With Yankees right-hander A.J. Burnett on the trade market, and presumably headed to Pittsburgh soon, the question has been posed. Burnett will earn $35M over the next two seasons. In a trade, New York will inevitably have to eat a lot of the cost. So how much is A.J. really worth?
Back in December of 2008, the Yankees handed him a five-year $82.5M deal. The first year of the deal went well, as Burnett posted a 4.04 ERA/4.33 FIP/4.23 xFIP across 207 innings. His numbers weren't necessarily stellar, but they were solid nonetheless. Depending on your preferred implementation of WAR, he was worth anywhere between 2 and 3.5 WAR.
Then 2010 happened. Burnett's strikeout rate (K%), as high as 25.5% in 2007 and at a still-great 21.8% in 2009, fell to 17.5%. All across the board, his numbers rose: 5.26 ERA/4.83 FIP/4.49 xFIP. Unfortunately, 2011 wasn't much of a bounceback for Burnett. His K rate climbed back over 20%, but that was largely negated by an uptick in home runs allowed. Over 190 innings, he surrendered 31 bombs, good (or rather, bad) for the fourth-highest mark in the majors.
After a couple poor seasons, he's now 35 years old. So, what's he worth at this point?
Many are quick to point out that Burnett had a 3.86 xFIP in 2011. Indeed, if fewer flyballs had left the park (Burnett's HR/FB rate -- 17% -- was quite high), his numbers wouldn't look so bad. As a right-handed pitcher in New York, he's at an inherent disadvantage, too. In terms of overall wOBA, the Yankees' home park has played mostly neutral (103/100 wOBA park factor for lefties and righties, respectively); however, the park is highly conducive to home runs, especially for left-handed hitters.
It's worth noting, though, that Burnett has a somewhat significant gap between his xFIP and ERA over his career (0.32, to be exact). At nearly 2000 major-league innings, he's at the point where we can say with some confidence that he'll probably continue to underperform his xFIP.
Anyway, a move to a less homer-friendly NL park would certainly do Burnett a lot of good. Given his track record, he'll most likely see a bounceback of some sorts. But again, he's pretty old at this point, and by Baseball-Reference, he's averaged a measly 0.3 WAR over the past two seasons.
At $5M per year, it's probably worth taking a shot with him. Any more than $5M though? Eh.