Time for my favorite offseason past-time!
After a long season of intense Angels baseball we now get to torture ourselves with the various "what-if's" of the season. What if Mike Trout started the season in the majors? What if Jerry worked harder on the bullpen (Jerrrrryyyy!!!!)? What if every baseball writer in America stopped talking all these points into the ground and actually looked at something different and worthwhile for once?
Lucky for you guys you have me, Ryan Falla, in house at MWaH and I got it just right here for you guys. The ultimate what-if to end all what-if's.
What if the trade for A.J Burnett went through prior to the start of the season?
I don't blame you guys if you didn't immediately remember that the Angels actually had a trade for then Yankee's floundering starter A.J Burnett in place this past off-season. I didn't even remember about it till a few days ago!
A good old bad contract swap, an aging vet in Bobby Abreu who is pulling in 9 million buckaroos on a team that has no place for him for a "bad attituded" starter on an ugly downward spiral that's bringing him 16 million a year. Many people, including me, didn't take all that fondly to this trade idea. No one really wanted Burnett to dirty what then looked like an absolutely immaculate rotation featuring star pitchers like Weaver, C.J Wilson, Dan Haren etc . Burnett was a power pitcher who was losing the power behind his fastball and it made this seem like a slightly questionable trade was about to go down. Only slightly though, because most people agreed it was a decent way to boot Abreu without getting screwed in return too hard…
Most of us really didn't mind the Burnett-Abreu switch since we were getting rid of a huge piece and burying Burnett at the bottom of a star studded rotation. Unfortunately Burnett rejected the trade as part of his no-trade clause and we all immediately moved on, putting it into the back of our minds soon after.
*(cliche capacitors set to max velocity!!!!)*
Burnett did something no one in baseball expected him to do…
After being traded to the Pirates for some cash and two minor leaguers Burnett went and put up a HUGE bounce back season for the Pirates. Across the whole season Burnett pitched 202.1 innings while holding together an ERA at 3.51, a farcry from his 5+ ERA the last two consecutive seasons. He had a far better season than rotation mainstays Dan Haren, Ervin Santana, and (most of the time) Garrett Richards. It's hard to say "Well since Burnett did so and so with the Pirates then he would have done the exact same with the Angels", but based off his performance it's not out of the question to think he would have done something very similar in Anaheim.
Now, when the Angels had their first big struggles in the month of April Burnett only pitched 13 innings with the Pirates, only because he started the season in the minors. When he came up he allowed only 2 earned runs in those 13 innings, with only 5 walks to his 15 K's and ZERO homeruns. See that there, ZERO homeruns?? One of the biggest problems with this pitching staff was the homerun epidemic that ran wild early in the season, especially with Ervin Santana (who gave up 39 HR's all season). The rest of Burnett's season sort of falls into place with the Angels, after the first month he fell back a bit with a 4.38 ERA in 37 IP and he struggled mightily in August. In August the Angels starting rotation held an ERA close to 6 while being ravaged by the long ball. The rotation stabilized after April with a solid 179 IP in May and an ERA a tad north of 3 so Burnett might have seemed like a non-factor then. That's only because his stats were sort of tainted due to a ridiculously bad start in which he gave up 12 runs in 2 innings.
Aside from that the one thing that really sticks out in my mind, the one huge factor that would have decided where this season would have went with Burnett on staff would be the average IP per game. Early on our starters struggled to go past 5 innings without being tormented by the opposing opposition. In the first two months of the season Burnett averaged 6 IP per start while allowing 2 runs max, those 2 run totals coming from 1 start in April and 3 in May (ignoring the 12 ER in 2 IP start). I think the only real liability Burnett would have posed would be pitching in parks like Texas and AL East teams again. It's very possible getting away from those parks aided in the success over his 2012 campaign, but that's why it's called the "what-if" game. I don't know how Burnett would have faced power lineups like the Rangers and Yankees as opposed to the lineups in the NL, but I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt given the success of his season. It's possible Burnett would have been worth an extra win or two for the Angels, possibly even more. If that's the case the Angels very likely could have made the post-season, or at least gotten that tie for the second wildcard that they were only 2 games behind.
So I guess exactly like a godsend then….