Why Burnett Works in CBP

When Phillies Nation posted the news of the Phillies signing of A.J. Burnett to our Facebook page yesterday, it was met with two responses: the wildly original and hilarious “another player to play in Senior Citizen’s Bank park!” response and the “why did the Phillies sign a pitcher when they have a horrible offense?” counter question. I have got no response for the first one other than that Burnett has had two of the best seasons of his career in 2012 and 2013 and that age probably won’t be a factor for him in 2014. The second question has some legitimate depth to it and it is worth exploring.

While everyone assumes the quickest route to fixing the Phillies is through its offense, the tricky part is what spot do you improve? Four-fifths of the Phillies infield is currently locked under some sort of long-ish contract (think Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Carlos Ruiz) or protected by no trade clauses (think Jimmy Rollins) and the fifth spot, third base, is the one spot in the infield where the Phillies have a young player worth giving a shot. In the outfield, Domonic Brown and Ben Revere are two young players worth giving a shot to develop and the other corner, right field, is occupied by Marlon Byrd for two years. So even though the Phillies had the 26th best offense in baseball last year, 14th in the National League,  there just isn’t a whole lot of spaces to add offensive production.

So the Phillies, presumably sensing an opportunity, or reacting to the news that Cole Hamels is behind schedule, added a pretty good pitcher to a suddenly barren rotation. Despite having Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels healthy for the entire season in 2013, the Phillies ranked 25th in ERA, 10th in FIP, and 13th in xFIP, while ranking 15th in K/9 IP and 13th in GB%. Burnett is an instant upgrade to all of those metrics.

Throw your “why are the Phillies putting Burnett in a hitter’s ballpark” concerns away: last year, Burnett led the National League starters in K/9 IP and GB%. Why are ground balls so important? Because what goes in the air at Citizens Bank Park tends to leave Citizens Bank Park. In 2013, Citizens Bank Park ranked as the park most likely to see homer in but was average in allowing doubles and was actually a below-average place to get a hit. Phillies pitchers ranked 13th in forcing ground balls but also 13th in HR/FB – anything to increase the amount of groundballs decreases the likelihood of a flyball which increases the likelihood of a homer, particularly at baseball’s easiest park to hit a homer in, Citizens Bank Park. Got that?

The greatest problem with the Burnett acquisition is not that the Phillies signed a pitcher but that they are so far away from contending that a move like this can only move the needle so much. Burnett was worth three wins in 2012 and four wins in 2013 according to FanGraphs, relying on increased use of his curve to nab ground balls. Are the Phillies just three or four games out of a playoff spot? If you believe they are, this was a great move to make. If you, like myself and many others, do not believe they are, the Phillies added an expensive arm that improves their ball club but realistically does not put them any closer to the playoff hunt.

Yet, Burnett’s unique skill set (strike everyone out, get ground balls) would fit well anywhere but is of particular help in a ballpark that plays as wacky as CBP does. In a park that ranks 19th in “hit factor”, it is the sixth easiest park to score runs because, in large part, is the easiest park to hit homers in. Burnett is an absolute upgrade to the rotation and adds a third certain starter. Whether or not Burnett is the piece that puts them over the top of the Mets’ rotation (eighth-best ERA, seventh-best FIP, and 11th-best xFIP) remains to be seen.




  1. PAmikeyDC

    February 13, 2014 at 8:00 am

    Remember the Los Mets do not have Wheeler. So certainly they will not be as talented.

    • Von

      February 13, 2014 at 8:26 am

      Harvey fwiw 😉

  2. Bob D

    February 13, 2014 at 8:45 am

    Worst case will have team in sell mode, which the likes of Burnett and Lee would go for highest bidder. But if the Phil’s are healthy then they could be a contender- The Hamels news is not a good start on health news. The Phil’s tend to say minor problem in such cases, when in all reality Hamels likely had a lawn mowing accident and lost his pitching arm.

