Thursday, December 23, 2010

Blind Spots - Sean Burnett

Did you ever have one of those moments when a story is announced (concerning baseball that is) and you have no idea who the player is the story talked about? This writer can't be the only one, can he? Well, Sean Burnett is one of the blind spots. The news wire lit up today that Sean Burnett signed a multi-year deal with the Washington Nationals. When the Fan saw the item, the first reaction was, "Who the heck is Sean Burnett?"

It's been that kind of week. Yesterday, the Fan was thinking about writing a post as a recap of 2010. You know the kind of post the Fan is talking about. Every year at the end of the year, writers (for the lack of anything else to talk about) will create a story that talks about The Best Moments of 2010. That kind of thing. Well, when considering such a post, the Fan quickly realized it was hopeless because, at this point, remembering what happened yesterday is beyond this writer's grasp. And then today, the Fan wrote this erudite post on the Atlanta Braves and tried to sum up how their 2011 season was going to shape up and mentioned that it was a mystery where Omar Infante was going to play. Fortunately, a loyal reader cleared his throat and mentioned Infante would be playing second base...for the Marlins. He got traded to the Marlins in the Uggla deal. DOH!

So all of that didn't help this Fan feel any better when this story about Sean Burnett popped up. Look, it's understandable if a casual fan doesn't know who Burnett is. But baseball is like a profession to the Fan and knowing who Sean Burnett is seems like an understandable expectation. Maybe it was a memory block since a certain other Burnett gives the Fan heartburn whenever THAT pitcher crosses the brain. But there he is, this Sean Burnett signing with the Nationals for nearly $4 million (avoiding arbitration). The deal is for two years. So, feeling stupid, the Fan decided to get to know Mr. Burnett.

The first thought when looking Mr. Burnett up was that today had to feel really good. Burnett was a first round draft pick...TEN YEARS AGO! The Pirates picked him in the first round. So what happened? It looked like his progression was right where it needed to be early on. He did well as he moved from the Rookie league (2000) to A ball in 2001 and then A+ in 2002 and on to Double A in 2003. He succeeded at every level and moved up. Just like he was supposed to.

And then something happened. He moved up to Nashville, the Pirates' Triple A affiliate in 2004 and struggled. Even so, he was called up to the big club at the end of May and made his first big league start for Pittsburgh on May 30. He did okay and gave up only one run in five innings. His next two starts were losses but he had six scoreless innings against the Cardinals and got his first big league win. He won again on July 4 with a complete game shutout against the Brewers. He won again on July 9. He won again on July 20 and again on July 25. He had won five in a row! How is it the Fan doesn't remember ANY of this? Anyway, the wheels fell off after that. He lost twice, then had two no decisions and then lost his final start of that year. He ended up with a record of 5-5 and his ERA was over 5.

But you could tell something was wrong from looking at his stats. His K/9 fell off a cliff. Even in his Triple A starts, it was a non-existent 3.24 per nine. In the majors it was 3.8. That just wasn't him. Sure enough, he missed all of 2005 to injury.

He came back in 2006 and the Pirates had him pitch in Indianapolis (Triple A). He struggled*. He struggled again in 2007. Every single appearance in his career to that point had been as a starter. In 2008 they converted him into a relief pitcher and something clicked. He split time between Triple A and the big leagues and was terrific in Triple A but just decent in Pittsburgh in 58 relief appearances. He got into 71 games for  in 2009 and did very well but the Pirates traded him to the Nationals in the middle of the year. His ERA was a combined 3.12 for the two clubs. He then pitched all year with the Nationals in 2010. Darned if the Fan ever noticed.

* (Posnanski asterisk ripoff) It's fairly true that "Struggled" is a polite euphemism for "Stunk."

And the Fan should have noticed. Yeah, his record was 1-7. But we all know that win-loss records are meaningless stats. His ERA was 2.15, his K/9 rate jumped to 8.9 and his walk rate came way down too. Burnett had officially made the transition from starter to a LOOGY-type lefty with the ability to get a right-handed batter out occasionally.

So now you know all about Sean Burnett, the baseball player. And so does the Fan. There no longer will be any reason or excuse to hear his name and not have a clue who he is. One blind spot closed.

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