Pittsburgh Pirates: A.J. Burnett poised for a career best strikeout season

So far throughout the 2013 season, Pittsburgh Pirates ace A.J. Burnett has pitched well enough to have more than one win.

Despite his less than spectacular start Monday night against the Philadelphia Phillies, Burnett has posted a 2.79 ERA and 1.14 WHIP with an opponent’s batting average of only .208.

Apr 22, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher A.J. Burnett (34) delivers to the plate during the second inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

In his five starts this season, Burnett is certainly looking like he can build off what was a very good 2012 campaign.

But even though he has only started 1-2 and has strong number across the board, that’s not the most impressive part of Burnett’s start to the season, as he is striking out opposing hitters at an eye-popping rate.

To date, the 36-year old right-hander leads all of baseball with 42 strikeouts, which he has done in only 29 innings pitched.

In addition, Burnett is second in all of baseball with 13.03 strikeouts per nine innings, trailing only Detroit’s Max Scherzer.

It’s a bit concerning that Burnett is averaging less than six innings per start, but that will happen early on due to pitch counts. When striking out a ton of batters, his pitch count will rise, which means he is not going to pitch deep into many ball games, unless he is efficient with his pitches, something we saw during his April 17 outing against the St. Louis Cardinals where he allowed only one hit through seven solid innings of work.

His strikeout numbers are great at this point of the season and even though many have viewed Burnett as a power pitcher throughout his career, he hasn’t necessarily been a high strikeout guy.

He’s eclipsed the 200 strikeout plateau only twice in his career- 2002 with the Florida Marlins (203) and 2008 with the Toronto Blue Jays (231). When looking at his K’s/9, Burnett has never had a season in which he’s been in double digits. His best came in 2007 with the Blue Jays when he averaged 9.6 K/9. That makes the 13.03 that Burnett is averaging even more impressive.

Can Burnett continue the pace?

It’s possible.

The more important thing is for him to start getting deeper into games as he has thrown only six full innings in two of his five outings. If that means less strikeouts then it is probably for the better.

He hasn’t been terrible with the walks, but he has allowed 11 free passes and hit three batters in his 29 innings, meaning he has gotten himself into jams that he has had to work out of.

But the important thing is that when Burnett does get himself into trouble he is able to get strikeouts to limit the damage.

If that keeps up then Burnett could be poised for a very big season.

The strikeout pitch is a very big weapon for pitchers and right now Burnett certainly has it working.

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Topics: A.J. Burnett, Pittsburgh Pirates

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