section here, have argued that Toronto would be foolhardy to unload a player with the skill set Burnett appears to have.

Certainly, when A.J. is on he can be un-hittable. He’s inconsistent, but, really, all of that is irrelevant to this discussion.

Rather than looking at Burnett’s stuff, you must approach the question as a cost/benefit analysis—is Burnett more valuable to the Jays than what Toronto could get for him in the trade market? Or, more importantly, do the Jays need Burnett more than they need another bat in the line-up.

In his attempt to debunk my earlier argument about Burnett’s value, Tyler evoked the age-old baseball argument about never having too much pitching. It’s similar to the defense wins championship argument of football and it suffers from the same flaw of generalization. No doubt pitching is important, but it does you no good if you can’t score enough runs to take advantage of it.

Consider the 2008 Jays. We don’t need to detail the team’s struggles. Anyone who has watched this team understands its remarkable ability to find ways not to score. Statistically, Toronto is on pace to put just 653 runners across the plate. To put that in perspective, the fewest runs scored by any division winning team in the AL during the past five seasons is 741. In the AL East it’s 867 (the numbers are included below).

Currently, Burnett’s stats show him to be the fifth best starter on the Jays. Take that and also consider the likelihood of him blowing town come November, and it’s hard to understand what the purpose is in keeping him. The only way it makes sense is if Burnett is giving the Jays something that would help them overcome the obvious offensive shortcoming.

He’s not. His current WHIP of 1.506 is not significantly better than the fifth best starter on any of the 15 most recent champions in the AL. It’s about the same, actually. The average number for a champions’ fifth best guy during that time was 1.526.

Six of the 15 had better numbers than A.J. It’s clear that the fifth starter, which Burnett is statistically, isn’t a vital position on a championship team.

Clearly, having Burnett in the rotation isn’t going to be enough to get to the playoffs. Recent history—both Toronto’s and the league’s—tells us that. However, he is an asset that may be able to bring something in. If the Jays can get a bat for him, they would, frankly, be insane not to jump at the chance.

The numbers (from here):

Boston 2007: 867 – 1.500
Yankees 2006: 930 – 1.716
Yankees 2005: 886 – 1.718
Yankees 2004: 897 – 1.468
Yankees 2003: 877 – 1.619

Cleveland 2007: 811 – 1.521
Minnesota 2006: 801 – 1.560
Chicago 2005: 741 – 1.457
Minnesota 2004: 780 – 1.627
Minnesota 2003: 801 – 1.363

LAA 2007: 822 – 1.621
Oakland 2006: 771 – 1.221
LAA 2005: 761 – 1.392
LAA 2004: 834 – 1.621
Oakland 2003: 768 – 1.500

Toronto 2008: 653 – 1.506

Average: 823 – 1.526


Tyler King said...

Okay, so on one hand AJ Burnett is terrible, inconsistent, and no better than a #5 starter on any other team. (For god's sake I wish you'd stop assuming 14 starts is an indication of a starter's skill but I'll drop that for now)

On the other hand you honestly think other teams would give up the bat the Jays need in exchange for a pitcher who'd be gone at the end of the year?

The only teams that can take a contract like that are contenders - the very type of team who aren't going to give up the kind of cleanup hitter the Jays need.

Should I even spend the time required to explain why having a better WHIP does not automatically mean you have "better numbers" than another pitcher?

Duane Rollins said...

That would be a better come back than telling me about his "great stuff," yes.

Tyler King said...

Don't put quotes around "great stuff" as though it's some abstract, emotional judgement. It's pretty unanimous when it comes to Burnett.

Tyler King said...

If we really must go over why you can't judge a player on WHIP alone (and by extension on any single stat alone, ever)...

Pitcher A goes 7 innings, and gives up 7 solo home runs. He has given up 7 runs. His WHIP is 1.00

Pitcher B goes 7 innings, and gives up 14 hits, all singles, two per inning. He has given up 0 runs. His WHIP is 2.00

Which pitcher would you rather have on your staff?

sager said...

Pitcher A goes 7 innings, and gives up 7 solo home runs. He has given up 7 runs. His WHIP is 1.00

Pitcher B goes 7 innings, and gives up 14 hits, all singles, two per inning. He has given up 0 runs. His WHIP is 2.00

There's no one tell-all stat, but it's better than using a hypothetical anomaly to try and make a serious argument.

Now, can you believe a writer at Maclean's called Richard Griffin "Toronto's best baseball analyst?"

He obviously doesn't read Blair or Elliott, listen to Wilner, or chat face-to-face with sentient human beings much.

Duane Rollins said...