  3. The Original Chuck P

    February 13, 2014 at 9:44 am

    There wasn’t a bat out there that we could add that would change the face of our offense… there are too many pieces that are already entrenched on this team and not enough on the open market to make a difference. Unless you were going to spend $20 million per year on a Choo or a Granderson or an Elsbury, there just wasn’t a free agent that could change the complexion of this team. The reality is that we’re closer to being a run inhibiting team than we are to being a run scoring team… perhaps, Howard and Utley and Rollins find the fountain of Big Papi. Perhaps we get a full season of first half Dom Brown. Perhaps Marlon Byrd gives us anything in RF. Perhaps Asche really is Chase Utley lite… that’s a lot of perhaps which is why we’re all so down on this squad but you can hang your hat on this – with AJ Burnett as our number three starter, we have arguably the best “top 3 of the rotation” in the NL East and that’s before we’ve seen MAG throw a pitch. Maybe you’d take the Nationals… I probably would take the Nationals… but it’s very close. Cole can’t miss too much time and everyone has to stay healthy which is difficult to expect but everyone deals with unforeseen injuries. I feel better with Burnett… we would all love to see them make significant roster changes but it’s just not happening. The core of our team isn’t going anywhere… you just have to hope that the internal pressure they’re putting on themselves and the pressure that Rube has put on them by proclaiming that they’re well paid and need to produce is enough to propel back into the playoffs. I’m just happy we have something to hang our hats on.

  4. schmenkman

    February 13, 2014 at 10:22 am

    Ian, it’s true that CBP had MLB’s highest park factor for home runs last year, hence your comment that it was the easiest park to homer in.

    It’s good to keep in mind that those park factors can fluctuate significantly from year to year, and need to be looked at over several years to get a better read.

    For example, over the last six years, CBP is only 10th most homerun-friendly, with a park factor of 1.095, far below such parks as Coors (1.309 over those 6 years), White Sox’ Cellular field (1.304), or the Reds’ Great American (1.285).

    And that’s specifically for home runs only. For overall hitter-friendliness, CBP ranks 13th over the last 6 years, with a PF of only 1.020.

    For anyone who doesn’t know, those park factors are calculated by comparing what happens in a team’s home games with what happens in their away games, so a park factor of 1.285, for example, means there were 28.5% more home runs in the Reds’ home games than in their away games over the last 6 years.

    • schmenkman

      February 13, 2014 at 11:41 am

      None of which changes your main point that it made more sense to improve the staff.

      • Ian Riccaboni

        February 13, 2014 at 11:53 am

        I was aware of the fluctuation but I didn’t know it fluctuated THAT much. Thank you for pointing that out! Is there a site you use that combines the factors or is that something that has to be done by hand?

      • schmenkman

        February 13, 2014 at 2:27 pm

        I don’t know of a site that combines the ESPN-type PFs over several years so I did those “by hand” by combining all the years’ games, runs, and home runs for all teams (home and road) and redoing the math. You can get an estimate by just averaging the various years’ PFs, but it’s not exact (e.g. CBP’s HR PF for 2008-13 is 1.118 by averaging the annual PFs, but 1.095 with the detailed method).

    • Lefty

      February 13, 2014 at 12:08 pm

      Just curious Schmenkman, have they been keeping those stats since CBP opened 10 years ago? I was just thinking that since it was deemed a “bandbox” almost immediately, that it must have been a fairly prolific long ball stadium those first four years. Anyway, if you happen to know the ten year numbers, it might be interesting. Don’t go out of your way to research it, but if you are curious too, it might tell a more complete story.

      • schmenkman

        February 13, 2014 at 2:43 pm

        You’re right, it was more homerun friendly in its early years, although even then it wasn’t very hitter-friendly overall (i.e. it increased home runs, but scoring, not so much).

        I don’t have the exact 10-year PFs, but we can estimate them (see reply to Ian above) by averaging the annual PFs, and over the entire 10 years, CBP works out to 5th most homerun friendly, and 10th most hitter-friendly overall.

      • Lefty

        February 13, 2014 at 3:55 pm

        Works for me.

      • hk

        February 13, 2014 at 6:03 pm


        I’m pretty sure that it was very hitter friendly in its first few years of existence. However, after the ’05 season, they moved the LF fence back (I believe it was 5′) and it began playing more like a neutral environment than a hitter friendly one.

      • Lefty

        February 13, 2014 at 7:50 pm

        hk, I almost forgot about that, (old-timers disease) thanks.

    • JFL

      February 14, 2014 at 7:19 am

      As the PF is relative to the league, would the opening of Target Field, Marlins Park, and Citi Field (all pitchers parks opened in the last 5 years) make CBP more hitter friendly by comparison, and raise the PF at CBP?

