Monday, February 23, 2009

Player Profile 6: Sean Burnett

This is part 6 of roughly 38 that will cover the different players who I think could potentially make the Bucs' Opening Day Roster. I'll be examining what kind of season I expect from them at the major league level, some of the factors that are in play for them and even putting together a bit of a statistical projection to cap things off. Today we will be covering young, crooked-hat wearing, lefty reliever Sean Burnett. If you want to check out past editions, click here. Let's get to it:
Player: Sean Burnett
Position: Left-handed Reliever
Once upon a time, Sean Burnett was viewed as a legit, cream-of-the-crop type prospect for the Pirates, and even put together a solid call-up season at just 22 years old to get the hype going even more. But then, as seems to happen to anyone and everyone who pitches in the Pirates organization, he tore up his arm, requiring the dreaded TJ surgery. It was terrible to see and even led to him seemingly losing it as a starting pitcher. He struggled through AAA in 06 and 07 and when Dunce Littlefield was ousted after the 07 season, new management came in with a fresh idea for the young lefty who'd had continued consistency and health issues: Relief.

Burnett, in his first season in the role in 2008, took to the role pretty well considering his lack of experience with such situations. He put together 58 big-league appearances (to go along with 12 minor league appearances) and had a 4.76 ERA and a 1.606 WHIP in 56 2/3 Innings.

Now, I don't have to tell you those numbers aren't anything special. But if you watched Burnett at all it was pretty evident that the kid definitely has the stuff to stick as a solid middle reliever and should only get better as he becomes more acclimated to the relief roles. The WHIP definitely needs to come down big-time, and I think it will. Even if he is hit similarly to last year, a fair bet considering his only slightly above-average BABIP of .311, I think his walks come down. That was the biggest red flag I had with him last season, was the 34 free passes issued in just 56 2/3 innings. That's just way too many for a middle reliever who isn't going to blow anybody away with his stuff. Since the surgery it is pretty apparent looking at both his starting and relieving stats that Burnett has lost a bit of the control that once made him look like a solid prospect. Therefore, we need to hope new pitching coach Joe Kerrigan's aggressive attitude toward pitching and desire to go inside will have a positive effect on Burnett in this regard. I also remember thinking that often times Burnett would pick at batters last season, trying to catch the corners and too often missing. Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, in fact when used effectively it can give the pitcher an edge. But Burnett's efforts at this probably hindered him more than it helped, and I think having a full season of experience as well as a new coach could help him make the adjustments to cut down on these types of mistakes.

One definite positive in my mind was the surprisingly high K/9 IP ratio. Burnett has never had a rep of being a guy who can strike a lot of people out, not even pre-surgery. But he had a very respectable 42 K's in his 56 2/3 IP last season. Those kind of numbers definitely give you some hope for this kid if that control comes around.

One other factor worth considering when trying to gauge Burnett's season is the role he'll play. He is a virtual lock to have an Opening Day job in my mind and figures to start as the number 2 lefty in the pen behind John Grabow and therefore serve in middle relief, pitching primarily between the 5th and 7th innings. However, it seems like there have been John Grabow trade rumors circulating since the moment the Pirates called the poor guy up in 2003. Obviously that's an exaggeration, but Grabow's solid relief work makes him a likely trade candidate considering that there is only so much value a terrible team can get out of a good reliever, so its been something of a miracle that Grabow has been here this long. However, given his relatively affordable contract for 2.3 million dollars and that he has arbitration coming one more time, I think this is the year, and if the Pirates don't get off to a good start, he could go pretty early in the season and Burnett would be a candidate numero uno to take Grabow's vacated spot as the top lefty. That would be a very interesting situation to see and it would also give us an idea of how the Pirates top brass truly views Burnett.
Predicted 2009 Stats: 67 G 69 IP 4.30 ERA 1.420 WHIP 44 K 2-4 Record 1 Save
Assuming Full Health, Chance of Being on the Opening Day Roster: 100%
On Deck: Ian Snell

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