It's also pretty unanimous that Burnett's great stuff comes and goes and that he has as many crap starts as he has un-hittable starts.

Clearly, there is no perfect statistical analysis that will take into account all that goes into pitching. WHIP is a pretty good one, however, as it speaks to the basic currency of run creation--base runners.

If you want to talk about absurd examples look at your's above. The probability of a pitcher that is allowing a solo home run an inning through seven is exceptionally slim. Statistically speaking such a player, if he existed, would be an outlyer. It should also be noted that your pitcher B threw about 175 pitches in your hypothetical example. The dude ain't making it through seven giving up two hits per inning.

So, the answer to your question is neither. There is no way in hell that either player is going to be useful to you.

You are also either willfully or obliviously (I'm honestly not sure which) ignoring a key part of my (and everyone else arguing the same point) argument. We're saying he should be moved **if** a valuable offensive piece can be obtained--that it would be better to put another bat in the line-up, even if the position player is slightly less talented than Burnett in relative terms. You are consistently deflecting the argument back to "But, AJ is good" when what is being argued is "we need a bat more than we need AJ"

Big V said...

If you could trade him for someone who is worth 55 million at the plate... why not?
Yes Burnett is good, but you can only use him once every 5 games, where a good batter plays every day.

Its not as though the Jays have a limited pitching staff. Last i checked their pitchers are whats keeping them near .500

Tyler King said...

Come on Duane - don't try and deflect it by saying your real argument was just that if you could get an amazing bat he should be moved. Arguing a truism doesn't make your analysis correct.

Who on earth is going to say that if you can get a great return on a trade, you shouldn't do it?

But the point is that this scenario you're so gung ho about is massively improbable. The only teams that are going to take a one-year pitcher are contenders. Contenders don't trade away good, starting caliber bats.

Your argument is like saying "If someone offers you a million dollars for nothing, I strongly suggest you take it." Maybe it's good advice... but it's so improbable as to be kinda irrelevant.

Duane Rollins said...


If the Jays can get a bat for him, they would, frankly, be insane not to jump at the chance.

That's the last line of the OP. Thus, my argument has been consistent throughout. If JP allows a team to negotiate with Burnett it may be possible to move him for value.

And, I've yet to see you make an non-subjective argument for why the Jays are better off with Burnett.

Tyler King said...

"A bat?" What kind? A mediocre one? In which case it's a bad trade. Or a good cleanup one? In which case it's not going to happen (for reasons explained several times already).

You want a reason why they're better off with Burnett - because he's a terrific pitcher, and far, FAR better than David Purcey or John Parrish, who would replace him if he were gone. And no, that's not subjective. Nobody outside of an insane asylum thinks either Purcey or Parrish is a better option.

Plus, keeping AJ on til the end of the season means you get compensatory draft picks. Far better than unloading him for the first bat you can find.

sager said...

The Jays are better off riding this out, letting Burnett walk and taking the "sandwich picks."

Griffin has it wrong to say Ricciardi wouldn't do that, because Ricciardi is not a panicker, for good or ill.

Duane Rollins said...

@ Neate

You may well be right. The two draft picks may be better than any package that the Jays can get for Burnett now. Clearly, any potential deal has to be weighed against those two picks.

@ Tyler

No one is making the argument that the picture that replaces Burnett in the rotation will be better. No one. What I'm suggesting is that a drop in quality in the rotation could be worth it if the position player that comes in brings enough to off-set that loss. Does that mean a No. 4? I doubt it, but as you say Burnett has "great stuff" so you never know what you're going to get for him until you start to shop him, Which is all I'm really arguing for. We all know what this team needs. We all pretty much assume Burnett is gone at the end of the year. It's time to start preparing for that--using the two draft picks they will be guaranteed as the measuring stick. If you can get a package better that that, you take it. If not you don't.

It's hardly a "ludicrous" idea (or whatever other colourful way you might choose to attack it) to prepare for Burnett's departure.

Tyler King said...

Okay, again, you're making the argument that "if a trade makes your team better, you should accept it".

That's not exactly a shocking revelation produced by insightful blogging. It's a truism.

Duane Rollins said...

Oh for the love of God. You are a Queen's guy, aren't you?

Tyler King said...

If by that you mean right, then yes, I am. :P

sager said...

Maybe we should cut this short ... I have nothin' but bad memories when it comes to Queen's-Laurier football games.

Duane Rollins said...

Missed PAT....................

sager said...

Completing a pass after a blocked field goal?

Big V said...

I think i'm going to be sick

sager said...

I dinna cry when me own father was hung for stealin' a pig. But I'll cry now.