      • schmenkman

        February 14, 2014 at 12:03 pm

        The ESPN PFs, at least, aren’t relative to the league exactly, they’re relative to the away parks each team plays in. So for the Phillies, barring the occasional interleague series, only Marlins and Citi Field would impact their PF. Marlins Park has been very stingy for home runs so far, but despite that about average for hitting overall. Citi Field is looking similar to Shea for overall hitting-friendliness. However since Citi’s fences were moved in before the 2012 season, it has become relatively homerun-friendly, but is still one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in baseball in terms of overall hitting or scoring.

    • Don M

      February 14, 2014 at 1:29 pm

      schmenkman – Are you on Twitter?

      • schmenkman

        February 14, 2014 at 2:33 pm

        yes, @tgpschmenk

  5. Bruce

    February 13, 2014 at 4:16 pm

    I appreciate Schmenkman’s efforts in providing interesting statistics. I think he missed his calling as a baseball statistician for a Major League organization or club (smile).

    I noted his comment ….
    “.. over the entire 10 years, CBP works out to 5th most homerun friendly, and 10th most hitter-friendly overall.” That would obviously suggest CBP is indeed a “hitter friendly park” when you consider how many stadiums there are…a stadium for each of the THIRTHY (30) Major League clubs.

    Because of Hamel’s setback with his arm tendinitis and the uncertainty as to when (or if) for full recovery, Amaro’s sense of urgency is to sign Burnett at whatever cost. Amaro got a good one knowing Burnett is a ideal groundball pitcher for CBP.

    • schmenkman

      February 13, 2014 at 4:39 pm

      We can call CBP, with its 1.04 park factor “hitter-friendly” (even though it has been much less so over the past 6 years), but then we would have to call Cellular Field (1.09) super-hitter-friendly, and Arlington (1.13) hyper-hitter-friendly, and Coors (1.29) insanely-hitter-friendly.

      Calling CBP hitter-friendly is kind of like calling Ryan Howard a high-average hitter last year (.266 vs. NL average .251).

    • hk

      February 13, 2014 at 6:05 pm

      As I mentioned above, CBP’s 10 year stats are somewhat skewed by the fact that the LF fence was closer to home plate until the end of the 2005 season. I wonder how it has played starting in 2006 relative to all of the other stadiums. Schmenk, do your thing.

  6. George

    February 13, 2014 at 6:18 pm

    As a groundball pitcher, I wonder how much Burnett was aided by the Pirates’ major use of defensive shifts. Some of the outs he got in Pittsburg will probably be hits with the Phils, although with his high K rate, I’d still expect Burnett to do well.

    He’s definitely an upgrade to the entire rotation, not just the #3 spot. He pushes Kendrick to #4 at least, and helps should confine the clown competition to one rotation spot instead of two.

    • hk

      February 13, 2014 at 7:45 pm

      Good point. Hopefully the Phillies will learn from Pittsburgh’s success and start shifting more.

    • Lefty

      February 13, 2014 at 7:49 pm

      Very good point. I am hopeful the new Baseball Analytics man, Mr. Freedman and his intern(s) will give assistance to Ryne Sandberg in this area.

  7. psujoe

    February 13, 2014 at 9:18 pm

    This is a great deal. Excellent top 3 rotation with 3 pitchers to fill 2 slots. Short deals involving no prospects are exactly what this club needs to do at this point. There is no negative to this deal IMO.

  8. bacardipr

    February 14, 2014 at 12:16 am

    Move the walls 10 ft hopefully problem solved..

  9. bacardipr

    February 14, 2014 at 12:57 am

    In reality im ok with this move assuming he replicates his numbers from last year. More glad that its just a one year deal.

  10. Jaron B

    February 14, 2014 at 11:56 am

    A.J Burnett increases the likelihood that the Phils are buyers (for offense) at the July trade deadline, but he doesn’t put them into the playoffs from where they were.

  11. Don M @DonM409

    February 14, 2014 at 1:46 pm

    Crazier things have happened than if the 2014 Phillies make the playoffs.. every year there are teams that surprise, and every year there are teams that greatly disappoint. Atlanta and Washington are better on paper, but this could be a year that nobody runs away with the NL East

  12. Don M @DonM409

    February 14, 2014 at 1:50 pm

    Brian McCann talking about the Marlins SP Jose Fernandez: “He was the best pitcher I faced last year. He’s going to be great for a lot of years to come. I’ve got respect for him. I enjoy the way he pitches. His stuff is incredible.”

    Lots of great young SP in the NL East.. Fernandez, Harvey, Strasburg, Tehran, etc

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