Free Agent Values: A.J. Burnett

Perhaps one of the more enigmatic pitchers on the free agent market this winter is A.J. Burnett. When he signed his $55 million contract with the Blue Jays three years ago, people derided it as a disaster for a headcase with injury problems. However, after a couple of solid seasons where he mostly avoided the disabled list and pitched pretty well, the contract became too much of a bargain and Burnett opted out in order to get a bigger paycheck this winter.

How much should teams spend for Burnett’s future, though? Let’s go through the calculations one more time.

Thanks to the new Marcel projections that were just added to the site last night, we can estimate Burnett’s 2009 performance pretty easily. Marcel projects him at 187 innings with a 3.87 FIP for next year, but we’ll round that to 190 innings and a 3.90 FIP just to make the math easier. Once again, we’re going to use a 5.50 FIP as replacement level for a starter and cap his innings at 160, and use a 4.50 FIP as replacement level for a reliever, who will make up the 30 inning difference. So here are the totals that we’re projecting:

Burnett: 190 innings, 82 runs allowed
Replacement Level Starter: 160 innings, 98 runs allowed
Replacement Level Reliever: 30 innings, 15 runs allowed

We’re projecting the replacement level pitchers to allow 113 runs, or 31 more than what we’re projecting for Burnett. That would translate to +3 wins for whoever signs him. We can once again add a bit of a bonus to account for his extra innings saving the bullpen, so let’s call Burnett a +3.3 win pitcher.

3.3 wins * 5.5 million per win = $18.15 million in projected 2009 value. We again factor in a 10% discount rate to make up for the fact that he’s going to get a long term deal, and that gives us an annual average value of $16.4 million. Given Burnett’s history, it’s unlikely he’ll get more than four or five years. That puts his projected contract at 4 years/$66 million or 5 years/$82 million.

Those numbers match up fairly well with what the rumors have pegged his price tag at. It seems unlikely that Burnett will be either a huge bargain or a big albatross this winter.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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devil_fingers
Guest
7 years 8 months ago

Nice post, but I’m wondering where you got the $5.5M/WAR figure. If there’s another post where you make the case for it, can you direct me to it? The reason I ask is because on my “salary chart,” I follow Tom Tango in having $4.84M/WAR as market value (it was 4.4 last year).

Conballs
Guest
Conballs
7 years 8 months ago

Dave – How do you factor in injury history? I know Burnett will surpass 190 innings if he makes 30 starts, but the fact that he only made 46 starts between ’06 and ’07, and only had one other season of 30+ GS, how does one factor that in? Does anyone really believe Burnett will throw over 900 innings over a five-year contract? He threw 850 innings over the last 5 seasons (averaging about 173 innings the last 3 seasons). What makes us think that number will increase now that he’s 32 on Opening Day?

Is the fact that the contract would not factor in market inflation over the course of the term enough to account for wear, tear and injury concerns?

Is there an adjustment for injury history? Please post the link if I have missed out.

Tom Au
Guest
Tom Au
7 years 8 months ago

Basically, Burnett would be another Andy Pettite, more or less, both in salary and in performance.

Matt
Guest
Matt
7 years 8 months ago

Man, this guys WHIP hovered close to 1.40 most of the season. A late season hot streak got his numbers to ‘respectable’ levels, but not a Cy Young candidate by any means.

I believe his current contract isn’t a bargain, but fair. Any higher is assuming a ton of risk with AJ and his million dollar arm, 10 cent head.

David
Guest
David
7 years 8 months ago

he has great stuff, though, and there’s enough pitcher-starved teams in the majors that would be quite happy to take the risk of 3 years / $40 million or whatever. as an Orioles fan – if Burnett comes to Baltimore, he is immediately head and shoulders ahead of every other pitcher on our roster except Jeremy Guthrie. even if he “regresses” and puts up a 4.50 ERA and due to an injury pitches “only” 150 innings… that’s still better than every pitcher on our roster except Guthrie. for that much improvement, I think teams like the Orioles are willing to pay regardless of the injury risk.

Xeifrank
Guest
7 years 7 months ago

What do your 5.50 and 4.50 FIP numbers translate to for calculating the WAR of an NL pitcher?
vr, Xei

Kolz13
Guest
Kolz13
7 years 7 months ago

You got this one right almost to the penny.

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