Tuesday, March 16, 2010

State of the Rotation: Burnett vs. Beckett

In the continuation of my series of Red Sox starters vs. Yankee starters, we will look at two right-handers who match in the rotation and in their history. Both A.J. Burnett and Josh Beckett came up through the Florida Marlins system and during their time in Florida they both had success and injuries. Burnett's injuries came from a problematic elbow that recquired surgery in 2003, while Beckett tended to have less serious hand and other injuries that consistently prevented him from pitching a full season or to his potential.

Both right-handers departed the marlins after the 2005 season. Burnett as a free agent to the Blue Jays and Beckett in a historic trade to the Red Sox. Over the course of their first three seasons in the AL East both pitchers had remarkably similar numbers.

Last season was the first year the two former teammates viewed each other across the great divide that is the Yankee/Red Sox rivalry.

For Burnett the year was not that far off of his career numbers. Though his ERA was slightly higher that normal, his walks and his strikeouts were right around where they normally sit. It is also important to note that the righty managed to stay healthy for the whole of 2009, a feat for Burnett no doubt, considering that he had never pitched 200 innings in back-to-back seasons or in a none contract season. The another thing lacking on Burnett's resume was a postseason performance of note.

Since he blew out his elbow in 2003, Burnett missed his one opportunity to distinguish himself in the postseason until 2009. Remarkably enough Burnett put together impressive performances in three of his five playoff starts, including seven innings of one-run ball in a must win game two of the World Series.

Beckett on the other hand merely did what he has been doing almost every season he has been in red. That, of course, is 30-plus starts and 200-plus innings pitched. His 2009 season was a good bounce back from his 2008 season. Beckett seemed to push through his back problems in 2009 and pitch to his capability to gain back some reputation points he lost after his substandard 2008 season and his poor performance in that year's playoff run.

Beckett's K/9 and H/9 were right in line with what he has been giving Boston in his three previous years with the team, although he pitched poorly in the playoffs again as the Red Sox were swept away by the Angels. Still, Beckett is someone the Red Sox won't hesistate giving the ball to in a big game.

Not much changed between the two pitchers from last season to now, though if any pitcher took a hit in terms of quality of his performance, it would have to be Burnett. While he did come through in some big games, he still had bouts of terrible wildness and uncharacteristic hitability.

Burnett would have really had to step up for my vote to swing his way, but if anything he pushed me further into Beckett's camp. Beckett is just way too reliable to choose someone as inconsistent as Burnett over him. The second match up goes to the Red Sox and we're tied at one.


Dennis said...

Another big point for Beckett is that he is still only 29 years old (turns 30 in May), while Burnett is 33. That is an important 3 years as well.

Most baseball people generally agree that a player peeks between 27-29. That said, 30-32 can still be considered the tail end of a players prime, with only slight decreases in performance. But once you hit 33+, most players are in noticeable decline.

So while Beckett should remain one of the top 15-20 starters in the AL for a couple more seasons, Burnett may start falling below that level, if not this season then certainly in 2011 and beyond.

Dan said...

That is why the Red Sox are probably going to let Beckett walk after this season. Of course they just signed Lackey to a multi-year deal and he's older, but the rumor is that Beckett is done after this year.