Baseball fans are a strange breed of sports fans. We follow a sport that is considered slow, lazy and devoid of “action.” The season at its shortest for a team lasts seven months if you add in spring training games. If your team makes the postseason then it is eight months long. Think about that, it is conceivable that two teams worth of fans will be enjoying baseball played by their team for 67% of a calendar year. They stay in tune with the season for that entire time, and for some of us, it’s not just the top level that we are solely concerned with. Each team has seven minor league levels that we also immerse ourselves in, wondering, hoping and dreaming about what the next wave of hot young prospects is going to bring to the table when they do finally crack the roster of the big club. We develop crushes on players for a whole multitude of reasons, none of which are at all rational.
Most players that are crush’d on are the ones who have sexy roles on the team. The Ace, the bopper, the super star, the electric defender. No one gives a hoot about the lefty brought in to shore up the bullpen via free agency. Well, almost no one. Most of my man crush’s are reserved for up and coming prospects (Kaleb Cowart and Nick Maronde are DREAMY!), but after that, it’s all about the southpaws.
I’m not sure why I gravitate towards left handed relievers, or lefties in general for that matter. I’m not left handed myself, so it’s not as if I have some sort of kinship with them. It is definitely not the sexiest role on the team, which of course is subjective, but a left handed reliever probably ranks somewhere between bat boy and the guy who restocks the sunflower seeds, and well below the artist formerly known as the “Salty Nuts guy.” It’s a scary affliction that I live with. I develop man crush’s on players that are generally viewed as throwaways since they possess one elite skill, they get lefties out with ease. Nick Maronde’s debut last year led to this, and I was positively giddy watching him take the mound. But with our starting pitching depth being as thin as it is, it is better for the organization that Nick continues to develop his changeup and remain a starter. So what does Jerry Dipoto do in this situation? Well, he does what any other GM who has a boss with an open wallet would do; he goes out and finds one on the free agent market. In this case, it’s former first round (19th overall) pick, Sean Burnett.
For those of us that paid attention last year, it was incredibly obvious that Dipoto was going to have to address the bullpen this offseason, and that he was going to have do a lot better than Jason Isringhausen and LaTroy Hawkins this year. He started with the low risk high reward signing of Ryan Madsen, the then made everyone’s (or just mine) dreams come true by inking Sean Burnett to a two year $8MM deal with an option for 2015 giving the Angels a solid lefty to compliment the aging and highly overused Scott Downs. Kevin Lappin likes to use music when writing about a player. For me, this was the equivalent to seeing Less Than Jake live and having them open up with “Last One out of Liberty City” and then following it up with “Plastic Cup Politics.” Well scripted and hoped for, but not expected.
Since 2009, Burnett has been nothing short of impressive and highly durable appearing in 71, 73, 69 and 70 games during that span, putting up an ERA+ of 142 with a WHIP of 1.210 during his time with the Nationals. And the best part about Burnett is that he is not simply a LOOGY. He is admittedly much better against lefties holding them to a slash line of .225/.291/.337 for his career, but righties haven’t exactly thumped him putting up a .268/.348/.398 line against him. His best season thus far was in 2010 by ERA and ERA+ where he posted an ERA of 2.14 and an ERA+ of 189, but he’s coming off of a season where he posted an ERA of 2.38 and an ERA+ of 167, so it’s not like he is some one hit wonder. Also in 2012, he posted his best BB/9 of 1.9 and highest K/9 of 9.1 and yes, doing the research has me falling in love all over again (I’m sorry Nick, please return my phone calls).
Finally, bullpen balance
For those of you who don’t know when my birthday is A.) I’m going to keep it that way and B.) I’m a Libra. A defining characteristic of Libra’s is that they need……they need balance, and seeing balance where the Angels are concerned puts my Chi at ease. Adding Jason Vargas to the starting rotation gave them a flip flop look that should make it a little more difficult for opposing managers when they prepare for them in upcoming series’. By adding Burnett to the bullpen, no longer will an opposing manager simply have to plan for Scott Downs in a matchup situation. Scioscia will also be able to let Downs catch his breath every once in a while with this signing. Downs’ interesting injury history profiles him, to me, as the kind of pitcher that could be leaned on, but definitely not in the large doses that Scioscia has had to over the past two seasons.
ZiPS projects that Burnett will regress in 2013, which isn’t a crazy projection, but that’s only because I took my fanboy hat off. As stated earlier, his BB/9 plummeted and his K/9 rose to career bests, his BB/9 rising to 2.7 and his K/9 dropping to 7.7 aren’t ideal in the first year of his new deal, but they would still be better than his career averages. He is also entering his age 30 season which means he is still within his “prime years,” so it is also conceivable to believe that he will be every bit as good as he was last year.
Oh my, we have depth here
Go figure that in a system where there is very little pitching depth, we have (In my honest and totally not fueled by a man crush opinion) the perfect replacement should Burnett go down at some point this season. Of course I’m talking about Nick Maronde. Maronde’s control and two pitch combo suits him perfectly for a bullpen role at this point in his career. It is better for the Angels that Maronde remain on the path toward becoming a starting pitcher because a 200 inning pitcher is far more valuable than a 50 to 60 inning pitcher. But, should the need arise for a fallback option, Maronde is just a phone call and flight away to provide premium (and not in the Mathisian sense) service to the Angels.
Man crush aside, retooling the bullpen was essential after last season. I wrote in November here suggesting that Dipoto should kick the tires on a couple of reliever choices, one of which being Burnett. Not to pat myself on the back, but, pat pat. Maybe I should look into being a GM, but I digress. Anyway, Dipoto did not go the same route he did before 2012 when he went out and signed spare parts to fill bullpen roles this past offseason. Normally, I would much rather the team built the bullpen with in house options, but if you are going to search through free agency for bullpen arms, and are able to sign a player that has been incredibly reliable to a very reasonable contract, you do it. Sean Burnett was that pitcher on the market this winter, and Dipoto didn’t hesitate in scooping him up and bringing him into the fold. Good call Jerry, you get a gold star for this one.