Before the hot news of Cole Hamels‘ injury could cool down, the Phillies had seemingly made a move to bolster their rotation. On February 16, 2014, the Phils signed then-36-year old A.J. Burnett to a one-year deal with a mutual option for year two. Burnett was coming off his two best seasons in the Majors, finding the fountain of youth leading to what felt like a career renaissance. In 2013, Burnett had matched his career-low 3.30 ERA and averaged 197 IP for the Pirates while leading the NL in K/9 IP.
At the time of his signing, Burnett felt like an upgrade, even with Hamels out for an unknown period of time. And for a while, Burnett pitched like one. Burnett carried a 2.06 ERA through May 3 in seven starts pitching through a sports hernia that was discovered in mid-April. But a series of bad outings in which he allowed three or more earned runs in his next six starts for a 7.25 ERA sent Burnett’s season in a tailspin that he never recovered from.
There was good with the bad, however. Burnett lead the Majors in starts with 34 and was seventh in the National League in innings pitched. Burnett’s strikeout capabilities (8.0 K/9 IP) hovered around his career average (8.2 K/9 IP). In a lot of ways, the Phillies certainly got what they paid for: a durable, strikeout machine.
But they also got an aging pitcher working through a serious injury. Burnett led the Majors in losses with 18 with a 4.59 ERA. Burnett’s WHIP saw a steep jump as his BB/9 IP increased by almost a walk per nine and his H/9 IP had a similar increase. Burnett lead the Majors with 109 earned runs and gave up 20 homers for the first time since 2011. Burnett was a bit better than his ERA indicated if you look at his FIP (4.14) or xFIP (3.95) but still had an off year by any standards. Burnett provided enough value, however, to be worth one win per FanGraphs.
Grade: C- This one isn’t as bad as it looks on the surface. Burnett pitched courageously through injury. Not only did he not miss a start but he led baseball in starts. For his strikeouts and durability, Burnett was just slightly below average in 2014.